Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 22, 2012

Backstrap Weaving – The Weaving Melting Pot

The Weaving Melting Pot….that is what I have bubbling away here. Every time I start a new piece on my backstrap loom I am so aware of the vast array of sources from which I have drawn technique and inspiration. I have studied weaving on a variety of simple looms here in  South America, in Central America and even in North America  and bring a little of everything to my work when I set up to weave on my loom of choice…the backstrap loom.

I even draw inspiration from the online weavers who work on floor looms…a handy tip about how to handle the two wefts in rep weave from Tom Knisely, ideas about finishing pieces from shadow weave weave-alongs, lessons in handling floating selvedges from discussions on twill, or from card-woven and inkle loom-woven warp patterned bands…all far removed from the Bolivian weaving environment in which I live.

They all go into the pot….stir, stir, stir….add a dash of ideas I have developed from my own experiments and onto the loom it goes. Some of my ideas having nothing to do with the traditional way of doing things……..

like using cable ties to lash my warp to the loom bar and a bicycle spoke instead of a yarn header cord. I was using cassette tape to wrap my warps for ikat until I was given “proper” ikat tape which seems acceptable in place of cabuya fiber and other natural materials in many “traditional” settings these days.

Plastic and metal??? One of the weavers I met in Candelaria found using what looked like a steel railway spike far more efficient than the traditional llama bone tool for beating in her weft. PVC pipe often replaces wooden shed rods.  It’s like the time I had a lovely wooden Navajo weaving loom made for me when I lived in southern Chile and used rope to tension the warp only to find that a lot of the Navajo weavers are using metal looms and turnbuckles for tensioning. After weaving for some time on that Navajo loom I found that copper pipe for the loom bars worked much better than wood anyway.

I travel from place to place and see things and bring back ideas to add to the ingredients that go into my weaving melting pot.

And now I am about to apply some Bolivian highland weaving technology to a weaving tradition on the other side of the world.

I am jumping the gun this week by sampling for the next piece in my red, black and white wall hanging series and I am concocting quiet a brew in the old melting pot.. I say jumping the gun as I am nowhere near finished the third piece which is coming along veeeeery slowly! The other two pieces while off the loom are not yet completely finished. But the temptation to  put an idea into action once it develops and starts churning in my head is irresistible!

You can see the melting pot at work in the above pieces…I took a motif designed by a German weaver for tablet weaving and wove it in an Andean technique, Chilean ponchos called chamantos influenced the leaf design hanging to which I added weft twining which has nothing to do with Chilean ponchos and the piece inspired by si’ira  weavings of northern Columbia and Venezuela has more than a few of my own added touches.

Some of the traditional colors of Bedouin weaving make that the perfect influence for what will be in the fourth piece in the wall hanging series… in red, black and white, of course.

It was a weird and wonderful path that led me to Bedouin weavings way back in October 2010. I was Googling weft twining techniques after having seen the twined work of Montagnard (Vietnamese hilltribe) backstrap weavers in North Carolina in August 2010.

A book on the Taaniko twining practiced by the Maoris of New Zealand helped me to get started on my own off-loom experiments…. a Maori technique for Vietnamese patterns…straight out of the melting pot!

This piece has Montagnard designs as well as motifs found in both Bedouin weaving and twining. My Google searches led me to sites with Bedouin weaving and I was in love! I bought Joy Totah Hilden’s book on Bedouin weaving after finding her website and was pleased to be able to see images of the back of the woven pieces making the technique easy to identify as warp substitution which I already knew how to do. There is a link to a pdf  on Bedouin weaving by Hilden on my RESOURCES page.

It was clear from the book that the Bedouin do their twining  both on and off the loom and so I was interested in trying it on the loom…it’s so much easier when the warp is under tension, as far as I am concerned, and that enabled me to use much finer yarn than I had used for the off-loom piece.

Here is the first piece with its al’ouerjan (in which I had made a warping mistake) and shajarah patterns. The al’ouerjan pattern is the checkerboard type design on the sides.

The twined sections are sometimes worked in the middle of the woven piece as well as at both ends.

I then dove into the melting pot and added a finish of wrapped warp ends…

I enjoyed the process and I wanted to know more…both about weft twining in general and about Bedouin weaving.

I was especially curious as I found out from Betsy, who works with the Montagnard weavers in North Carolina, that their weft twining technique is done off-loom and this astonished me as the yarn they use for their designs is so very fine (Cebelia #20 or finer). I had to see and learn this! Betsy was happy to have me visit and I was able to learn from Jarai weaver, Ngach.

And in the meantime, Tracy, a member of the Backstrap Weaving Group on Ravelry, started showing us gorgeous pictures of Bedouin textiles from the souk in Doha Qatar where she currently lives and telling us about her experiences watching a Bedouin weaver at work.

From books and images on the internet to suddenly finding myself seated next to Ngach, watching her bobbins twirl as she gracefully applied weft twined patterns to her large blanket piece off the loom, listening to her stories about her desire and determination as a young girl to learn to make the traditional kteh patterns. It was a dream come true.

Once back home, I stirred the tricks and tips I had witnessed with Ngach about color changes, hiding the ”bump” and other details into the pot and made my own kteh designs on my backstrap woven piece which you can see above.

I did it on the loom as my off-loom techniques still really needed some work! The advantage with off-loom twining is that several backstrap woven pieces once off the loom can be joined together and then the weft twining can be added along the edge of the entire piece. I have yet to do that and will definitely do so one of these days. I have my bobbins and thread ready!

Much later, the following year, came a golden gift in the form of  bag made from pieces of Bedouin weaving that Tracy sent to me through a friend who was visiting Bolivia.

Once again, imagine the thrill of getting to feel and smell the real thing…forgive me but that coarse handspun wool is just begging to be smelled! The bag is pictured above on the right next to the cotton piece that I made.

As you can see below, the floats that form in in the shajarah pattern area (the black and white design strip) are really very long! Some of them are even broken from possibly having gotten caught on things.

Now back to the sample I am weaving for the fourth wall hanging. I want to do a Bedouin-style piece but I do not want the long floats on the back. Tracy showed us images of pieces from a co-operative in Oman in which the weavers had found a way to tie down the floats  in the al’ouerjan parts (the checkerboard patterns) of their weaving possibly to make the pieces more attractive to foreign customers. It didn’t take long for me to see that they were using a  second fine weft to do so. This makes the woven cloth more practical too.

You can see the long floats that you typically get on the back of the fabric in the lower right hand corner of the image on the right and see how the appearance improves when the second fine weft is used. Unfortunately the second fine weft does not do much for improving the appearance of the shajarah patterns (the larger back and white patterns).
The solution to that is to go once more to the ingredients on the shelf and add some of the Bolivian highland weaving technology that I mentioned earlier to the mix. So I added embedded double weave to my sample, a technique I learned while studying with weavers in Potosi, Bolivia.

This technique allows you to weave sections of double weave alongside plain weave in the one piece. It is essentially the same warp substitution technique but with an extra step or two which basically insures, with the use of a second weft, that all the warps are interlaced with none left to float on either face.

The two-color center section of the band at left is double weave alongside a plain-weave single-color border.

What I sometimes don’t like about the embedded double weave technique is the obvious transition in the fabric from plain weave to double…the climb from single layer to double layer and back again which naturally has to occur….it is sometimes more obvious than at other times depending quite often on the kind of yarn used, and I have been experimenting with various things to help soften that. I don’t want to make the entire piece double weave either.(The three-color double weave that would be required to weave the al’ouerjan pattern is bulky and unattractive).  And that is where I throw my very own bit of spice into the melting pot!

It is still in the experimental stage but what I am trying to do is combine double weave with plain weave, add the thin weft for tying down the al’ouerjan warp floats and make the transition from plain to  double weave section as subtle as possible with a trick I am trying out.

There is my first Bedouin piece on the left and the new sample on the right. The upper surfaces of both look the same and I don’t think you can tell that the center of the new sample is double weave.

The big difference is the back side of the fabric. My embedded double weave sample is on the left and my first sample with its long floats on the right. If this goes along well, I shall use this technique for my fourth wall hanging using the deeper shade of red that I have used for the other piece and incorporating more traditional Bedouin patterns.

So, enough red, black and white for goodness sake! Bring on some other colors. Here are projects from Ravelry group members and other online friends to save the day…

Oops! My bicycling friend Anna in Australia just happens to be using the same colors in a double weave piece. This is a Mapuche design from the book in Spanish by Enrique Taranto.

A new member to the Raverly group, Rob, showed us what he has been doing with simple warp floats inspired by a Guatemalan piece that Jennifer found on the Education and More website. You may remember that Bobbie wove a very large version of this in naturally dyed Guatemalan cotton thread that she bought from Education and More. Rob has added his own twist to the pattern at left.

Here are some of his other bands with simple warp floats and supplementary wefts. He used two supplementary wefts in different colors at the same time and says that one color stands out more than the other depending on the angle at which you view the piece….

Another new member, Tracy, blew us away with her first ever piece made from her own handspun wool…we love her loom set-up!

And Xav dove straight into double weave and the llama figures that I have charted here on the blog…her first ever backstrap woven band!

Jeen used her pebble weave experiments as embellishments on a couple of bags she completed. I love what she calls her “ball bag” and I think her use of variegated yarn for the border of her plain pebble weave band is so cool.

From Sweden Camila sent me pictures of her bands….

Some fun and clever designs with simple warp floats….she wove a pattern which is traditionally woven in a complementary- warp technique in the two-color simple warp float technique instead and it looks great!! On the right she has a pebble weave design from my book on her backstrap loom.

Well, I am off to continue my small sample as I think I can make something with it, weave a few rows on the third big wall hanging piece and see what unusual combination of ingredients might inspire the next piece on the loom…..


  1. I Laverne!, quede maravillada por el tejido beduino, el de las hojas, me parece sumamente delicado, tengo ganas de probar algo parecido en mi teler de 4 cuadros, podre? espero que si !!! Gracias por lo que compartes con nosotros!!!

  2. Laverne, you never cease to amaze me. Your work is absolutely unbelievable!!

  3. Okay, a search for chamanto weaving found this site
    Chamanto Weaving – Chile
    Note short heddles (pencils?) with loops bundled and tied in groups

    I like the chamanto pieces. Always an adventure to read your posts.
    Have a good day!

  4. I love the way that your mind works and how you are able to put all of those ingredients in and stir them together! Can’t wait to see #4!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: