Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 11, 2013

Backstrap Weaving – New Challenges: Wider, Longer, Finer.

While doing some house keeping in my album of weavings on Facebook, I came across a picture I took of the first red, black and white wall hanging I made entitled “Starry Night”. My caption read that I was weaving this in order to push myself beyond my current width comfort zone. That was a nice reminder as I am now on the third piece of similar width in this series and I have to say that I feel very comfortable with this width now! Seems that I need to go wider.

The first two pieces in the wall hanging series

The first two pieces in the wall hanging series.

Here is where I stand with piece number three. That snake continues to slither its way up the cloth.


The pick-up is a piece of cake now…really! There’s nothing like repetition to firmly embed a design in your head and fingers. It began with lots of tedious chart reading which was made a lot easier with the use of removable highlighter tape. Then I played a favorite game…read the cloth and guess what comes next. Then, before passing the weft, sneak a peek at the chart to see if you are correct. Next comes reading the cloth, deciding what comes next and going for it. Beat, pass the weft and then look at the cloth, not at the chart, to see if you were correct. Eventually you reach that chart-free happy place.

But then….you finish the weaving, you start something entirely new with a totally different structure and the fun begins again!

As for going wider….there are still quite a few more pieces I want to make in this current series, but when I do get to the point when I am ready to break out of the old comfort zone, I will need some new equipment…longer loom bars for a start. I already have some pretty long swords.  I would also love to have the kind of backstrap that some of the weavers in Peru use.

Chiclayo and Santiago Atitlan

With its two sets of straps, it was designed to accommodate different widths of weaving.

And, I would like to weave longer pieces. The scarf that I recently made had me extended to the limits of my weaving space. I rolled up part of the warp at the far loom bar but I really prefer to have the warp unrolled at full stretch.

backstrap warp for scarf project

There was just enough space to put my cushion and sit with my back against the closet door. So, if I am to go longer, it is a simple matter of using a circular warp. I have woven on these kinds of warps on a few occasions. Anyone who does inkle weaving certainly knows about circular warps.


The pictures above show a band on which I was working on my inkle loom. The warp is a complete circle. The black band next to it has been warped in a single plane in the same way as the long black scarf warp. Once weaving is finished, the circular warp is cut apart and the band can be extended to its full length.

The Montagnard weavers with whom I studied use circular warps for their long blanket and skirt panels.

montagnard weaver opening heddle shedYou can see Ju Nie above weaving the top part of her circular warp.

Probably the most time I spent weaving on a circular warp was when I learned to weave the typical belt of Salasaca, Ecuador. My teacher, Felipe, wove on his narrow front porch and his way of setting up a circular warp allowed him to sit and weave the very long belt even in that small space.

dovetail warp Salasaca Ecuador

Felipe’s belt will not have to be cut once the weaving is finished. He has warped in what is known as “dovetail”  fashion.

dovetail warp set-up

The following diagram will show you how he is using five of the six sticks you can see in the above picture to wind the warp for the white ground weave. The stick marked with the red arrow is the one around which the warps “dovetail”. When weaving is finished, the stick will be removed and the belt can be opened out. You can see the dovetail stick in the photo of Felipe weaving. It is in the section of  band that lies along the porch post.

dovetail warping path

And, if you are wondering about the sixth stick…that stick is used to hold the colored supplementary warps. Salasacan belts are woven in a supplementary-warp technique.

my salasaca belt

The diagram above shows the path of the white warps in the ground weave. The following diagram shows the path of the colored supplementary warps. In Salasaca, the supplementary warps all go together in a heddle of their own rather than being split between the two ground weave sheds.

dovetail warp path 2

angela-and-hammock-loomYou can see that when the dovetail stick or cord is removed, the end loops of the warp will stay intact. The loops can be very useful for finishing the woven item.

Guaraní hammock weavers here in Santa Cruz use the dovetail warping method and use the intact end loops for attaching the cords from which the hammock will be suspended.

So, longer warps are on the drawing board for me which will mean building a new warping board or modifying my existing ones.

I would really like to have a set-up like Felipe’s. Too bad I don’t have a porch on which to sit (and, yes, the view was lovely from there). I have seen pictures and videos of many Asian weavers with similar “triangular” set-ups. I will have to see into which wall I can drill holes in a place where I can still get good light! The idea of raising my bed way up high to give myself more space is gaining more and more merit.

The third challenge is to use finer yarn and I am already in training for that with my scarf projects made from Guatemalan cotton. I have a ball of fabulous indigo-dyed silk that an English teaching colleague brought back for me from Japan years ago. It is heavier than the 60/2 silk that I have been using as supplementary weft and I think that it is a good weight for a first large silk weaving experiment.

Light blue Japanese silk, spools of 60/2 silk, yellow 8/2 tencel and purple Guatemalan cotton.

Light blue Japanese silk, spools of 60/2 silk, yellow 8/2 tencel and purple Guatemalan cotton.

pebble weave with silkHowever, this doesn’t mean an end to band weaving! I love weaving bands just for the pure fun of it and don’t care if I don’t have a particular use for them.

Narrow bands are a good way to test new yarn or check the proportions of a newly charted motif.

I love weaving miniatures too and have already used the 60/2 silk in a small pebble weave band (at left) to test the yarn, check how difficult it might be to see for doing pick-up as well as to try out a new pebble weave motif.

Band weaving for me is also a nice way to take a break from large pieces on which I might be working…only 16 threads to pick up rather than the 286 in my current project and I can attach to a toe and weave on the sofa.

Much of last year was spent finishing my second book which involved a lot of weaving of samples… mostly bands and a few larger pieces. I have buckets of bands here! They won’t be made into anything. Some of them are very useful in that they travel to my workshops and make good teaching tools.

I took this next idea from my friend Yonat who put together a display of her inkle bands to photograph. I  put together a few of the bands that went into my book last year. They are of different widths and lengths…some barely two inches long… and so, my display is not as pretty and uniform and Yonat’s.

backsrap woven bands for book

The resulting book with yet more bands on the cover…

More adventures book cover dsz

You can download it from

ANWG 2013

The North West Weavers Conference, which will be held in Bellingham, Washington this June, recently opened its registrationI am going and hope to see you there!

To finish, here are some great projects from members of the Ravelry group…


Carrie wove this warp-faced band using the frame of her rigid heddle loom on which to extend her warp. She used string heddles and a shed rod rather than the rigid heddle. The patterns were created with supplementary warps. Gorgeous! We all love the soft colors she chose.

amandaAmanda kindly shared part of her band with her first attempt at creating patterns with supplementary wefts. She shows the difference that applying less tension to her warp made to the amount of coverage she achieved with the supplementary weft. She is using #10 crochet cotton for warp and embroidery floss as her supplementary weft.


Janet wove this guitar strap for her husband with her own hand-spun and dyed wool. She used instructions for the pick-up patterns from Anne Dixon’s inkle weaving book.  She included words from a song which her husband wrote in the design and used guitar strap hardware made by our friend Annie MacHale to put it all together.

Speaking of Annie, she has been dazzling us on Facebook with the gorgeous straps she has been making on her inkle loom to sell at a big guitar show this weekend in California. Annie is all about color…I will leave you with just four examples of the more than forty guitar straps she will have for sale!

annies straps

So, my challenges are longer, wide, finer. What are yours?


  1. Hi Laverne, Thank you so much for your site…..completely absorbing! I am a fibre artist in the Staffordshire Moorlands, and a brand new back strap weaver…So far i have made a few little samples with plenty of mistakes and with much more care have finished my first back strap.
    I am using an odd collection of oversized knitting needles, pipe cut-offs and rulers…seems to be working a treat! will try and send pics….
    Take Care and thanks again

    • Hi Ruby. Thanks for writing. I would love to see pictures of what you have been making.

  2. I am so glad you mentioned “I love weaving bands just for the pure fun of it and don’t care if I don’t have a particular use for them.” Almost always the first question asked by people is “what will you do with it?” I notice that question rarely, if ever, is asked of painters. Paintings are beautiful in and of themselves. So too are weavings.

    The dovetail is genius! It is something like the way the discontinuous warp is made, correct? Except with the discontinuous warp a weft yarn is inserted so the warp stays together. Is that right?

    My next challenge? Don’t be overwhelmed with options. Just keep working steadily. Thank you for the inspiration. Your blog is amazing!

    • Yes, Julia, you are right about the dovetail being the join that is used in the discontinuous-warp pieces. I like what you say about artists not being asked about the purpose of their paintings. So true! Good luck with your own fiber challenge!

  3. And I love it that cats show up so often with weavers. (Felipe in Ecuador) A weaver, knitter, spinner friend of mine thinks it is no accident that cats and yarn lovers spend so much time together!

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