Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 25, 2013

Backstrap Weaving – The Music of Weaving

tools01A weaver posted something on Weavolution recently that stuck with me. An Australian gentleman, Hakim, is learning to make cut pile knotted rugs with an Iranian teacher in Australia. He said that when he is at home working on his practice piece, he can tell that the tension of the warps is correct if they make the same sound  when he handles them as they do when he is working on his learning piece with his teacher in class.

Priceless knowledge!

(At left you can see an example of a set of tools that I hope that Hakim can get for me for the day when I try this technique! It’s on that long, long to-do list).

Hakim’s comment made me think about the different sounds that are connected with weaving on simple looms and how much I enjoy them.

I am not one for placing things in my ears and listening to music while busy with something else. I can’t stand that. I like to be in touch with the sounds around me. They form a very important part of my memories of places and experiences.

In my skiing days, I would wonder at people who skied with headphones on. I would never give up the pleasure of hearing the wind and the swish of the skis on the snow, or the sudden change of sound as snow turned to ice giving me time to react and adjust position.

I learned to fly a glider when I was 19. There is nothing like the sound of an engine-less craft rushing through the air. There was so much with which to be occupied while learning (especially for someone like me who was so utterly un-coordinated at the time!) but I could always simply rely on my ears for certain information. For example, if the sound of the rushing air suddenly disappeared it was a sure sign that I had the nose up too high and that told me that I had better do something quickly before the glider stalled!

As for sounds while weaving, I love using multiple big swords. I so enjoy the musical tok tok sound they make as they knock together in the sheds. And I love the chuckling chatter of all the sticks on the loose as they fall together when I release tension and roll up the warp at the end of the day. You can see below the sticks used in the last wall hanging piece….many different kinds of wood making interesting sounds. It can become quite a collection!


Then there’s the plink plink sound as the tip of a delicate Guatemalan pick-up stick slides from one taut warp to the next as the weaver counts out threads for supplementary-weft inlay.


The dancing dangling bobbins used in weft twining go clackity clack as they twist and jiggle.

final-twining-sessionI love the opportunity to drag the llama bone tool across strong highly-twisted wool threads…scritch, scritch, as I strum to help separate the warps.

OListen to my teacher doing it…

If you stroll around a  village of weavers in the central highlands of Bolivia, you will know in which houses a weaver is at work by the LOUD THWACK!! THWACK!! of the llama bone hitting the sword as the wefts are slammed into place. That sound is one that  is not really pleasant, at least to my ear, when I am seated right next to my teacher. Here is one of my teachers in Candelaria at work at her loom:

When I stayed in the stilt-house home of my weaving teacher in Ecuador, I was often awoken by the muffled thump, thump and accompanying vibrations as Trini drew down her heavy beater while working at her vertical loom. This was combined with various house shaking and creaking sounds as the loom was connected to floor and ceiling beams…a part of the house itself. You can see that big sword/beater lying across Trini’s leg below and get an idea of the muscle that goes into operating this particular set-up!


The sound of threads in a warp-faced weaving rubbing past each other as a shed is opened can range from a soothing smooth swish to a painful tearing protest depending on the yarn being used and how it has been prepared.

when weaving with new backstrap weavers, we even learn to be amused by the constant clatter of swords jumping out of their sheds and hitting the floor. Each sword has its own musical tone…nowhere near as much fun on a rug! A cement floor greatly enhances the melody!

Joan following a pattern chart at the Mannings.

By the way, I am in charge of picking up the fallen swords….gives me something to do. It is funny that as time goes by we have people weaving in silence. What happened to our musical accompaniment? Well, new weavers, without even realizing it, get a feel for the right amount of tension and the sweet spot in the warp where the sword will sit happily upright and not leap to the floor. Or…they just get rather good at catching the sword on its way down!

Maybe one of the nicest sounds for me is the fwip fwip fwip fwip in rapid succession as I pull my heddle string quickly but carefully (or else it will tangle miserably!) off its heddle stick. This means that the piece is finished!

Speaking of finishing…the wall hanging is off the loom and away in the closet until another time when I can face braiding all the warp ends. I will show it to you when that is done.

In the meantime I am circular-warped and coil-rodded in my purple scarf project! Thank you teachers Felipe and Ju Nie.

purple sacrf project backstrap loom

facebook postCheck out that coil rod! If you are wondering what all that fuss is about, read last week’s post. I am using my studies with Guatemalan teachers to weave the supplementary weft patterns.

The pattern you see above will appear at both ends. I am resisting the temptation to fill the middle with designs and hope to weave one long continuous pattern in the narrow area bordered by gold along both outside edges. I may place very widely-spaced small individual motifs in the center panel as I go.

I am inspired by the colors in the  above picture that appeared on my Facebook news feed. I do hope to be able to give you its source later. I can’t find it for the time being.

I like the circular warp. It took a while to clamp it well enough so that it wouldn’t just slip around the loom bars with every movement. I am not yet sure what role the coil rod is playing but it isn’t getting in the way of anything so there it shall stay.

dovetail warp Salasaca EcuadorI can see the merit of the triangular set-up that my belt weaving teacher in Ecuador uses with his circular warp.

That set-up opens out the circular warp (into a triangular shape) separating the lower layer from the upper. I am not using the triangular set-up and I find it a little off-putting seeing the lower layer immediately below where I am weaving. The unwoven threads fan out a bit wider than the woven fabric and makes it a bit harder for me to clearly see and control what is happening at the edges of the upper layer. It is also more difficult to get to the back of the weaving, which is necessary when dealing with the tails of the supplementary wefts. I have to work my hand between the two layers to do so.

But, I have just started and will, no doubt, get used to this just as I am now used to the fineness of the thread with which I am working.

As I get used to this I am hoping to find out more about the coil rod and what it is doing. Until next week….



  1. love!

  2. Lovely essay about the sounds of weaving. Weaving really does engage all the senses!

  3. I know exactly what you mean, Laverne! I have a Swedish loom with almost no metal, and when I weave, I love to listen to the soft clack as the harnesses pass by each other. It is its own music. Thank you for a beautiful post. Love your blog!

  4. Beautiful Laverne. I marvel at your ability to observe and share all the sensory aspects of weaving. Your black, white and red wall hangings are just stunning. And this new purple weaving is clearly going to be equally as amazing. So inspiring.

  5. Lovely post. I prefer spinning and weaving without music, too. As I enjoy the sounds of the wheel and loom and the stillness that comes with that.

  6. Yes…so true! i did production hand weaving for years and taught others also. I always said that weaving involves all the senses (maybe not smell….so much). When you are weaving you get into the rhythm and the sound is part of it. You learn the sound when you are “in the flow” and I used to say that if it sounds different or you hear something different don’t ignore it! There probably is something amiss…..the reed is loose or has shifted, a harness is sagging, a treadle hook is off, a screw or bolt on the loom is loose. Sound is part of the experience.
    And while some think production weaving must be boring….it isn’t to some of us. It is a beautiful dance for the body, feast for the eyes, music for the ears and meditation for the mind…..

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