Posted by: lavernewaddington | September 6, 2013

Backstrap Weaving – Working the Weft

I keep picking up the white paper bag that is lying on the chair in the bedroom half buried under a pile of tubular bands and warps. I scratch my head and wonder “What on earth is this?” My idea was to stop putting weaving things away in the closet. I fear the old “out of sight, out of mind” thing. So, the bag remains on the chair. I open the bag…oh yes, the contents of the paper bag are too precious to be left just lying about.  However, they are out of sight in the bag and, therefore, I keep forgetting what a  gorgeous delicate object it is that lies within.

Guatemalan supplementary weftIt is the wee Guatemalan backstrap loom that I bought at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July. I gaped at the stunningly beautiful and delicate cotton gauze huipiles on the Guatemalan stand of weaver Amalia Gue with their white-on-white supplementary-weft patterns and was thrilled when I found that I could take home a relatively inexpensive example of these remarkable pieces.

This photo and description of Amalia Gue is from the website of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

Guatemala_AmaliaGue_ArtistPortrait2_smAmalia represents Ixbalamke, a cooperative of women dedicated to the production of traditional textiles and preservation of traditional weaving. They live in the community of Samac de Cobán in Alta Verpaz and are inspired by the landscape and beautiful views of the region. The members of the cooperative maintain the intricate technique of gauze weaving and the use of coyuche, or natural brown cotton – practices that are rapidly disappearing. They also have a project making little looms for younger generations to continue to learn the tradition of weaving.

The cotton warp and weft is very fine and rather soft and a bit fluffy. It had not been sized. A thicker very loosely spun cotton is used for the supplementary weft. I haven’t looked at it closely enough to see if it is one thick strand or several fine strands combined. I am afraid that I will have to pull out one of the motifs in orderto ascertain that.

There are no obvious start and finish weft tails for the figures. The little bird figures just mysteriously start and finish. By picking at the weft I can see that the cotton used to weave the figures is most likely just twisted to undo the spin a little so that it can be torn when the motif is finished rather  than cut to give a blunt end. The torn end then just sits obediently within the shed. I think the fluffiness of the supplementary weft and the thread used for the ground weave causes all the fibers to interact and  somehow mesh and this is what prevents the motifs from unravelling….just my guesses and ramblings.

Guatemakan mini loom with supplementary weft patterningSo insanely delicate. Yet, this is the fabric of huipiles that I assume are frequently washed.

As it turns out, I have three large skeins of natural and bleached white Guatemalan cotton that is the same as the thread used in this piece. It has sat in the closet since 2008. It was an impulse buy and, when I got it home, I figured that it was way too soft for warp-faced backstrap weaving. I decided that one day I would size it and use it for something. For me, the biggest challenge will be achieving that even gauze-y ground weave. How in the world do the weavers manage that?  The good thing is that I have a ton of the thread and can afford to experiment and fail and try again.

I haven’t done supplementary-weft patterning on an open weave like that before. There will be much to learn! He is one of the huipiles for sale on the Gautemalan stand. This one was easier to capture in a photograph than the white-on-white ones.

Guatemalan huipil santa fe folk art market 2013So, while on the subject of the workings of supplementary wefts to create patterns, let me show you a few more things that I saw while in Santa Fe.

This is the work of weavers in the Sna Jolobil cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico headed by Pedro Meza Meza…


And from Myanmar, Chin weaving…..

myanmar supp wef….brought to the Market by Khun Shwe and Pa Mang, experts in the textiles of the 40 subgroups within the Chin culture.

All the textiles I looked at on Khun Shwe’s stand were created with the single-faced weft inlay technique that I describe in my tutorial here. Below, you can see the “clean” back side of one of the pieces. 

single faced supplementary weft patterning myanmar

khun shwe myanmarIf you are in Santa Fe outside of the weekend of the International Folk Art Market there are still plenty of ethnic textiles to be seen at the Travelers’ Market not far from the downtown area. Many thanks to Marilyn who put me onto this place. It kept me happily occupied during one of the days leading up to the Folk Market.

There, I got to catch up with Pam Nadjowski whom I had met at Convergence 2010 in Albuquerque. Pam has a booth in the Travelers’ Market with textiles, jewellry and artefacts from Chinese minority groups that she has collected over the years. It was from Pam, in the booth she had at Convergence, that I bought the beautiful fine bamboo reeds that I use on my backstrap loom when I want to weave balanced cloth. These are treasures to me!

bamboo reedsPam allowed me to examine and photograph the beautiful silk brocade cloths, with pattern appearing on both sides, which come from the Quiandongnan area of China. They are used as baby carrying slings.

Sadae Torimaru in “Spiritual Fabric. 20 Years of Textile Research among the Liao People of Guizhou, China” briefly describes the patterning technique. She shows a weaver working at a floor loom and writes that each row of supplementary weft pattern takes 7-8 minutes to pick. The book includes 3 pages of images of individual symbols that are traditionally woven into the baby carrying slings and information about what they represent….such things as roosters’ feet, grass in paddy fields and a big tiger’s claw. It is interesting to go through the photos I took and identify the symbols in the book.

Here is just one of many pieces that I photographed. What an amazing piece of fabric in which to carry a baby.

???????????????????????????????I’ll show you just one more thing from Nagaland, a state in the far north-easten part of India.  There happened to be an exhibit of Nagaland textiles while I was visiting the Travelers’ Market.  Here is a very striking piece of fabric patterned with supplementary wefts. It is quite a contrast to the delicate Miao brocade. I like the way the supplementary weft extends from the sides of the cloth to form a fringe….an interesting solution to bulky weft turns on the edge of the fabric. I have more interesting pieces to show from Nagaland….another time.

???????????????????????????????As for my own weaving, it is a little “on hold” as I am counting down to my departure.

My living room floor has once again turned into a hop-scotch field of baskets of skeined yarn,  all sizes of balls of yarn arranged in possible color combinations, sticks, elastic bands, tape, warping boards and STUFF. This is where I warp. I love the speed and efficiency that comes from winding many warps this way….choose the colors, wind the warp, put the warp on the sticks, make heddles. For the simplest warps I make the heddles after the warp is wound right there on the warping board….Done!…NEXT!

4 color pebble weaveThe bedroom remains the paradise where I do the actual weaving. It is simply a smaller version of the chaos of the living room but has many more sticks as well as scattered cushions on which to sit and weave.

Now that I don’t have my cat anymore, I don’t need to put everything away from kitty claws at night. This means that things can remain in sight and in mind at all times rather than being put away in the closet to be possibly forgotten. There is quite an array of bits and pieces scattered about to remind me that there is this certain thing that I wanted to investigate further, or that color combo that I wanted to try or that pattern that I wanted to chart. I see them during the day and step on them in the middle of the night if I need to visit the bathroom.

I now have several weaving anchor points in the bedroom so I don’t even need to roll up a project and put it aside when I feel like working on another for a change of pace.

Between spurts of warping which can be rather mind-numbing, I wove one more  pattern on the four-color pebble weave band and rearranged the colors a little for the repeated motif. This is certainly something that can “un-numb” my mind!

And then, when my head is good and clear, I work on my supplementary-weft wall hanging. It’s not a sampler. I don’t want any mistakes in it and so, I leave that project for the times when I feel relaxed and want to reward myself after a good long bout of warping. I will give you a break from seeing that project this week.

Let’s look at what others have been up to….

hummingbird_guitar_strap_002_mediumI taught Janet the two-heddle intermesh technique that I teach in my second book, when I was visiting with her in northern California last spring. She wove this guitar strap using her own handspun wool and…. look at that, first prize at County Fair!  The strap has bird, leaf and hummingbird patterns. I got to see it when I was at her place in July but wasn’t allowed to show it here at that time because of the rules of entry in the Fair. I have been waiting and waiting to show you how fabulous this is.

Photo by Zev Eisenberg

Photo by Zev Eisenberg

Figmentling, from Ravelry, told me that she learned how to twine from the basic tutorial here on my blog. This is another resource that she consulted as well as this discussion on Weavolution where my friend, Franco Rios, lists many more resources for instructions and information. Then, she took it so so much further and created the bag you see above! It has interesting finishing techniques and a braided strap that she learned to make from Ingrid Crickmore’s loop braiding blog. She drafted her own pattern which she says commemorates the new bak’tun in the Mayan calendar.

DigitalLeaf from Ravelry shared pictures of her backstrap project.

DigitalLeaf backstrapIt looks  wide and very comfortable, has nice edges and is beautifully finished. I hope that she will get a lot of use from it.

And finally, I would like to share a comment I got from a reader this week. As one of my goals in writing my second book was to have people feeling confident and inspired enough to design and weave their own pebble weave patterns, I can’t tell you how happy this comment made me:

Thank goodness! I have finally cracked it. Having worked my way through the first Andean pebble weave book I was looking forward to dipping into the second and then I noticed that you had changed the pattern format. My heart sank and I put that book away for a month. But I looked at it this weekend, tried one of the smaller bands without any notations (thought it best just to throw myself into it) and by the time I was halfway through the first repeat it all made perfect sense and I can now read them perfectly and am presently designing my first band from scratch

Thank you Laverne – you have opened a whole new range of patterns to me.I will post my first effort when it is completed (if it works, that is)!

See you next week!


  1. Wow! Such amazing and beautiful work with weft. It is so interesting to see the range of possibilities from extremely delicate to large and bold. The possibilities are endless.

    • I have more possibilities to show from Nagaland…maybe next week, Julia.

  2. What a sweet, little piece of cotton gauze! I wonder, too, how they accomplish that on the backstrap loom. I’ve only been able to do it by heavily sizing the threads and using a reed. Amazing!

    • Hi Kristin,

      I suspect I will use a reed if I try it but wouldn’t mind trying first without one. I don’t like sizing…ick! The edges are very wobbly on the piece I bought. It narrows a fair bit to from start to finish. As the fabric is usually destined to be sewn into huipiles, I suppose the edges are not of great concern as they will be hidden in seams.

  3. Is there a site where one may purchase a small loom?

    • Elizabeth, if you look on my RESOURCES page (see the tabs on the blog header) you will find a link to a site that sells Guatemalan looms in various sizes.

      • Thank you so much Laverne; that was a fast reply!! Going to look now.

  4. Hi,
    Love that gauzy piece of fabric. I need a curtain in my toilet room and that would look and work well. Can’t wait to find out how to do it (and to get my skills up to the level to weave it!). It looks as though that round stick with the shiny thread wound round it might keep the warps apart? Then you could not beat as heavily to keep the gauzy finish in the weft? Does the stick slide up and down the warps? Just a thought.
    Thanks again for an inspiring blog.

  5. Love the idea of doing back strap weaving. I have a 24 in and 45 in floor loom and was thinking about the 18 in back strap on your web site.
    I have a question to ask concerning moth proof yarn. I got some Ellsa Wiliams tapestry yarn and it is moth proofed but I got concerned about the safety of the mothproofing used in it?

    • I am sorry, but I don’t know anything about moth proofing used on wool.

      • Thank you for your reply. May I ask what kind and size of yarn you mainly use for backstrap weaving?

      • The size of yarn I use depends very much on what I want to make. I use anything from 12 wraps per inch to 90 wraps per inch. The kind of yarn I use is very much limited to what I can get here in lowland Bolivia (crochet cotton) and bits and pieces I pick up on trips to the US. You will probably find the FAQ page about suitable yarns helpful.(look for the link to it on the side bar)

    • Thank you! What an amazing amount of information you have shared on all the links! After watching some of your vedios I am now thinking of making my backstrap loom.
      Not sure if you can order yarn from the us economically but DBNY seems to have a lot of cotton yarn come up with good discounts. Seem like they have their best discounts on weekends.
      Again, thanks. I will be spending a lot of time searching your site for information.

  6. For those of us who don’t have travel to Santa Fe planned any time soon, does Pam have an online shop or do you know another resource for the bamboo heddles?

    • Thev link to the Travelers’ Market that I supplied will take you to a list of all vendors which includes Pam. There will find a website address and her email address. I don’t think her website is going at the moment but you can email her. I am pretty sure that she has some bamboo reeds….note that they are reeds not heddles.

  7. Great to see you enjoying your Santa Fe Market purchases. We both got some good finds! And, of course, you got some great pictures, too.
    Janet’s guitar strap is terrific!

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