Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 17, 2014

Backstrap Weaving – Sunny Side Up

The only “problem” with double-faced structures, like Andean Pebble Weave, is that you sometimes don’t get to see and enjoy both faces of the fabric. I wove the above piece (using a non-Andean pattern) and then folded and sewed it into a bag. I had to decide which was the “sunny side” or, the side I would have on the outside of the bag while the other side, sadly, would be hidden forever on the inside. Actually, in this case, I guess I ended up choosing what you might call the “shady” side, the one on the right, the darker of the two options. The lighter, or sunny side, went on the inside.

Some of the structures I weave have two acceptable faces but there is one that is obviously the “right” one. What I call the simple warp float structure is one such structure.

central asian backstrap weavingThis is the piece I wove and sewed into a case for my little notebook computer.

central asian simple warp floats both sidesBoth sides are attractive in their own way. The “right” side on the left is patterned with warp floats. The other face shows exposed weft.  So, in the end, I didn’t have to hesitate over which side to use as the outside of the bag.

The same goes for the latest computer bag that I have been weaving.

wool warp backstrap weavingRemember the wool warp that I showed in last week’s post? It really was just supposed to be an experiment in weaving with loosely spun and plied wool. I was nervous about it but, as soon as I started weaving, I could tell that it was going to work out. I could open the sheds carefully and achieve nice clean openings without stressing the wool much at all. I used nylon heddles (yes, shock, horror…you know how much I hate nylon heddles!).

No fluff accumulated on the heddles but it did between the cross sticks and at the point where I pressed down on warps to help raise the heddles. I just gently removed the fluff each time I had to slide the cross sticks up the warp. This didn’t become a problem as I advanced the warp as often as I could so that the points of pressure and friction  and resulting fluffing were never in the same spot for too long.

???????????????????????????????So, I decided that this warp was going to be  a keeper and that I may as well add some patterns with wool supplementary weft. The technique I used is single faced so I won’t have to make a decision about which face is the sunny side.

As you can see below in this cotton example I wove some time ago, the back side of this single-faced technique is plain (which I suppose could be the side you chose to show if you went over the top with your supplementary-weft design and made something that you felt was garish).

???????????????????????????????The only problem with the wool project was that I had used up most of this little wool stash in the warping and only had a bit of terracotta yarn left with which to make patterns.

You can see that I used a coil rod to prevent corrugation. I wouldn’t really expect ridging with wool as it is so springy and forgiving but I wasn’t taking any chances. The wool was behaving nicely and I didn’t want to push it by having to unweave and start over if ridges appeared.

wool warp with pattern color changes backstrap weaving supplementary weftTwo warp ends broke while none of the others looked particularly worn at all.

Eventually I had to change to green supplementary weft. That was okay as I also had a green stripe in the warp into which I could hide the weft turns.This allowed me to save the little remaining terracotta to weave the same design at the other end.

And then just to make things more “interesting” I decided that, since I weave with wool so infrequently, I should use this piece as an opportunity to practice making something with four selvedges.  I turned the whole thing around and started weaving in from the other end.

four selvedge wool warp backstrap weavingBring out the little sticks, the skinny shuttles, the umbrella ribs, the needles and a large serving of patience!

In the above picture there are just under two inches left to weave and I am still, thankfully, able to use both the shed rod and string heddles. I think doing all that twining last week was a good warm-up to this. It was taking me forty minutes to twine a single row. Opening the sheds and weaving in this small space, so far, is a lot faster! I expect that to change pretty soon!

I thnk I might have trouble needle-weaving the last rows as the yarn is plied so loosely. I fear that I will be continually splitting the two strands with the needle.

creating the shed with a needleI suspect that the overspun and tightly plied yarn created by the weavers in Pitumarca, Peru would be easier to work with in this case. I needle wove the two ends of the discontinuous-warp piece shown above (my teacher Yaneth is demonstrating in the picture). Now I will be able to see how it compares with using store-bought yarn.

Will my wool project end up being the computer slip case that I had planned? I am not sure. I definitely want to decorate all four edges with a tubular band and am hoping that I can scrape together enough of this wool to do so. We will see what it wants to be when finished.

As for the twining that was giving me trouble…..

???????????????????????????????….it is done. I have yet to find a spot with good light to stretch this out to full length for photgraphing. Neither of the reds in the above picture are the true color.

After having problems with either the twining buckling or the fabric getting a pleated look, I twined and untwined and finally found the right formula. So, now the three panels are joined across the top and I shall set it all aside while I decide what to do at the bottom. Most likely I will make masses of tiny braids which is how I chose to finish the other three pieces in this series.

hatbands boliviaThis fourth hanging was inspired by hatbands used by the women in the Bolivian highland community of Calcha (the one bottom left in the picture at left).

I visited Calcha in August 1997.  It was a festival weekend and I hadn’t known. Because of the big party in progress, none of the women were weaving. A small boy ran home and brought back a hatband to show and later sell to me when I asked about weaving. I always wonder if he had taken it right off his mother’s hat and if he had gotten in trouble over it later. 

???????????????????????????????Now to dye some cotton red for  number five in the wall hanging series. Thank you, Bobbie, for giving me some of your Guatemalan cotton so that I can over-dye it for my projects.

So, we will see the end of the woolly adventure next week. If it gets frustrating, I will get up and do some more keyfob braids. I added one more to the collection this week…the one on the left. It is simply the Palma braid done with only two colors instead of three.

And if the wool project all goes horribly wrong, I shall cut the piece in two and use the two pieces as front and back for a computer slip case anyway.

I think I will be looking more closely at wool when I am visiting the Mannings yarn store. I can usually quite safely breeze through the store without getting too tempted by anything.  I would like to see what other wool I can find that works so nicely on my backstrap loom (the wool for this current project is KnitPicks Palette, by the way. It comes in so many colors! I am almost scared to name it. Every time I fnd a wool designed for knitters that I like to use for weaving, it gets discontinued!).

Last time I was at the Mannings I was checking out the Harrisville Shetland as I had had success using it for warp-faced weaving straight off the cone on a floor loom. I made this band with it on my friend Pam’s floor loom. It felt so good!

warp-faced wool bandI have had success with Navajo warp on my backstrap loom too. I bought a ball in natural white and dyed it and made the bag with Mapuche designs below when I was still living in Chile. It was overtwisted and easy to use and made a good sturdy fabric for a bag but I am looking for fabric with a softer, kinder feel now.

mapuche-bag-front-and-backScreenHunter_003Why am I buying wool and not spinning it myself? One reason is that there simply isn’t any available here to spin in lowland Bolivia where I live.

I think of all those years I lived in the Chilean Patagonia and all the sheep! Wool? It was everywhere! My boyfriend down there  worked as a shepherd for many years. I could have all the fleece I wanted. I did spin some of it and wove it as a plain balanced-weave piece that became the back of a vest. I used the rest of the handspun to knit the front. And then…. I moved to the tropics!

The picture above is from a free e-book entitled The Patagonian Loom, A guide for Beginners the link for which Weaving Southwest shared on Facebook today. It describes the continuing weaving tradition in the southern parts of Chile (not as far down south as where I was living where, unfortunately, I never came across anyone weaving). 

It’s a lovely book crammed with pictures with text in both Spanish and English. It gives a short history of the loom and then describes, the spinning, dyeing and weaving processes. It also provides instructions for warping and setting up the loom for projects that are typical of the region…saddle blankets, saddle bags, sashes, even a poncho. Thank you Weaving Southwest for sharing the link!

ScreenHunter_001Look at that gorgeous chunky handspun on the cover of the book which is used for warp-faced weaving on the vertical Patagonian loom. It reminds me of the fabulous yarn that Ace, one of my US friends, spun to weave into a backstrap. I had a lot of fun weaving with that yarn. It looked hairy and scary but wove up beautifully!

???????????????????????????????Now to get back to the loom and get my hands into that wool warp. Enjoy the e-book with its glimpse of life in the Chilean Patagonia.


  1. That is Palette? I have knitted with it and would not have considered weaving with it. Thank you for experimenting! I shall get out my stash of leftovers when I get back to Backstrap weaving.
    Love the ebook, there is so much information. Thanks for sharing it here.
    So glad the twining on your wall hanging worked out. It just lovely!

    • Thank you, Cindy! Note that if I had stores with all kinds of wool nearby I most likely would choose something else over the Palette. I just happened to have that here and thought, why not? If you have some in your stash not destined for anything in particular then go for it but I think that you will probably find other yarn that is easier to work with. Also note as I told Lausanne that I only used it for plain weave. I don’t think it would stand up to the density of intermesh, for example.

  2. Wool, wool, sensuous WOOL! I am so impressed with your lovely wool warps and the supplementary weft designs you chose. You give me courage to dive back into a wool warp after my next project. Who would think Palette would be a warp-face backstrapper’s choice?! I’ve admired the range of colors before, wondering how it would be for weaving. It is just a little hard to imagine you in the humid tropical heat working with wool though…
    I can’t wait to see your wall hanging displayed and seen in perspective.

    • Thanks, Lausanne. The supp weft pattern is my adaptation of a Bedouin motif. I woudn’t say that Palette was my choice. I just happened to have some Palette and thought that I should try it out. It’s not like I can go out to the store here and buy other kinds of wool. You probably have other wool in your stash that would work better…some of that tapestry wool, perhaps? It’s all about gentle and smooth shed-opening technique. Plus, remember that I just did plain weave. I think that the action of the swords for two-sword pick-up would be too abrasive.

  3. Hi Laverne,

    What a beautiful piece the woollen piece, and so cool you are making it four selvedged. Good luck with the final needle woven rows!

    Hope you are well and settled back in at home in SC.
    All good here: hot!
    Cheers from Tassie

    • Thanks, Anna. All good and hot here too which makes me wonder why I have decided that now is the time to work with wool! Settled back in, thanks!

  4. Hi Laverne,
    The Palma braid tutorial is great! My first braid has every possible mistake, but by the end of the second I understand the structure and have the tension under control. Thanks for revisiting it.

    • I am glad that I revisited it too, Jayne. I had forgotten how relaxing it is. Learning to look at the braid itself to figure out what comes next is always helpful and that comes with practice and, yes, maintaining good tension is important. I give each strand a good tug before crossing it over and then give all the inactives a yank when I am rotating them into active position. The first braid I made in the keyfob set was sloppy and loose because I wasn’t yanking the inactive groups.Now they are good and firm!

  5. Thank you for the tips on using wool on the backstrap. I’ve been spinning some and hope it is strong enough. I will have to try it out before summer comes. Wool does have a different depth than cotton, which is very apparent with the Harrisville Shetland band you wove. Lovely piece with the supp. weft and you wove it so fast!

    • Thank you! The nice thing about backstrap weaving, Kristin, is that you can warp and weave up the tiniest of samples with very little waste. That way you can test your handspun as you go and, if you find that you get a lot of breaks, you can adjust the way you are spinning.

      • Yes, yes! I like this very much. The commercial wool I re-spun so far is doing well. I finally have some pebbles!

  6. Laverne: te agradezco infinitamente de haberme dado la oportunidad de poder leer y bajar el estupendo libro de” telar de la patagonia”. La pena que aqui no se encuentra ese tipo de lana, ni esos colores esplèndidos, llenos de vida y calor. Te sigo ya de un buen tiempo y encuentro que eres una persona formidable, por la pasiòn del tejido y lo mejor de todo que te gusta compartir con las demàs personas tus conocimientos. Yo he comprado los dos libros que has escrito de telar, la pena que uno es en inglès, que para decirte la verdad no es que entiendo tanto, bueno espero que un dìa puedas traducirlo!!! Te felicito por tu blog, saludos de esta tierra lejana

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 )

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: