Posted by: lavernewaddington | April 5, 2014

Backstrap Weaving – Kindred Spirits

I meet and get to weave with all kinds of wonderful people on my trips away. Everyone has a tale to tell about their connection to backstrap weaving. Perhaps they took a trip to Guatemala or South America some years ago or know someone who has been there and who brought back beautiful textiles. Maybe they happened upon and bought a backstrap loom in a thrift store or at a garage sale. Some people owned and used a backstrap loom back in the 1970s. I met a 92-year old woman at one of the guild meetings I just attended who was taught to weave on a backstrap loom by a Japanese woman who had studied in Guatemala. She is still using her loom at the age of 92 and weaves woollen warp-faced fabric for pillow covers.

And every now and then I meet what I like to call a “kindred spirit”…someone who has been swept away with their fascination for ethnic textiles and has taken off to far and exotic places to pursue their interest. Even more exciting for me is knowing about people, especially young ones, like the ladies below, who are about to embark on such adventures for the first time.

Backstrap weaving with students at Yale University.... They have a wonderful weaving room full of floor, table and rigid heddle looms which meant standing room only for this impromptu lesson in basic backstrap loom management which followed my talk.

Backstrap weaving with students at Yale University…. They have a wonderful weaving room full of floor, table and rigid heddle looms which they can use in their free time which meant ‘standing room only’ for trying their hands at basic backstrap loom management.

Last fall, my friend Barbara arranged for me to visit with a group of young ladies at Yale University. Barbara teaches weaving on floor, table and rigid heddle looms to this group as a leisure activity on Sundays and I accompanied her on one of the Sundays to meet her students. They were so enthusiastic when they saw my weaving and loom that I ended up staying longer  with them and giving them a chance to try some backstrap weaving basics.

I am so happy to now hear that one of the ladies who has lately been corresponding with me on Facebook  has submitted a fellowship application to study backstrap weaving this summer in Indonesia. Barbara tells me that another is doing the same and hoping to study in Guatemala!

Sometimes I connect with these kindred spirits online and it is a “meant-to-be” connection which has us then getting together all over the place. Wendy has studied and collected textiles from all over South-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent and we met online when I was looking into Bhutanese weaving techniques. When she came to South America, she visited me in Bolivia. We met up again in Santa Fe New Mexico where we spent time at the International Folk Art Market and I hope to go visit her at home in Perth when I go to Australia in June.

Kindred spirit Wendy follows her textile passion around the world from South-east Asia to South America. Here she is making a stop in Bolivia to hang out with me and talk textiles and travel.

Kindred spirit Wendy Garrity follows her textile passion around the world from South-east Asia, the subcontinent and on to the Americas. Here she is making a stop in Bolivia to hang out with me and talk textiles and travel.

And then there’s Taylor who is over in Bhutan right now. She initially wrote to me very happy about learning to make string heddles from my blog to use in her projects in Bhutan. I gathered that she is working in an area where the weavers use tablets hence the lack of information on string heddles.

In her own words...I work for a local NGO on waste awareness issues, which I primarily do through creative reuse.  I tend to work waste materials into local craft techniques, and have attached  a couple of shots of my first plastic wrapper weaving experiments (plastic wrapper as the weft, and cotton thread as the warp).  Pretty basic stuff.  The local ladies are teaching me some belt and brocade techniques, mostly using tablets right now.  I am excited to make some abstract forms with the brocade technique, will keep you posted!

reused plastic bags for weaving in BhutanYou can see a bit more about the loom set-up that Taylor is using here.

My most recent kindred spirit encounter was in Bucks County where I met Laura at a guild meeting She had just returned from 3 months of weaving study in Thailand. I  got to see Show and Tell by weaving guild members. This was all followed by lunch and then a chance for several of us to weave together.
One guild member had brought in the backstrap loom with popsicle stick rigid heddle that she had constructed for her 4H group. Another brought in all kinds of scarves that she had bought from backstrap weavers in Guatemala. The 92-year old backstrap weaver had brought an interesting double weave blanket from Nepal as well as one of her own backstrap woven pillow covers….weft-faced, black and white and gorgeous!  And Laura showed the amazing piece of weft ikat patterned indigo-dyed cotton yardage that she had woven on a  simple two-shaft loom in Thailand. It was stunning but I didn’t photograph it!

I used small strips of warp ikat in this piece to learn about the technique.

I used small strips of warp ikat in this piece to learn about the technique.

You may know from previous posts that I have dabbled in warp ikat and have found that challenging enough.

Weft ikat boggles the mind. The weft threads are placed on a frame and tied and dyed. Some ties are unwrapped and others added as the yarn is placed into a second dye bath to add a second color to the overall pattern. I have watched in videos as the yarn is then carefully wound onto a shuttle ready for the weaving process. Each and every weft thread has to be carefully placed within the shed so that the pattern is properly aligned.

There was a nice display at the Textile Museum in Washington DC that had examples of warp ikat, weft ikat and warp and weft ikat. Below, you can see in the upper oval-shaped motif how the tied and dyed weft threads are exposed in the balanced-weave cloth to create the pattern. The lower square motifs are examples of warp and weft ikat which give the motifs a more solid look.

???????????????????????????????I found this image from Marla Mallett’s website which shows part of the tying process for weft ikat in Thailand…

Thailand-IkatTies-smI have just bought yarn here in the US for my sixth red-black-and-white wall hanging which I hope to weave as a warp ikat piece. Maybe one of these years I will give weft ikat a try.

south jersey group backstrap weaving

I met yet another kindred spirit from years gone by through a folder that Ellen brought on one of the days of backstrap weaving-alongs. That’s the group that you can see above. Trisha and April had come to watch me weaving last summer and suggested I come and weave with them this year.  Camille, who joined in, had already made her loom and backstrap using my Backstrap Basics article. It came out beautifuly in Tahki Cotton Classic. 

Camille_s_1st_Woven_Backstrap_medium2She bought the yarn  at Woolbearers. They carry an extensive range of colors in another favorite backstrap cotton yarn of mine…Cascade Ultra Pima.

???????????????????????????????Now, back to the folder that Ellen brought for me with its connection to another kindred spirit….. It had belonged to a lady who was living in Florida and contained all her carefully handwritten and typed notes, samples, charts and sketches on her studies of Peruvian brocades. What a treasure. I tried to find dates and found one page marked by hand with “May 64” and other type-written pages dated in the early 70s. I suspect that the folder was donated to a guild on this lady’s passing and it has traveled, being passed from hand to hand, weaver to weaver, until it found me. Well, I can tell you that with me it shall stay and it will be loved.

peruvian brocade study folderHere is the folder with various pages removed so you can see some of the woven samples and sketches. It was nice to meet this kindred spirit from the past. I have to say that I wonder, being childless, what will eventually  happen to this and  my own handwritten journals.

Another little goody that Ellen brought was a ñawi awapa tubular band with its little knob and loop endings. The knob can be pushed through the loop and this makes a neat way to use the woven piece as a necklace or bracelet.I think I can do some experimenting and come up with a way to make a knob like that.

finishes for tubular bands

pam-and-freddy I am going to work on that with my friend Pam with whom I am currently staying.

Pam has invited her weaving friends to come and weave with me several times.  I am enjoying a nice long stretch of days hanging out with her.

Pam is “Number One” kindred spirit on my list! She has been interested in and has studied ethnic weaving techniques for years. She has made several visits to Uzbekistan and has studied other weaving technologies from books, in workshops and online.

On top of that, she is the local loom doctor and teaches floor loom and pretty much any kind of simple loom weaving at her studio.

I see that she is about to set up to experiment with Chilkat twining using Cheryl Samuel’s book for guidance….

Pams weavingYou can see Pam’s “Navajo corner” in her studio and then her C Cactus Flower Navajo loom which she will use for the Chilkat twining.

Here is her latest finished work…

pams woven wool silk tallit
the Jewish CatalogIt’s a wool/silk tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl. Above, you can see it drying after having been wet finished. Pam is making this as a gift for a friend. 

Yes, we had the most spectacular sunny spring day here yesterday, as you can see.

Amelia, the cat, found the warmth after months of snowy winter a bit too much to handle all at once and enjoyed the piece of shade that the drying tallit cast.

I am a little bit more knowledgeable about this item and its use after Pam read to me from the book at left. Right now, as I write this post, she is tying the special “braid” that adorns the four corners of the piece.  There is something significant about the number of wraps, or coils, and knots that are incorporated in each of “braids” which is all explained in Pam’s book.

The books says that tallits were originally made from linen or wool but that now silk is also acceptable. Pam’s is a wool and silk blend and it feels gorgeous….light as air. She used a summer/winter structure to create the patterning in blue and gold and the wool/silk is Zephyr Yarn by Jaggerspun.  She also wove the atarah, or crown, with its gold thread. This is placed on the edge of one side with “the purpose of providing some spatial orientation for the tallit (or tallit-wearer)”. The woven pouch Pam made in which the tallit is stored is yet to be sewn  together.

I will be meeting more fiber people of Springfield this weekend and then heading onward.

See you soon!









  1. Hi Laverne,
    I suspect that “knob” at the end of the ñawi awapa tubular braid is a “monkeys fist”. Most likely this is tied off last? Is this very interesting braid similar to Kumihimo? Thank you for all you do Laverne 😉
    Warm Regards,

  2. Lovely and inspiring post. I have long since been fascinated with ikat and your bag is a beautiful example. It can be a bit maddening to accomplish, especially double ikat. But now I want to try tubular bands like the one shown!

  3. As always your blog keeps my head above water when work seems overwhelming. Reading about your weaving adventures and all the beautiful, amazing things yet to explore helps to keep my heart where it needs to be. Thank you, Dorothy

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: