Posted by: lavernewaddington | August 7, 2014

Backstrap Weaving – If I were to do it over….

“If I were to do it over”….

I know that I am trouble if I find myself sitting in front of a warp and saying that phrase before I can even throw the first shot of weft or, in the case of my current ikat project, before I can apply the first tie to the area that will resist the dye. As I set the warp on the loom bars, I was thinking that I would warp it slightly differently “if I were to do it over”.

As I wrapped the warp threads, I was wondering why I had automatically started placing the knots at the edge of the wrap rather than in the center as I had  in past ikat projects where I used cassette tape. Would it make any difference? Yes it did. “If I were to do it over”, I would put the knots in the middle of the wrap. There is far less chance of nicking or cutting a warp thread with scissor tips when unwrapping if the knot is in the center rather than at the edge.

wraps for new ikat project?The wrapping part didn’t take as long as I had thought. It was fun watching the design appear and satisfying seeing it take on the same proportions as my sketches. I had calculated and measured corrrectly…yay. No thoughts about do-overs there.

ikat motif backstrap weaving“If I were to do it over”, I would wash the thread in hot water before starting the project. I have dyed a lot of cotton in my time. I guess it has all been knitting yarn and crochet thread. Those have all dyed beautifully with the Dylon cold water dyes that I buy in small packets. However, my supplier of  the UKI 20/2 weaving yarn that I am using in this project told me that this yarn is finished with a coating of wax. I only found this out by contacting them after my failed attempt to dye the warp black.

That explains the medium shade of blue I got with navy blue dye last week more than the fact that I had used a very watery solution. With this new warp, all I could turn out was an ugly steely grey instead of the black at which I had been aiming. What a waste of dye. I then overdyed it with far more dye than was necessary to ensure that I got black the second time around….another waste.  So, that’s the end of my black dye supply…no do-overs possible for that part of the process.

spots of dye under ikat tapeAs the ikat tape was close to transparent, I was able to see dark spots under the tape before I could even start removing it. That was very disheartening.

Clearly, the dye had seeped under the tape in several places.

However, it wasn’t that bad after all. A very noticeable concentrated spot of color on a group of threads all squished together and tied, turns into a vague smudge when the individual threads are untied and fanned out. It is not like the marks disappeared, but they were something with which I could live. I couldn’t see why those particular parts had allowed dye to seep in, and so it is not a problem that I would expect to be able to eliminate “if I were to do it over”.

ikat motif on backstrap loomIt was time to make heddles, put the shed rod in place and then unwrap. The unwrapping part was nerve-racking….take it easy and don’t snip a warp thread for goodness sake!  And then it was time to weave! And this is where the “if I were to do it over” turned to “when I do it over” and there are several reasons for that.

woven ikat motif backstrap weavingI placed many…too many… thin strips of cardboard within successive sheds to start with. I can see now that not all those strips were perfectly straight and the accumulation of this flaw had the effect of having me start the weaving with a slightly askew weaving line.

I didn’t notice. Iwas concentrating so hard on the ikat motif and the alignment of the warps that I didn’t even notice until the whole motif had been woven. I had to weave in some short rows to get things straightened out for the supplementary weft patterning…NOT GOOD. It looked awful. Then I noticed that the ikat motif itself had also been thrown slightly off center. Oh well.

Maybe only I can see it but it just isn’t good enough. It was time to start the list headed “When I do this over” and get used to the fact that this will go on the sample pile.

However, I have to say that I am really pleased with the way the ikat pattern turned out. I didn’t get any of the dreaded “railway tracks” (my name for repeated single rows of lines and spots of undyed thread that get completely detached from the main motif.) There is fuzziness…perhaps more like a raggedness…it looks like ikat! Yay!

When I fished out my silk thread for the supplementary-weft patterning, it was plain to see that there are many levels of off-white-ness. The UKI thread is closer to white and the silk weft closer to cream. They weren’t going to look good together but I wove some patterns anyway. This piece is now a sampler and I may as well use it to learn as much as I can.

ikat figure with supplementary weft patterning backstrap weavingIn the picture above, I have flipped the loom around and made new heddles so that I can add the supplementary-weft patterns to the other side of the ikat motif. More short rows had to be added to get things straightened out….stupid cardboard strips! grumble, grumble.

So, WHEN I do this again, I shall adopt some different ways of doing things, starting with the warping. Add to the list….don’t forget to dye the weft!! Weft went into the steely grey bath but not the black one which wasn’t such a problem until I broke two warp threads while weaving and had nothing with which to replace them.

ikat tapeI have loads of thread, a lifetime supply of ikat tape, and I think that I could probably get some embroidery floss here to match more closely the color of the UKI thread. What is missing is enough black dye…darn. Do you think that mixing navy blue and dark brown would work?

In the midst of this I had visitors who had not seen my weaving before.

I hate having to feel all squirmish about showing my work to people because I know what kind of questions and reactions I always get from local Santa Cruz people when I do so.

They are fascinated and delighted at first until they eventually ask how much time I spend on this kind of thing. And, when they find out that I don’t intend selling my work, and won’t even be hanging my wall hangings in this home (I am saving them for some vague future home-of-my-dreams!), well, that is the end of the story. Heads are shaken in bewilderment and I am left feeling a little deflated and almost foolish. My explanation of the ikat process was sheer madness to them!

painted tshirt ethnic motifWhich had me thinking once again about process versus product.

Of course this and pretty much all my projects are all about the process.

I want to experience the ikat process and not merely create a large solid white motif on a solid black background. I could, after all,  paint a white motif on black woven  fabric if that is all I wanted,  like my friend Sharon did when she hand-cut stencils and painted a beautiful set of tshirts for me with ethnic motifs.

Or, I could use the warp-faced double-weave stucture which would allow me so much freedom to create motifs on solid-color backgrounds…made up of straight lines that can be put together to resemble curves, like those in my last Shipibo-inspired wall hanging and other projects.

Below, you can see an experiment with curves and Celtic motifs that I made a long time ago.


abba-yohanni-curtain-and-reproAnd another not-so-curvy one from the archives at left…

Double weave, of course, creates a thick fabric when what you might really be after is something finer and more flowing.

It also does not favor the use of a lot of unpatterned area. The parts of the double-weave fabric that do not have pick-up patterning will sit as separate layers of cloth simply joined at the edges. This can create a sort of ballooning effect over large areas.

The simpler little brother of the warp-faced double weave technique is warp substitution. With this structure, you won’t have to worry about layer separation in large unpatterned areas but most people do not like the awkwardly long floats that  form on the back of the cloth.

Another structure that allows motifs to sit on solid-color backgrounds is intermesh….

bhutan-collage-11It’s a warp-float structure that creates rather dense fabric….not something I would describe as light and flowing. The motifs can be very linear or curvy like the ones below.

intermesh with curved designPatterning with supplementary weft allows you to have a light piece of solid-color fabric patterned with soild motifs. The drawback is that in order to make the woven piece practical, the length of the weft floats needs to be limited and that will restrict the kinds of motifs you can create. Large solid-color areas will need to be broken down into segments of short weft floats.

tubular_band_on_ticlla_pieceAnd then, leaving warp-faced options aside all together, there is always tapestry technique…

greca design on a pillow coverThis is a pillow cover woven on a floor loom by a  member of the Hipolito family of Zapotec tapestry weavers in California. (Which reminds me…my weaving friend Dorothy is currently in Peru studying tapestry techniques with master weaver Maximo Laura… can’t wait to hear more about it).

I love comparing the fine double-weave belt from Argentina, below, with its bold black and white pattern, to the precise black and white ikat work done by the Mapuche weavers of Argentina and Chile…two completely different processes that create superficially similar results.


mapuche-ikat-11And so, I will finish this post this week by showing you a fabulous ikat poncho created by Argentinean master weaver, Guillermina Cabral, from Victorica, La Pampa province and thank the Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación Argentina, to whom the image belongs, for allowing me to show it to you here. I found it on the Facebook page of MATRA (Mercado Internacional de Artesanías Tradicionales de la Argentina). The page has other images of beautiful ikat work along with other exquisite handcrafts of Argentina.

10564839_1546978602191639_385201088_nSo, it’s all about process for me. But, concentrating too much on one particular part of the process can mean carelessness in others which are of equal importance…stupid pieces of cardboard! 😉







  1. Wow, that looks amazing to me! I can’t imagine being so skilled that I could look at that piece and see any flaws – it might only be you… 😉
    It’s gorgeous! 🙂

    • Thank you! Yeah, it’s probably just me and black has a way of hiding things unless you have your face right in it but those short rows are very noticeable to me.

  2. I think most comments here, if not all, will point out that the greatest critic is the artist herself. I think you are amazing to even attempt something like this. It’s simply stunning! I admire your perseverance, though, and look forward to comparing the next time version with this one! I am sure you would have to point out the differences! Love your posts, as always, so inspiring!

    • Thanks, Jennifer. If anyone knows about perseverence, it’s you with your fine and beautiful embroidery work. I am looking forward to starting this over.

  3. nice work on the ikat, i just did an ikat piece this summer, not having an ikat tape i used oven roasting bags cut up into strips. the problem i had was as i wrapped my ‘ikat tape’ around the groups of warp threads, i twisted them, which made for a messy, tangled, not so controlled situation. did you encounter this problem?

    • Hi Peter. I did notice that as I was wrapping I tended to twist the bundle as you say. But, once the dyeing was done and the warp was dry, I put sticks in to hold the cross, unwrapped, and simply strummed the threads gently and everything fell beautifully into place. The main problem was threads getting hooked up on the bits of tape sticking out from the knots when the warp was wet and I was trying to get it all straightened out to dry. There was danger of breaking those threads if I didn’t unhook them gently..

      • ha, well my ikat compared to your precise work — what was supposed to be an argyle-like pattern looks like camouflage. i think i need to put the warp under greater tension than i had it while wrapping.

  4. I don’t care what you say, you are becoming an ikat master! That pattern is amazing, and the warp substitution with it is scintillating. When you’re feeling critical of your work, just think of how the rest of us feel, those of us who can only dream of getting as much right as you have 😉

    The local people failing to understand is too bad. I wish you had moral support nearby. I always remember showing an Indian village woman my quilting – a random patchwork square with absolutely no practical purpose, and her saying it was “good!” For someone to give a thumbs up just for the activity itself is so heartening. At any rate, you know your worldwide fans appreciate your work. I know you’ll be on to the improved version faster than we can keep up!

    • THANK YOU, Tracy. Your experience with the Indian lady was lovely All “makers” understand these things, don’t they? Thank you for your support!

  5. Looks beautiful from the smallish photo, but I know where you’re coming from. I have a tendency to see everything from a microscopic point of view. I’m a process person, too. Love to make stuff that sits in closets. I feel it’s really the joy of being in the present moment, not the finished product. I enjoyed how you showed the variety of techniques in the post…so much fun, so much to experience. I’m drooling over that poncho and dreaming of making one….

    • Thanks, Kristin. There’s an even better photo out there of that poncho. The model has paused and has her arms stretched out at the sides to show the poncho in all its glory. It’s breathtaking. I am stil working on getting permission to show that one.

  6. It looks lovely Laverne! I think the process of weaving is as enjoyable as the final product – well, for me it is more enjoyable, but thank you for sharing your processes with us! I have just had a go at intermesh using the instructions from your book and at first I found the whole thing just too hard – I kept making mistakes which I couldn’t spot until I had already woven a few rows on top which led to lots of unweaving – but I persevered and now, like you, I am talking about, “when I do this again” rather than “if I do this again…” A question about supplementary wefts – could you tell me where I might find some instructions so that I don’t end up with a big build up at the pattern with loose weaving either side? Thanks again for sharing 🙂 Julia

    • Hi Julia. Well I suppose it is not quite right when I say that it is ALL about process for me. I enjoy the product too! I am glad that the intermesh has captured you at last. As for the supp weft patterning, I assume you are talking about discontinuous weft rather than one that travels from one edge to the other. I tend to beat quite hard over the pattern…really smooshing everything in. I often use a sword to beat the whole width and then an extra tool to push the weft in firmly just at the pattern but only if the yarn is on the heavy side. If it is fine stuff, I just beat normally.

      • Thanks – I’ll smoosh away then!!!

  7. Dear Laverne,
    Your work is your life, and for someone who doesn’t have such drive and passion it is too hard to understand. I think many artists and probably anyone who works in a dedicated manner towards a goal, eg top athletes, business people etc would get similar comments.
    Your weaving is part of you, I think quite literally as you sit in your backstrap and your body is part of the process of making, the perfect tension in your hips and back, your fingers picking thread from thread as well as your mind thinking over patterns, tecniques, colours, designs, unweaving mistakes and so forth. Maybe selling the result just doesn’t do all that justice, and maybe one day you will have that dream house….or a museum! Or maybe most of the end products will stay folded up in a cupboard, who knows what lies ahead of them.
    I admire your perseverance and I think many many people live a little bit of your passion and your work through you.

    • Thank you so much, Anna. You are right…I might be the only non-athlete who understands the lifestyle my nephew has built around the training and discipline that is required to reach his goals. Big big hugs to you all the way over there in Tassie.

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