Posted by: lavernewaddington | August 22, 2014

Backstrap Weaving – Those Other Techniques

This month the winners of the annual weaving competiton run by the CTTC (Centro de Textiles Tradicionales, Cusco) were announced and the weavers were awarded. Many pictures of the evaluation of the textiles and the prize-giving ceremony were posted to the CTTC’s Facebook page. Although it isn’t clear to me which group was the overall winner, there is a wonderful array of pictures of the gorgeous textiles and their proud creators on the page. In the CTTC’s next newsletter we are bound to be told which textiles were judged to be best.

10610503_689671741081744_8141454025465810761_nThis year’s competition was based on four challenges….

1. The creation of a knotted four-cornered hat based on those made in pre-Incan times (you can download a free e-book on these hats here).


Here is an extract from page 10 of the book with a basic description of the techniques employed…

Almost all fourcornered hats are made with larkshead knots, variously manipulated for texture and color change.
A major distinction can be made between plush hats, patterned with supplementary pile yarns caught into the knotted foundation, and knotted hats without pile.

This intriguing video from Museo Chileno de Arte Precolumbino shows how the hats are constructed.

Here is a translation of the text that accompanies the video…

The four-cornered hat is constructed from the crown, with a ring formed from the first series of knotted loops. The knots are continued in a spiral pattern, with additional knots added on the diagonals to achieve the square shape of the hat. To make the sides of the hat, more knots are added at different intervals, depending on the shape and type of hat design: The knots are added in a spiral pattern if the hat is a single color, or in sections if more than one color is being used. The lower edge of the hat is finished off with a final row of knots. The “points” on the top of the hat are made separately. The relief designs on monochrome and bichrome hats are achieved by combining “front” and “back” faces of the knot, according to the motif desired. In contrast, the designs on polychrome hats are made using up to nine different colors of yarn, with the knots always tied in the same direction and grouped by motifs or color fields.

2. The creation of pieces inspired by Incan cloaks worn by the ñustas (Incan princesses)


Image of a late 18th century painting from the Museo Inka in Cusco provided by CTTC.

Image of a late 18th century painting from the Museo Inka in Cusco provided by CTTC.


3. Double-weave belts.

4. Tapestry.

A weaver from Pitumarca  taht I watched at Tinkuy 2010 creating a taspestry using a backstrap loom.

A weaver from Pitumarca that I watched at work during Tinkuy 2010 creating a tapestry using a backstrap loom.

The following pictures are from the CTTC’s Facebook page and are used with their kind permission.

Here is one of the tapestries spread out on the floor during the evaluation process. I don’t envy them that job! Every piece must have looked amazing.

tapestry CTTC 2014

10417469_689672474415004_7225471250316288685_nIn this piece, you can clearly see the squares of woven fabric that were pieced together to form the large textile. I am assuming that, as in the competitions in previous years, the weavers were challenged to create 30 x 30cm squares and combine them to create one large piece. That reminds me of the interesting and emotional presentation at Tinkuy 2010 that I attended where weavers from the various communities talked about their experience with these competitions…the difficulties as well as the advantages involved in working as team, the pain of rejection of pieces that didn’t quite fit or meet the standards, the enormous amount of time involved with planning and agreeing on designs that would suit the year’s themes, and the rewards and benefits of participating in these events.

One such rejected square (see below) from the 2010 competition made it into the hands and home of my friend Virginia. I am sure that the pieces that don’t make it into the final work do not get tossed by the weaver or forgotten in a box under the bed. They stand alone as beautiful pieces of work even of they don’t fit within the whole.


10376922_689671514415100_1698807909188374612_nWhat an experience it must have been to be seated within that courtyard surrounded by those amazing pieces of work and their proud creators.

1920489_686163014765950_455227465195720892_nHere are some of the four-cornered hats displayed for evaluation.

10568795_689672764414975_4096139166593297128_nAn award winner in what could be the Inca cloak section judging by the image on his certificate.

10603682_686163974765854_4113572595310474414_nI am assuming that these are some of the fajas from the double-weave section.

I will leave you to look at all the other pictures in the album on the CTTC’s Facebook page.

This is the first year’s competition  (that I am aware of in my brief experience with them) where different techniques have been highlighted….tapestry, double weave and the knotting technique used in the four-cornered hats.

This made me think about my own future projects and the possibilty of basing  my next wall hangings on some of the non-weaving techniques that I have learned or observed as well as techniques that  involve not only warp-faced pick-up. I suppose my latest ikat project has been a good start towards that.

ikat projects backstrap loomAs you can see, there are two versions on the go. Long story short…I got some black cold water dye from a one-time unexpected source  and was able to unwrap and weave the larger motif.

Large ikat motif backstrap loomI am loving the way this looks with that bit of red in the background as I think about the red panels that will accompany it. I haven’t decide which of the two ikat pieces will eventually be used. It will most likely be the one that came out more brilliantly white.

As for other non warp-faced pick-up techniques that I might use in future wall hangings, I ran across this piece of fabric that I bought from an alpargata-maker in Ecuador. This shaped piece, which  is created around a mold, forms the cover for the front part of the foot.

fabric fro alpargatas Otavalo

boy's alpargatas otavaloWhen I originally posted on this blog about these alpargatas that are used by mostly older men in Otavalo, Ecuador, it was suggested by a reader that the technique used to create the fabric might be called ply-split darning. I spent a day with an alpargata artisan and watched how he created the fabric. I wouldn’t mind trying to include the technique somehow in a wall hanging. I love the textured white-on-white pattern and I could perhaps use  in the red side panels that accompany some other kind of technique from Ecuador.

Another technique that is begging to be explored further is soumak and my greatest inspiration for that has come from Julia Miryam Chavah. I haven’t seen soumak in use here in South America and have no idea if, in fact, it is practiced here. Miryam frequently posts her projects online. I have watched in admiration and wonder as her skills have grown over the years and she attributes it to a humble little booklet (and a lot of hard work and determination, I am sure) that I managed to buy on a recent US trip…

??????????????????????Here is a piece called Double Happiness that she recently posted…

First, a nice close-up of the structure…

julia miryam chavah (1)


The work in progress…

julia miryam chavah (2)

And, the finished piece…..

julia miryam chavah (3)Wow!

I confess that I have never been quite clear about what exactly soumak is. Fortunately I have some books to guide me (and Julia’s work to inspire me)…

Jean Wilson in her Soumak Workbook describes soumak  as  a method of wrapping weft around warp. It is worked on a closed shed. The wefts do not pass through a shed.

However, I have also seen techniques described as soumak in books where the weft is supplemental, that is, a separate ground weft is used to create fabric and another patterning weft creates the soumak. In her book Woven Treasures, Sara Lamb teaches to create soumak using a supplemental weft. Another foundation weft is used to create a ground fabric.

Marla Mallett’s book, Woven Structures, has a section on soumak in which she indicates that reinforcing ground wefts are sometimes used but she says that “the thin ground weft hidden in most allover soumak fabrics exists merely to reinforce the wrapped construction.”

Peter Collingwood in The Techniques of Rug Weaving describes soumak with two wefts…

“One is the gound weft which weaves with the warp to make a normal weft-face structure, the other is the soumak weft which crosses the warp at intervals, wrapping round its ends, more in the manner of an embroidery stitch than of weaving.”

He also writes that the technique can be carried out on a warp-face plain weave background.

stitched-sta-cat-2It seems to be, in that case, that the upper form of patterning on the sampler above, that I studied in Guatemala, could in fact be called soumak. The supplemental wefts follow the path described and diagrammed in my books. (I would be happy if a reader were to enlighten me further!)  There is a warp-faced ground cloth beneath the colored patterning wefts. I think that this would be the technique I would explore further on a backstrap loom because it is something with whichI have had experience in my travels in Guatemala.

And then,  there are the sling braids and edgings that I studied in Peru way back in 1997. I would love to somehow incorporate those in the sets of wall hangings I hope to create.

sling-braid-edgingsTo pick-up or not to pick-up…all kinds of beautiful things can be created on a backstrap loom. Gwen just finished this plain-weave guitar strap for her husband using variegated Plymouth Yarn Fantasy Naturale. It’s only her second project and it is gorgeous. The hardware for the strap is from ASpinnerweaver’s Etsy store.

gwen guitar strap (2)

gwen guitar strap (1) Julia is doing pick-up and is practicing  designs that are charted in my second book that require all pick-up (that is, they are not semi loom-controlled as the Andean Pebble Weave ones are). This one is a sample and I know that she is already on to bigger things using colors with higher contrast.

DSC04807_mediumJane wove with me once and then joined the Weave Wide/Weave Fine challenge group this last spring. Here is her finished project. She made a backstrap using  all pick-up to create the central motif. Jane is totally at home with this and I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

10574436_817321331632239_2699883635988505940_nAhem…as I was typing that last line, Jane was already posting the next project…a camera strap…

1557630_817321921632180_4274413554055257658_nHow cool is that? The interlocking design is one that I adapted from tablet-weaving by Louise Ström and charted for Andean Pebble Weave in my second book. For this project, Jane would have used two sets of string heddles which makes the technique partly loom-controlled. She’s also good at charting patterns from pictures and textiles. A photo of a textile with the cute bear motif appears in Nilda Callañaupa’s book on Traditional Textiles of Chinchero.

I am ablaze with ideas for more wall hangings and have another ikat idea brewing, if I dare…just when it is time to put down the loom and start winding warps. Actually, it is the warp-winding that starts the ideas flowing. It gives me lots of time to think and ponder and, as my warping board is on a table in front of a wall of books, there are plenty of reasons to pause and start leafing through pages.

For now, I will get in a bit of weaving time at the loom, wind some warps, sketch and dream.

Mexico has been working its way into my life recently. I will show you some of things that have been coming my way next time.




  1. Great photos! They make me want to hop a plane to Cusco! So good to hear your latest.

    Betsy Blosser

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