Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 16, 2015

Backstrap Weaving – Long Time no WAL

It has been a long, long time since we ran a Weave-Along, or WAL, over in the Ravelry Backstrap Weaving group….too long!

jenI don’t know what the person who first created the idea of ‘weave-alongs’ had in mind but, for me, a weave-along means gathering a group of weavers together to explore structures or create projects based on a chosen theme. While I have lots of weave-alongs with friends as I travel, many of them tend to take place online.

The ‘theme’ could be a structure, like Andean Pebble Weave, which was the theme of the first WAL we ran online back in January 2011. You can see one of Jennifer’s Andean Pebble Weave bands from that WAL at left.

We ran a plain-weave WAL in which we were challenged to design with color rather than complex structures.

We had a Year of the Snake themed WAL in which we made something snake-like in any structure we liked and then, in another, we focused on a particular technique in plain-weave…warp ikat.

So, the new theme for this latest WAL is Key Fobs…lots of key fobs.

key fobs backstrap weaving???????????????????????????????The idea is to make short and narrow warps over and over again and turn out lots of key fobs. There may be the temptation to create one long warp and cut it into several fobs. Of course that would be more efficient, but the idea, as far as I am concerned, is to have people warping and setting up a loom over and over again. I can’t place enough emphasis on the importance of warping practice and it is the lack of confidence with this part of the process that tends to stop people from trying backstrap weaving or advancing beyond the basics. So, rather than weave one long band, I propose making many short ones.

The fobs can be in any structure…with pick-up patterns or plain-weave…a single solid color or a riot of stripes. Weave one and then another…warp, make heddles, weave…over and over again until you are winding those warps smoothly and efficiently and not dreading the heddle-making process because it will have become so easy… and maybe even enjoyable?

??????????????????????We can take advantage of the fact that  we can weave on the tiniest of warps using a body-tensioned set-up…

keyfob-loomThe other advantage of weaving individual key fobs, each on its own warp, is that each one can be started with a third selvedge. The selvedge is the edge of woven cloth that will not unravel. The two sides of a woven band are selvedges. You can create a third selvedge by starting to weave at the very end of the warp rather than having a fringe there. The starting end of the warp is the uppermost one in the above picture. That will be the end that gets passed through the metal ring of the fob, folded and sewn down…no need for hemming or extra folds as that end will not unravel.

??????????????????????I use some kind of metal rod at the start of my weaving and lash that to the loom bar. Depending on the weight of yarn or thread that I am using I use piano wire, a bicycle spoke or fine double-point steel knitting needles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3651631230_0ffe08c581_zNote that this is not the way that backstrap weavers traditionally do this.

None of my indigenous weavers use such a metal rod. The use of the metal rod is just one of my ‘things’.

Backstrap weavers here generally use a piece of yarn in place of the metal rod that I use and lash that to the loom bar all the way across the width of the warp. You can see my teacher in Potosi preparing a warp below. She is in the process of lashing the header thread to the loom bar. The bar will then be dragged to the start of the warp and the heavy stake that was used for warping removed.

LASHING EGDE CORD_0And below, you can see a Peruvian weaver tightening the cord which she used to lash the header weft to the loom bar.

tightening the lashing cordAs for me, I like my metal rods. When I have finished weaving and remove the metal rod, I  fill the space that it once occupied with the tail of the first weft shot. I thread the end on a tapestry needle and pass it at least twice through the space. Therefore, when you start weaving, it is important to beat the first weft passes well against the metal rod so that the space the rod occupies is as small as possible.

third selvedgeI am going to use this key fob WAL as an opportunity to sample some yarn. I have some Guatemalan cotton that I want to use to weave a scarf and I think I will use that for the first fob to see how this thread behaves. Such small projects can be good for sampling your handspun too if you do not want to risk possibly wasting it on an unsuccessful larger project. I know that Janet, who uses her beautiful handspun in projects of all sizes, will most likely weave her fobs with handspun yarn. Here’s is her latest Andean Pebble Weave project using her handspun hemp and bast bamboo…

Janet finch ebble weave backstrap handspun hemp bambooShe created the dog paw and cross bone motifs herself…the paws are adorable!

In the meantime, in the Backstrap Group there have been questions about edges and how to make them neat. I know that this kind of response can be maddening, but the truth is, it really just takes practice!

Using a weft color that contrasts witthe color fo the edge warps can help you see better what is going on there.

Using a weft color that contrasts with the color of the edge warp threads can help you see better what is happening there.

I do tell people who have the chance to weave with me, that about 25% of it is being able to watch a demonstration and then doing your best to imitate the moves.

The other 75% is about experience and ‘feel’. A lot of it really is about ‘feel’ and that will come without your even realizing it.

Weavers of warp-faced cloth have different ways of handling their weft. Here are a few tips based on what I do.

Two problems I see with edges are….

1. Wobbly ones…the width wanders frequently from narrower to wider and back again with sudden and frequent indentations.
2. Loose ones…there is exposed weft between the last few warps and along the edge caused by excess weft in those areas.

1.Wobbly edges are usually caused by the weaver being erratic with the way he or she pulls the weft through the shed….getting into a rhythm and pulling it with a certain amount of tension and then suddenly losing it. That’s just all about practice.You can try pinching the edge of the cloth (on the side where your shuttle entered the shed) as you pull the weft through. As you do this, the weft itself is also trapped between your fingers and you will feel it sliding through. This will give you better control and can help stop you from pulling the weft through too hard and distorting that edge. You will be holding that edge firmly and not allowing it to be pulled out of line.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second problem with excess weft and spreading warp ends is best explained in video and I will try to add that to the FAQ page on this topic. This topic has been on the FAQ index list for years and I have never made the page for it.

arrow motif red on red panelsA big part of creating straight neat edges, for me, is knowing my yarn and, therefore, knowing exactly what width I can expect from the number of warp ends I have wound with that yarn. And I mean ‘exactly’. I measure down to the millimeter and spend a long time fiddling with my warp and pushing threads around before I pass the first weft.

Knowing my yarn means having woven several samples with it and having taken measurements from those. Samples need to be updated as your weaving changes and improves. If I am simply guessing the width, I might start weaving cloth that is too narrow. The band will want to widen and I might start to have to fight it to keep that initial width consistent. I might fight it harder and more successfully at some times than others and, as a result, the band edges get wobbly.

I believe that there is a place where the threads want to sit and a width that they want to create and, if you know that width and start off there, you should never have to fight the cloth’s urge to widen or contract. In this way and as long as you have a rhythm and are handling the weft in a consistent manner, you will be able to avoid wobbly edges . And that comes down to practice and experience.

I know very well the Clea cotton thread that I used in the red panels above and have been using it for years. This means that I know exactly what width I can expect from a certain number of warp ends in each of the structures that I weave.

As for progress on Panel 3 in the ‘bird’ project…

two of three pre columbian bird panels backstrap weaving…it has been a long week of tying ikat tape and sampling.

I have been tying tape over very long stretches of warp and seeing how different methods affect the amount of dye seepage. Some methods worked better than others but the worrying thing is that there does seem to be a certain amount of luck involved! There are times when I feel that I wrapped two sections in exactly the same way yet they give me different results.

3 color pebble weave samplesI have come to the conclusion that I am not yet willing to risk this on the large white bird panel that I wanted to create where very long sections of warp will need to be wrapped in tape. While the seepage in the first black panel and resulting staining kind of added to the fade-in/ fade-out character of ikat and actually got quite lost in amongst the black and white pick-up pattern, I don’t think that random grey stains on what are supposed to be large areas of white background will look quite as attractive.

So, I have come up with another idea for that third panel…birds patterned with three-color pebble weave. I’ll have the same all-black background as the first panel and tie the same sections to create the bird shapes. For the pick-up pattern, I’ll be adding a third color…no prizes for guessing what that third color might be. This means that it would be nice to have some red in the other two panels as well. I guess some red weft twining along the bottom might look good.

Here I am sampling for that. If only I had made the samples narrower, I could have turned them into keyfobs for the WAL and had a two-fer 🙂

See you next week…







  1. I appreciate what you say here about the warp yarn knowing where it wants to sit and the width that it wants to create. Thanks for that reminder, as well as the nudge to make several short warps , both as samples and as part of the Ravelry keyfob WAL. It may be time to get my sticks out again!

    • Come over to Ravelry and join the WAL, Lausanne. We’ll be starting soon!

  2. Three-colour pebble-weave for the 3rd panel sounds lovely, Laverne. Looking forward to seeing the result!

  3. A key fob WAL sounds like great experience and fun. I’ll be there!

  4. Again, thanks for the inspiration, and for sharing your thought processes. Key fobs, sounds like fun.

  5. Beautiful!! I have many bands from my inkle weaving, but no “finished” projects. Where can I find some instructions for making key fobs, belts, suspenders, etc? I asked aspinnerweaver but she hasn’t replied. I love weaving, but it might be even more enjoyable to make something with the weaving.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks,

    • Amanda, there are process pictures for the making of a keyfob in my post of Feb 5/6 2015. I don’t know of any tutorials on how to put together belts and suspenders. I have made belts from just taking a look at belts that I own, seeing what hardware I needed, buying it and then just figuring it out from there. Suspenders have different styles…metal lops that go over buttons, snap grips, leather loops…a bit more complicated.

  6. I’m so glad I read through the blog. I was having a great debate with myself about my handspun yarn being either the warp or weft. Now it’ll be the warp and the cotton thread being the weft. I’ve changed my yarn to a more sound structural strength being 50% silk which I’m spinning now supported. I’m expecting at least 400yrds. The other would’ve snapped making the warp. I’m so glad I read through the posts and found this valuable info. I hate to be a pain asking.

    • One of the many great things about backstrap weaving is that you can create a tiny warp to test your yarn. That way you won’t waste too much while you are sampling and can get an idea about how your handspun behaves.

      • Thanks Laverne. I really appreciate that. Didn’t think of sampling.

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