Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 22, 2016

Backstrap Weaving – Which Way is Up?

What kind of crazy person weaves with wool in a heat wave? Okay, I won’t dwell on that as I know that northern hemisphere folks are just as uncomfortable in a wave of cold weather right now.

I finished the first panel of my wool piece. It has a mix of Andean Pebble Weave motifs that have influences from textiles of the lowlands and highlands of Bolivia and Peru as well as from sources well outside South America. I managed to squeeze in six of them between the narrow bands of swirly lines. I like how the white lines in the narrow pattern bands reveal the red star-like motif in what one might call the negative space.

first of 2 wool panels backstrap weavingI have to admit that creating the pick-up patterns isn’t really the focus of this project for me. There are multiple other things on which to focus…

-working with commercial wool to which I did not add extra twist.

-managing sticky sheds.

-working with this new-to-me 20/2 wool, which looks like it might want to break if not handled well, in a width that I have never tried with wool before.

-ensuring that the motifs on the second panel are of the same proportions as those on the first so that the two panels will be as close to identical as I can manage.

I didn’t have any broken warp threads to deal with in the first panel…yay.

If all goes well, I will finish with two panels that I will sew together as I did in this cotton project…

finished joining stitch on two panels backstrap weaving

I had some decisions to make before I got to work on the second panel and looked at some pieces that weavers here in South America create and sew together to help with that. One of the typical pieces that comprises panels is the women’s carrying cloth, the lliqlla or aguayo.

Of course, the work of the indigenous weavers is on a whole other level.

For a start, their carrying-cloth panels are far longer and wider than mine and are woven with four selvedges. Weaving is started at one end of the loom for a few inches and then started and continued at the other end. Eventually, the two ends of the woven cloth will be so close to each other that the weaver will have to abandon the pick-up patterning and the use of heddles and sticks to create sheds. He or she will need to needle-weave in the remaining weft shots in plain weave. You can see the piece on which I learned this technique below. The two ends of weaving are just about to meet.

learning double weave potosi

This weaver is finishing this four-selvedged plain-weave panel. She picks up every other warp end with the blunt end of a needle to create a shed before passing the weft.

This weaver is finishing a four-selvedged plain-weave panel. She picks up every other warp end with the blunt end of a needle to create a shed before passing the weft.

I have taken the easy way and my latest wool project has been simply cut off the loom leaving fringe at both ends. I was not yet ready to add the further challenge of four selvedges to this project!

Before starting the second panel, I wanted to look at examples of aguayos to see if  indigenous weavers had planned on aligning the motifs on their two panels and, if so, how successful they had been. I find it quite difficult to weave the same motif along the length of a piece and have it turn out with exactly the same dimensions from start to finish. It takes a concentrated effort of measuring and adjusting tension and beat. I think it might be just as hard to produce motifs of consistent proportions on two separate pieces of cloth.

woven viscachaSimply applying a different amount of tension to a warp from one day to the next, or altering the beat slightly, will cause a motif to either elongate or contract. Shortening the warp, as the finished cloth is rolled up, also affects the amount of tension that I apply as a sit at the loom. It is much easier to tension a short warp than a long one and the tendency is to apply progressively more tension as the warp gets shorter. You then unroll the cloth and find that the cute chubby rabbit-like figure (viscacha) at the start of the cloth looks more like a long thin weasel at the end!

Look how different this kangaro motif is in the hands of two different weavers who are tensioning the warp and beating differently. Mine is the elongated one. My sister-in-law said it looked like a rat instead of a kangaroo. I was using new-to-me thread in Australia and had pushed the warp threads too close together.

difference in design proportionBelow, you can see a spectacular carrying cloth from Bolivia with bands of double weave amongst the plain weave. And, there’s that lovely triangular joining stitch that I used recently to join my two brown panels. I have been dipping into some of my books and found that in the Potosí region of Bolivia where I learned embedded double weave, the stitched join is known as siray and the triangle pattern is known as arku siray. The book describes and names other joining stitch patterns used in the region… zig zags, arcs, vertical lines and even butterflies.

You can see that the weaver has created the same double weave motifs on either side of the joining stitch but that those on the right are narrower and much more elongated. A different piece, a different rhythm. But, who can say if this even mattered to her? And, this is certainly not something I noticed when I first saw and photographed this textile. I was immediately overwhelmed by the fineness and beauty of this piece. I only notice the differences in the proportions of the motifs now that I happen to be focusing on that particular aspect.

double weave aguayoI feel a joyful jumping rhythm in Maxima’s aguayo, below, and I love it.  The layout of the bands and distribution of colors is identical on both panels but she has not tried to match the figures themselves.

Picture courtesy of PAZA Bolivia

Picture courtesy of PAZA Bolivia

And then the question came to me: ‘’Which way is up? Maxima’s little horse figure is standing right way up but the feline figure to the left is on its head. She could have woven it right way up if she had wanted but it seems that she chose not to. An animal figure in the upper half is aligned in yet another way. I suppose that this cloth could lie or be worn any which way and chances are you would get to see a figure positioned the right way up no matter where you were standing. These are just my thoughts and ramblings. I don’t know how the weavers themselves think about this. I am usually quietly observing or doing when I am visiting with weavers. The questions come later….quite often too late.

aguayo CuscoThe weaver of this cloth from the Cusco area of Peru has aligned her motifs on either side of the join. Phew! I hope I can do as good a job. Our eyes have something to look at from all angles. The horse figures are the right way up on the right hand side of the join and upside down on the other. The bird figures that switch positions on either side of the horses give you something to look at from other angles and sides.

terminal-areasWhat is consistent in all the pieces I looked at is that fact that both panels appear to have been warped in exactly the same way. If one panel has a wide pick up pattern on the left hand side and a narrow pattern on the right, the second panel is also warped in this way…one being a sort of carbon copy of the other Therefore, one finished panel needs to be rotated before being joined to the other.

I did it in a different way and wound the colors for my second panel as a mirror image of the first rather than as a copy. I don’t know why, but it just seemed to be the right thing to do at the time!

I am wondering if the indigenous weavers work the way they do so that the terminal areas that end up toward the far end of the woven piece (and which are kind of an unattractive but virtually unavoidable interruption to the beautifully worked pattern) lie at opposite ends of the cloth once the two panels are joined rather than at the same end.

As my pieces do not have four selvedges and, therefore, no terminal area, it doesn’t matter which way I set them up.

So, after looking at many examples before starting the second panel, I had to decide if I would…

-try to align my motifs so that they start and end at the same time, but not weave the same ones side by side.

-try to align my motifs and weave the same ones side by side as a mirror image of the first panel.

-weave the same motifs but mix it all up by weaving long ones next to short ones and not worry about aligning them at all, or

-weave six completely different motifs and not try to match anything.

I went with trying to make the second panel a true mirror image of the first. I need the symmetry but may live to regret this decision!

starting second wool panelI guess if they grow at different rates and end up hopelessly misaligned I can always change the way I join the panels together. Right now I am planning this…

join 3Those funny triangles down the center are supposed to be the joining stitch, the arku siray.

If the motifs end up out of sync, as they are in the image above, I’ll probably do this…

join 4I’ll put some distance between the motifs which might trick my eyes into not making comparisons. In fact, this arrangement is already growing on me. It’s always good to have a back-up plan, right?

While looking about for examples of joined woven panels, I read of the existence of two main types of carrying cloths in the northern part of Potosí in Bolivia: the siraynin, which comprises two equal parts joined with visible decorative stitching and the qhewallo, which comprises two panels of different widths. A band of pick-up pattern sits in the center of this second type rather than the stitching and the stitching itself is done in the least visible way possible. (Lliqllas Chayantakas López, Flores, Letournaux PAC- Potosí) This was the very thing I had been wondering about when I showed in a recent blog post one of the entries in the first regional backstrap weaving competition run by the CTTC in Cusco last year. Quite possibly, weavers in Cusco have entirely different names for these styles.

12308639_905019236200663_1944169302157504867_nFor now, all I want to do is put my two small panels together and make a nice table covering. I am sure I will learn a lot. As far as my goals of going longer, finer and wider go, it’s another ”two out of three” for this project. I didn’t go longer as I wouldn’t have had enough yarn for the width I wanted. But, I am pleased with the width and the fineness of the wool.

Before I leave you, let me show you Sophie’s bold and beautiful double-weave band with her own pattern. Don’t you just love the crisp patterns this technique allows you to create? If you are tempted to try it, you can see my intermediate-level tutorial here.

sophie france (1)

sophie france (2)









  1. Laverne- Are indigenous weavers warping the same way twice and rotating one piece, or are they weaving both pieces on one warp and rotating? I don’t know about now, but a hundred years ago weavers in Guatemala did it both ways.

    • They have to weave each piece separately in order to be able to create the four selvedges.

      • Of course! Thanks Laverne. Kate

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