Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 5, 2016

Backstrap Weaving – Making Do

madejandolaI just love this picture and this weaver’s work space. Place all you tools on the warp, roll everything up and leave it hanging from the post to which it is anchored…the simplicity! Gone are the days when I used to have to roll up everything and put it in the closet every night. A folding bed had to take the place of my work space at night. Apart from that, my cat would have gotten into everything if it had been left out.. The bed is no longer needed and the cat has moved away so, now I have a permanent piece of floor as my work space. Things tend to get out of control when you don’t need to put things away anymore, especially when I have several projects going at once. The photo of the neatly stowed backstrap loom is being offered as a screen saver calendar by this Mexican site. 

Here’s another pleasant work space. This one is more cat-friendly…

candelaria weaver's roomThis is the work space of one of my Bolivian teachers. She has one room dedicated to her weaving which holds three of her enormously long leaning vertical frames. Look at that lovely clear floor all around. She is weaving a long piece from which she will cut and sew three bags for a museum store. She has all the tools she needs on hand….a nice piece of sheep skin on which to sit, a sword which is leaning against the loom, a metal pick which is within the weaving, a piece of plastic coated wire which holds one half of her picking cross, her beater (the llama bone wichuña) and a tape measure. Cat and hat are optional.

candelaria weaving The problem with my work space is that I have so many options…so many books from which to gather inspiration, so many sticks and needles and bits and pieces which somehow seem so essential. And then I need to chart patterns and make notes about things that my weaving teachers carry in their heads and hands. I have an ”out of sight, out of mind” mentality and need to to have every idea on which I am currently working under my nose. I am sure that with fewer things I would just make do with what I have.

Here’s the view from my bed when I wake up in the morning. I need to walk on top of all of that to get out the door.

my work spaceYou can see the two projects on which I am currently working. I have been fiddling about sewing the two wool panels together. First, I tried the triangle joining stitch, the arku siray, but found it too large and bulky and now I am working with the k’iska join which is much more discreet and one which I think better suits the busy pick-up patterns.

arku siray triangle join

kiski vertical joinI have been taking my time over this. Sitting for long periods sewing with wool cloth on your lap in the summer heat is not comfortable. I think this weight will be really nice for a light poncho.

Maxima in Cochabamba adds extra twist to her handspun yarn before winding a warp for a pebble weave band.

Maxima in Cochabamba adds extra twist to her handspun yarn before winding a warp for a pebble weave band.

Working on this  wool piece has been really interesting. I used wool straight off the skein . I didn’t re-spin it to increase the amount of twist.

My weaving teachers here use tight over-twisted yarn that they spin themselves. They always re-spin the acrylic thread that they buy in the market. This makes the yarn stronger so that it can withstand the abrasion that comes from warp faced weaving. It also helps to smooth the yarn and sort of lock away a lot of the hairs, the things that make neighboring warp threads want to grab and stick to each other.

What I have realized from working on my wool project is that the over-twist also takes out pretty much all the spring and stretch from the yarn. The yarn I used was stretchy and that makes it really difficult to get a nice firm beat. My weaving teachers greatly admire cloth that is firm. With the hard beat and the tightly twisted thread, the resulting cloth is virtually waterproof and incredibly durable. I could beat away forever on my piece with its stretchy yarn and never get the firmness that my weaving teachers desire. And that’s okay because I really wanted something light and soft and flowing. The fabric softened up beautifully after I washed it. But, I know that if I ever took this piece to the highlands to show my teachers, they would either shake their heads sadly at it or tease me for being too weak to beat hard. It just wouldn’t be good cloth in their world of weaving.

yellow silk warp backstrap weavingYou may remember that one of my weaving goals these days is to go wider, finer and longer. I only got a two-out-of-three with the wool project. It wasn’t longer than my usual projects. I haven’t managed yet to get all three going in one project.

The yellow warp you see in my work space gives me another two-out-of-three. It’s 86” long, which is much longer than my typical pieces and, being made of 60/2 silk,  sits in the ”fine” category. It’s only wide enough to make a scarf.

Winding the warp was a challenge. I didn’t like my set-up…too many twists and turns for my liking…you know how fussy I am about the whole warping process. The way I chose to warp had my cross sticks placed at the far end of the warp. Just the action of dragging the cross sticks down to the front of the loom (and I did it as gently as I could) fluffed up my nice silk warp…darn. I picked off all the fluff. Next time I wind a long warp, I will definitely figure out a better way to do it.

I could have wound a circular warp, but I chose not to. It’s a single-plane warp and I have rolled up a lot of it around the far loom bar using sheets of paper to keep everything spread and even. That way it can fit into my small weaving space.


rolling u excess warp backstrap weavingA circular warp would allow me to weave the 86” warp without having to roll it up. You can see the difference between a circular warp and a single plane warp in this next picture of two bands. Single plane warps have two ends…you start weaving at one end and finish at the other. On a circular warp you weave around a full circle until you return to the start point and then cut the warp apart.

circular-and-single-plane-warpsI am starting a floral pattern on my yellow scarf warp using silk supplementary weft. The motifs are in cream colored silk. I like to think of this as ”mangoes and cream”. After this band of pattern I will weave 6”-8”” of supplementary-weft pattern where the cream weft fills the background revealing the motif in the yellow ground cloth. That’s what I will do at each end of the warp and everything in between will be basically plain with perhaps a few flowers scattered here and there.

supplementary-weft pattern on silk sacrfmiguel-andrango-loomIt is so interesting seeing the different ways that weavers set up their looms and wind their warps. I have had a chance to look at new set-ups on backstrap and other simple looms this week by making contact with some weaving friends around the world. It has given me a chance to revisit the topic of the Shed Rod that I wrote about in a previous post.

You may remember that in that post I had noted that of the two basics sheds on backstrap looms- the back shed and the heddle shed- the back shed is often the one that is more difficult one to open. This, of course, depends a lot on the kind of yarn being used. Weavers come up with different ways to deal with that. They can use a shed rod of very large girth, they can strum the warp threads with their hands or with a tool or, as backstrap weavers in Ecuador do, they can distribute the threads over two shed rods and raise only half of them at a time. You can see the two shed rods in place at left. The weavers I saw doing this were using quite heavy wool warp.

Just after I published my post on the technique employed by backstrap weavers in some parts of Ecuador, my friend Kathleen Klumpp posted a video to Youtube that she took last year in Miguel Andrango’s workshop in Ecuador in which you can see the weaver using the two shed rods. I have been waiting for the right opportunity to show it here. Thank you. Kathie.


The weaver has quite an unusual way of doing the pick-up. It is not a method that I have seen used elsewhere and I am wondering if Mr Andrango was taught this way when he visited Cusco or if this is something of his own that he has passed on to the weavers who work with him in his workshop.

He first picks out all the light threads from the light colored shed and saves them. Then he picks the dark ones from the dark shed and combines both the light and dark threads into one shed.

On the other hand, the weavers in Peru with whom I have worked form a picking cross of all the dark and light threads and then select the colors, both light and dark, all at once.

Above, you can see the classic loraypu pattern, which is woven in Chinchero, Peru, on Miguel Andrango’s loom.

Adem, in Turkey has taken up backstrap weaving and has been sending me links to wonderful pictures and videos on Turkish textiles. He learned kilim weaving techniques from his grandmother when he was school aged and, while researching weaving online, came across my blog. Now, he and his wife are both happily backstrap weaving at home. I love how he has made do with all kinds of things that he has at home to set up to warp and weave….

Starting simply…


And then, adding some more tools, like a cardboard roll, that works brilliantly as a shed rod….


Finding more stability in his set-up…


Length is obviously not a problem…

12648037_10154006216483629_1633919773_n (1)Now Adem and his wife have my book and I am looking forward to seeing what they create with Andean Pebble Weave.

Weaving tools around the world, all serving the same basic purposes, can be so very different in shape and size. Not everyone can wander down to the Sunday market stall, like this one that I visited in Guatemala, and pick up just the right kind of stick or sword.

backstrap loom stall chichicastenango guatemalaI love seeing how people make do with what they have.

As for the video links that Adem sent me, I have embedded one below which shows a wonderfully simple loom being used by a 75-year old woman in Turkey. Some of the pieces of equipment are not like anything you would find in a Guatemalan market. A simple stick tripod permanently raises the heddle shed. Her shed rod is a sword-like stick rather than a cylinder which she tips on its side to raise the back shed.

I love the sounds of the weaving in this film as much as I like the visuals. After the first minute, much of the video is devoted to interviewing the weaver. Adem tells me that she is talking about how she prefers living in her village rather than in the cities where her children have gone to live. She and other weavers used to create wide pieces but that is not done anymore.

The band she is weaving in the video is used as the strap for baskets like those in the picture below found here


(Oops, well it looks like that video has been removed from Youtube. Here’s another one instead which also shows the warping. One lady winds the warps while another sits by and makes the heddles. You can see how the tripod is set up and there is great footage of the the weaver operating the loom as well as braiding the ends.

A flat shed rod just on its own, in my experience, makes raising the heddles difficult on a backstrap loom. However, this is not a problem in this loom as the heddled threads are already raised. The heddle stick is being held up by the tripod.

Another interesting shed rod can be seen in this next video from the Ukraine. The warp threads are coiled around the shed rod. This is a screen shot from the video which is embedded below…

shed rod ukraineThe weaver shows how it is placed in the video. I think I learned the Ukranian words for ”over” and ”under” from watching this process as she coils one thread over the shed rod and then the next one under, again and again. This makes the shed rod very stable. Despite being much longer than the width of the band, the shed rods sits nicely in place and does not flop or roll around. She shows very nicely how she uses her sword behind the heddles to open the heddle shed. With a flat shed rod, that method simply wouldn’t work.

All the videos I have posted here are very light and I had no problem watching them with my erratic internet connection here in Bolivia. I hope you can watch and enjoy them too.






  1. Wonderful, Laverne. I always learn so much from your blog posts. Fascinating to watch weavers from different cultures work on their pieces. I love the pile of swords and beaters in Guatemala. How I would love to go through them and feel the wood!

    • Yes, that was a very cool stall in the market in Guatemala. I have not found a stall dedicated entirely to backstrap looms anywhere else. It was fun to watch Guatemalan weavers shopping there and carefully feeling the swords and selecting their tools. I am glad you enjoyed the videos.

  2. Love the videos!
    I am having trouble conjuring up the difference between a circular warp and a single-plane warp. I suspect what I have learned from you is a circular warp(?)

    • Hi Anne. What we did were single plane warps….there are two ends. You start weaving at one end and finish at the other. A circular warp is like one that you use on an inkle loom. You weave around a full circle and then cut the warp to open the piece out to its full length. I just added a photo to the post to illustrate this for you. The lady in the video from Turkey is weaving on a circular warp. Glad you enjoyed the videos.

  3. Thanks again Laverne for the very interesting and inspiring post! So true that while our goals may be the same, there can be so many ways in which to get to the end result. What a wonderful world!

    • Yes, it’s all the differences as well as the similarities that show up in methods used on the other side of the globe that make this forever interesting for us.

  4. Wonderful videos. The loom from the Ukraine looks like it was warped in a continuous loop and the the cross is made when she wrapped the heddle bar, it that correct?

    • I can only imagine that she warped that way, Paula, wrapping around what I call the shed rod. She may have explained how she warped in the video but I will never know!

  5. I was also intrigued by the Ukranian setup. I definitely liked the stay-in-place shed rod and wondered why there was no pre-warped cross.
    As usual, very inspiring. Thank you, gracias, sağol, спасибі 🙂

  6. The Ukranian video was very interesting. The warping method with the loops around the shed rod are show in the new book EESTI KIRIVÖÖD by Piia Rand.

  7. thank you for all the posts, have been reading them a couple of years, soon I’ll be actually trying the pebble weave( have some general knowledge of weaving, and came to weaving thru spinning, working with an inkle loom.)

    • Hi Nita. Nice to meet you and thanks for your comments. I hope you enjoy pebble weave and will remind you that there are lots of tutorials here on my blog for some other more basic techniques too. Happy weaving!

  8. Hey Laverne! I’m sure you’re getting tired of my questions by now but please hear me out 🙂 I saw how you rolled up your warp with paper packing. I assume that because of the particular set up you use connected to furniture is pretty secure and the warp doesn’t unroll. Mine is just like the usual setup–with a rope and a single point. My question is this: I would like to weave longer and because my space is very small I need to roll up the extra length the way you did, but I can’t seem to keep the warp from unrolling. Can you help me with this?

    • Hi Roland. I roll up the warp at the far end using an additional rod just as you do when you roll up the woven cloth at the front of the loom. I roll everything so that it ends up under the warp…that’s the way I prefer doing it. I have secured the two rods by passing a loop of thick cord over the top of whichever rod ends up being further from you as you sit weaving (note that the cord does not go around this rod…it just sits on top of it). The cord then goes around the rod that is nearer you. In this way the cord gets wedged between the two rods and that is what stops the whole thing from unrolling. This is exactly the way I handle rolling up the woven cloth at the front of the loom. In that case the cord I am talking about is the cord of my backstrap. i don’t see why this wouldn’t work with the way you are set up. In fact, my rods are no longer rammed right up against the bed frame. I adjusted things a little and they are about 6” away but they are secured to the bed frame at two points rather than at one. I hope this helps.

      • Thanks so much! It was unrolling because of the way I had the cord holding the rod, and my roll-up stick wasn’t long enough to catch the cord. I suppose I wasn’t thinking logically 🙂 I’ve been pretty tired lately 🙂 thank you!!!

      • I am glad the solution was so easy. Happy weaving to you!

  9. I do look forward to your blog arriving Lavern! Always so informative and beautifully illustrated. I really admire your wonderful weaving and your commitment to your craft. Best Wishes jj

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