I 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…
This 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.
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.
You 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.
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.
You 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.
A 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.
I am starting a floral pattern on y 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.
It 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….
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…
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.
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…
A flat shed rod just on its own, in my experience, makes raising the heddles difficult. 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 and the weaver need only strum the warp threads to clear the shed. The weaver is using a circular warp.
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…
The 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.