Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 12, 2016

Backstrap Weaving – A Potpourri of Structures

Phew! I didn’t think I would get this post out today. The internet was out for most of the day… on again but really painfully slow, then off again. I have started lifting weights while I wait for pages to load. How many bicep curls can I do while waiting? I finally gave up and wove.

It has come back to life again this evening but I have my heart in my mouth as I type. Last weekend, along with Monday and Tuesday, were Carnival days and I believe a good many people packed up and left town. That left me with high-speed internet for those four glorious days. Perhaps there is something good to be said about Carnival after all. You may have guessed that I am not a fan of this celebration. Anyway, I knew there would be a price to pay for enjoying all that high speed! Everyone came back and the system collapsed

I had a few things going on this week. I simply cannot weave on my yellow scarf project at night. I can even manage black thread at night with the aid of a head lamp…but not this yellow. Light from a head lamp makes things even worse. It’s like looking into the sun. So, it was good to have a couple of other things to play with in what happens to be my favorite time for weaving. I turn on the air conditioner and enjoy an evening of fresh coolness at my loom.

two wool panels joined backstrap weavingThere was the sewing on my brown wool panels to complete. This was not an easy job even though I had chosen the simplest of the decorative stitches to use. All the things that I had envisioned going wrong when I joined my two cotton panels last month, and which never actually happened, went wrong on this wool piece. The softer, slinkier wool fabric moved around and the edges got misaligned. I can’t tell you how many times I had to pull out the stitches.

decortaive joining stitch on wool panelsI finally got it under control. This was definitely something I wanted to do at night in the cooled air. Having that wool thing on my lap while I sewed during the heat of the summer day was horribly uncomfortable. Now, I would love to weave an edging but this project used up all my brown wool. I simply can’t see it done in any other color and so I will just have to wait.

supplementary warp width sampleIn the meantime, I have been planning the next wool project. I am going to use more jewel-like colors on the next one and weave patterns using the supplementary-warp structure. This, along with Andean Pebble Weave, were the first structures I learned in Peru back in 1996.

I was not a big fan of the supplementary-weft structure at that time. My teachers in 1996, and another with whom I had studied in 1997, had taught me to weave tiny animal motifs and some of them were a little awkward and had really long warp floats. That had put me off.

It wasn’t until I saw the more geometric Mapuche motifs woven in this structure when I visited a sheep estancia in southern Argentina, that I started appreciating the structure and all its possibilities. Nevertheless, I haven’t used it very much. While weaving with my teacher Maxima in Cochabamaba, I saw some of the supplementary-warp figures woven by ladies in her co-operative and those have given me ideas for this next project. First, I needed to weave a sample in the wool that I plan to use so that I could figure width. That kept me busy in the evening when the yellow warp had to be put aside.

There it is above. Weaving this gave me the chance to see that there was a glitch in my pattern chart. I had woven four repeats before I even realized. I am glad I caught it now and not in the middle of the larger project.

When I got back to Chile after my first weaving classes in Peru in 1996, I was very excited and wanted to weave everything I had learned at once. I wove a narrow band with some of the pebble weave figures I had been taught and then I got very brave and wove a wider piece using both the supplementary-warp and Andean Pebble Weave structures together. Back then, I didn’t for a moment question whether it would possible to successfully combine a complementary-warp and supplementary-warp structure. I didn’t know any better. I had no idea about such things as ”take-up” and there was no one to tell me that I shouldn’t do it or that there might be problems. I just did it. And, I guess I was just lucky that it worked out fine. I am thinking I will do the same on my next wool piece…combine the two structures. This is not uncommon in the highlands.

second pebble weave warpYou can see the green and white supplementary-warp figures on the edges of the piece I wove in Chile back in 1996. I had figured out a way to chart those little figures but I hadn’t come up with anything for the pebble weave. I just followed my scribbled notes with all their references to numbers and color.

one of the first weavingsEverything was upside down and back-to-front on this warp! The warp was very crooked as my stakes had leaned. I ended up with my warp upside down. The supplementary-warp figures show their ”right” side. I consider the right side the one where the supplementary-warp threads (in this case the white ones), are forming the figures. However, the pebble weave figures are showing their ”wrong” side in the picture above.

Complementary-warp structures do not have a structurally right or wrong side but I had wanted my cloth to have white figures on a red and green background and didn’t have the experience at that time to know how to adjust the way I was doing the pick-up to fix that. I had come back from Peru not having a deep understanding of what this was all about. I was just blindly following my scribbled notes. Having a thorough understanding came much later after lots and lots of weaving and more trips to Peru and Bolivia.

You can see the finished cloth above adorning the cover of one of my photo albums….now showing the ”right” side of the pebble weave but the wrong side of the supplementary-warp sections.  Even the narrow strips of pebble weave came out wrong. That is not the pattern I had intended at all! My pebble sheds were out of order and I ended up creating an entirely new motif….a happy mishap. I am so happy that I still have this piece of weaving. It holds a lot of stories.

While digging around for that old photo album, I unearthed the only picture I have of myself weaving in my home in southern Chile. It is totally out of focus, but what a happy memory from 20 years ago! I am working on the piece I just described.

weaving in Punta ArenasYou can see the very large pattern charts I had created for the supplementary-warp figures. My backstrap loom is attached to the bottom beam of my Navajo-style loom. I am sitting on my legs…can’t do that anymore! You can see a pile of Peruvian hats that I had brought back on the chair at left. What really makes me smile is the small pillow on the sofa. It is covered in one of my very first weavings… a tapestry piece in acrylic that I made on a frame I had knocked together a couple of years earlier into which I had hammered nails. I knew nothing about winding a warping and had simply tied a piece of sewing thread to a nail at the top of the loom, cut it and then tied it to a nail at the bottom of the loom. And so on… I so wish I had kept those little things I had woven.

As for the yellow scarf, I have just finished the intensive supplementary-weft patterning at the beginning and am moving on to a nice relatively free run of plain weave. I will repeat the bands of supplementary-weft patterning at the other end. I had started with the idea of covering the piece with cream-colored silk supplementary weft so that only small bits of yellow would be revealed but I found that the supplementary weft thickened the cloth too much for my liking. I didn’t want to lose all the light liquid flow of the silk.

first supplementary weft figures finished yellow silk scarfHere is the first band of figures. I adapted the pattern from a cotton rebozo of Mexico.

flower figures in negativeI changed the pattern for the second band so that the flower motifs show in the yellow negative space.

And then, the plain weave starts. It will be decorated with scattered flowers. And, this time, when I say ”scattered”, I really mean it! I have planned pieces with so-called scattered motifs before only to find myself measuring and looking for symmetry. I can’t seem to help myself! No. This time they really will be scattered. I have woven more since I took this picture and added a couple more flowers. I am enjoying this whole ”scattered” business now. I don’t have to count any of the 700 ends to see how to place the motif and create balance and symmetry. I just pick a thread, any thread, and start weaving the motif…love it!

Hopefully, I will get the wool warp wound this weekend. That will give me something to work on in the evenings next to the 86 inches of yellow scarf warp.I need a longer bed to which I can lash these various projects side by side!

A friend in Chile sent me a link to a free e-booklet on natural dyes in southern Patagonia. It’s in Spanish but still lovely to look at even if you don’t understand the text.

natural dyes patagoniaThis would have been so nice to have when I was living down there. There was a time when I played around with dyeing during my 5 years there. I used anything I could find in the back yard and dyed some small samples of wool. I kept notes but never dyed enough yarn to make anything. When I came to Bolivia I wrapped the dyed samples around tubes of newspaper and made a lid for one of my tall storage baskets ( which I had also made of tubes of newspaper.) It’s still in pretty good shape despite having had cat claws in it multiple times. The very dark brown, by the way, is just plain old loose-leaf black tea. I needed a dark color to contrast with the others.

natural dyes southern chile

You may remember I posted this next picture a couple of weeks ago. These are the sweet coin purses made with fabric created by the Hmong people of Thailand. I noticed that there were a lot of hits on the link to the Fair Trade store that sells these. My friend, Susan, in Australia, sent me a link to a tutorial on how to make them which solves the mystery of how much fabric they require… not all that much after all. The site provides a pattern template. Beware, you may fall down the rabbit hole of Renaissance Ribbons when you visit the site…I did!

hmong triangle coin purses little mango imports

There has been some double weaving going on among online friends. Moniek Deroo in Belgium wove red poppies on a band dedicated to the fields of Flanders where she lives…red poppies on the blackness of war, bordered by the green grass of the battle fields…

moniek deroo in flanders field poppiesMoniek is using her inkle loom for this and has added extra string heddles to speed up the pick-up. It can be woven as a simple two-shaft structure and that is actually how I was taught to do it when I learned it in Potosí, Bolivia.That’s also the way I teach it in my tutorial. Moniek is weaving the embedded version of the double weave structure which I teach in this tutorial.

I add extra heddles when I work with particularly fine or numerous threads like on the 60/2 silk piece below…silk bookmark backstrap weavingOn narrower pieces, or those with heavier thread, I enjoy not having to deal with the clutter of all those extra heddles and am pretty fast doing the pick-up without them.

Betsy has just started following my online tutorial and is working her way through the exercises. Betsy has woven Andean Pebble Weave with me and says she finds double weave easier. I find patterns easier to read on double weave pieces as there are no warp floats and it is quite easy to read the pattern repeats on the cloth just by looking at the motifs you have already woven rather than at a chart. I find it faster to reach that ability when doing double weave than when weaving structures that involve warp floats.


I have a few more things to show you from my talented online weaving friends but I will end on this last one as my internet is showing signs of giving up again.

Liza has also been dabbling in double weave and is already designing her own patterns. I love this leaf pattern of hers…

liza d bl weaveAnd, she made this wonderful rug using a backstrap loom and old jeans…how cool is that…

liza jeans rugI asked her for a shot of her work in progress because I wanted to see her loom set up. She sent me a beauty…

liza backstrap rugI’ll quickly publish this before my internet breaks down to a crawl or to zero again.

If you are a bit bamboozled by the potpourri of structures I have presented in this week’s post… supplementary this and that, double weave, complementary-warp, warp floats, blah blah, I do hope to update the Structures and Terminology page on this blog soon to explain them in a bit more detail for you.

Until next week…












  1. This is some gorgeous stuff! Thank you for posting, yes, it’s a lot to take in, but I’m so impressed! Is it very labor-intensive, I mean physically? I’ve heard backstrap weaving is hard on your back?

    • Thank you! It’s hard for me to comment on your question about backstrap weaving being hard on the back. I have been doing it for 20 years and started at an age when I was a lot more flexible. You see from my post that I can’t sit on my legs anymore like I used to 20 years ago. I think over those 20 years I have built up the right muscles to make this a completely comfortable thing for me as long as I have the right seat. I most certainly can’t sit on the hard ground as many backstrap weavers do. I need a good quality thick foam pad for my butt and upper legs. The weavers that I have seen in South and Central America seem to suffer more from having their legs bent and folded over long periods of time rather than having back problems. You see elderly women folded up into the most incredible positions in front of not only backstrap but their vertical and ground looms as well. A weavers whose eyesight has deteriorated, who doesn’t have glasses and who has to bend over low to see what he/she is doing often suffers with upper back and neck pain.

      • Thanks for your thoughts on this. I like to look at the “real” side of the craft, too, beautiful things definitely come with a cost to create!

  2. I think we may have the same breed of hamster that runs on its wheel to provide internet service. But, having said that, I hope you have more internet service since you can post such wonderful links to such fascinating sites, and post so many stellar projects from yourself and others.

    I think the gold scarf is so gorgeous. To me, it is real gold.

    Thank you for the time and thought you put into your posts, they’re a joy to read.


    • Yes, that poor little hamster gets tired sometimes! Thank you so much, Alaa. It’s always lovely to hear from you.

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