Posted by: lavernewaddington | March 4, 2016

Backstrap Weaving – Colors

band from PAZA BoliviaGorgeous colors! Just what I need to lighten a dreary drizzly day in the tropics….warm colors of the highland countryside. This is one of the bands that I received recently from PAZA Bolivia. My weaving teacher, Maxima, heads the cooperative that weaves these bands on the traditional leaning vertical loom in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The weavers use their own handspun wool which has been colored with natural dyes.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will be used to seeing this annual event – the arrival of the Cochabamba fajas. You will have heard many times about my excitement at opening the box with its outpouring of colors and aromas of the Bolivian countryside.

PAZA BoliviaI mentioned to my friend Dorinda, who works with the weavers and helps to manage their sales, that this latest batch of bands was lacking the rich chocolate browns of previous collections I had received. I was surprised when she told me that those darker colors were obtained from khesi misa, or soot. 

What I wasn’t surprised to hear was that the ladies do not enjoy scraping off the build-up of soot on their kitchen walls to use in the dye pot. As you can imagine, it is mixed with grease from the hundreds of cooked meals and must be truly awful to work with. I don’t know what the cooking spaces look like in the communities where these weavers live but I can show you the kitchen of one of my teachers in another part of Bolivia to give you an idea. This is an old print from 1998.

kitchen candelariaOf course, it is so much nicer to be dyeing with leaves and flowers and cochineal bugs. Natural black can always provide the dark contrast and some of the greens that are obtained are quite dark too.

I have showed you pictures of Independencia and Huancarani where Maxima lives in other blog posts. At around 2600 meters above sea level (approx 8600 ft), it is very green and hilly. Pictures that Dorinda sends me or posts show the ladies working in pretty gardens amongst an abundance of plants and flowers.


1 (1)The city of El Alto in La Paz, on the other hand, sits above 4000 meters (approx 13000 ft). It’s a different story up there on the Bolivian high plains – dry, flat and largely colorless. That’s why a recently finished project of several high apartment blocks in El Alto has attracted widespread attention. Bolivian artist Mamani Mamani, known for his use of color, (see an example of his work at left)was commissioned to design enormous  murals for the walls of the buildings.  I am hoping that the next time I fly to El Alto airport in La Paz, I will see these colorful images standing out against the dry and dusty plains. The following pictures of the project are from the webpage of Mistura Urbana



More of Mamani Mamani’s work can be seen here.

In this next picture, you can really appreciate the bleak surroundings…


mamani-mamani-el-alto-la-paz-whipala-bolivia6I became a little obsessed with the red, purple and gold that you can see in this last picture. Actually, the red-purple-gold ”thing” really started when I watched the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel for the second time last week. As it was a second viewing, my mind was freer to wander and take in more of the scenery and sets and the purple, red and gold kept calling to me…

This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Tom Wilkinson, Tony Revolori, center, and Owen Wilson, right, in "The Grand Budapest Hotel ." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight)

This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Tom Wilkinson, Tony Revolori, center, and Owen Wilson, right, in “The Grand Budapest Hotel .” (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight)

It’s not like I haven’t used this combination before…

amulet bag backstrap weavingWhat looks rather blue in this picture is actually a dark purple. This is an amulet bag that I made many years ago when I was first practicing sewing and weaving tubular edgings. It was a cute little pouch with its cross-warp strap and pom poms. My friend DY has it hanging from the rear view mirror in her car.

Last week, I was about to start my next wool project and I had purple, gold and red wool…perfect. Well, not so much. The purple wasn’t deep enough, the gold was greenish and the red just wasn’t lipstick-y enough. I spent several days winding warp with these colors, adding and subtracting ends, re arranging ends, pulling things out and starting again before I gave up on trying to make the particular tones of red, purple and gold work. It was so hard for me to wipe that color combination from my mind and start anew.

So, this is what I have come up with. You can see that I really wanted to use the purple! It is one of two panels that will be connected with decorative stitching. I am creating the patterns with supplemental warp threads. There was one more thing that I wanted to change but I got to the point where I realized that this could go on forever! and so I just decided to get on with it and weave. The center stitching, which will run along the right hand edge, will be in the greenish gold and the edging around the two joined panels will be in purple. I hope that will balance it all out. And, I am very pleased that I remembered, despite all the warping chaos, to add a stripe at the inner edge to make placing the stitches easier.

wool panel with supplementary warp patterns backstrap weavingIn the meantime, my brown wool is on its way in the post so that I can create the outer edging for my first wool panel piece…

decortaive joining stitch on wool panels Something is going on with me and I am noticing color more. I am currently watching the series Parenthood for the first time on dvd. I see scenes with characters dressed in black seated on a butter-yellow couch in front of a dark green wall and all I can think of are the colors. Will we ever see a red-white-black piece from me again? Undoubtedly! I still have more hangings in that series that I want to create.

Now, it’s back to the loom for me and I will leave you with some final splashes of color…

cochabamba bands







  1. The purple panel looks really nice!
    About color, I have to say that textiles created by the Wayuu people are incredibly vivid!

    • Thank you! I agree about the Wayuu textiles. They certainly are vivid.

  2. The fajas are lovely and I especially love the Mamani Mamani murals. I’d love to paint our PHX house like that to contrast with the pastels and subtle colors of the desert. But I’m sure that the HOA would never approve!! Thanks for sharing. About the dark brown – we just had a natural dye class with Ric Rao and he got some lovely dark browns with English Walnuts. I don’t know if they grow in Peru or Bolivia at high altitudes but he said the color given by the shells lasts for a long time so you can dye many batches of yarn. They didn’t weigh much so maybe you could find a source and import them. I don’t remember where he got them. I’m pretty sure they don’t grow in Las Cruces, NM like most of his color sources in his garden. un abrazo fuerte. Virginia

    • Thanks, Virginia. I’ll tell Dorinda. However, I have a feeling they only want to use locally available sources for their colors. Maybe you could try just painting your mailbox Mamani Mamani style to start and see what kind of reaction you get. You might start a trend!

  3. I’m starting to work with a backstrap loom and working through your beginner tutorials, but I was having a lot of trouble getting the string heddles to lift *just* their threads without also lifting a few of the others. I was thinking of making a double string heddles, one for top and bottom, so both sets could be made to come away from each other but of course this isn’t something I’ve seen you write about. Is there a reason this wouldn’t work? or perhaps it’s simply unnecessary with more practice?

    • Hi Vikki. I sent you a lengthy email in reply to this. Basically, yes, the two heddles would work and also, yes, I think it is unnecessary with practice. There are more details in the email.

      • Yes, I got the email. Thank you for your help!

  4. hi laverne, oh my god, these colors are gorgeous. they make me want to start at once to weave, too. i ve been reading your blog for qute a while and i am really impressed of your beautiful weavings. at zhe moment i am learning pebble weave with the help of your book and your tutorials. thanks alot to you for charing your rich knowledge. lots if greetings carmen

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