Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 10, 2017

Backstrap Weaving – Highland Fling Part 2

Here’s Part 2 of my post about my recent trip to the Bolivian highlands. Read Part 1 here.

Huancarani! Whenever I have written about Huancarani on this blog and about Dorinda, her PAZA organization and the weavers in central Bolivia I have always had to go to Dorinda’s web page and check how to spell, and therefore pronounce, the name of this tiny highland settlement. It just wouldn’t stick. Quite often I would leave out the first letter ”n”. Now I have actually been there and spent an entire day weaving with all the ladies whose names had become so familiar to me. When I order woven bands from the group, the orders arrive with each piece labeled naming its weaver and Dorinda would send me a document with little stories about each one of them. I have often shared those stories on this blog. It was delightful to be able to meet the weavers and shake their hands at last. I know I will never forget how to spell Huancarani ever again. The community and the day I spent there have now become a very special part of my weaving experience.
group-photo-huancaraniHere’s a mini group photo taken at the end of the day taken in the same beautiful spot that Dorinda has shown on her website and which I had so often admired…so green and with those lovely hills in the background.

Unfortunately, a few of the weavers had gone home at this stage. Narciza, in the center with the blue skirt and spindle,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA had grabbed my attention right at the end of the day to have me help her weave a new pattern. Everyone was waiting to get together for the group photo but Narciza kept pleading ”unita mas!” (one more!)…that is, one more row of pattern, as she was so determined to weave a full repeat so that she could carry on and copy it on her own later. I totally get that kind of focus and obsession and was happy to oblige. Her joy at learning the new pattern was infectious. However, many of the weavers simply had to head home. There were animals to round up and herd, families to attend to and meals to be prepared. Special arrangements had been made by many to have a day off from chores to spend a whole day out on the ”green” outside the church to spin, weave, chat and have lunch together.

After the group photo, we separated and Dorinda, Maxima and I headed back to town an hour away. My hand was firmly shaken, I was given gifts of food and I was even hugged by some of the ladies. Maxima expressed surprise at that as it is not generally their custom to hug. I take orders from my backstrap weaving students for the bands that these ladies weave and they were expressing their appreciation for this much needed source of income. May I pass on their gratitude to all my students who have placed orders. Thank you!

examining a woven sample to copyAfter lunch, Narciza and Felicidad had wound a warp of 56 ends (that’s a whole lot of ends to be holding on just fingers!) determined to copy a pattern on one of the bands that I had brought to show. It just happened to be the pattern I was weaving on the backstrap loom that I had brought to demonstrate to the ladies. Narciza spotted the motif first thing in the morning, asked me for the thread count and set to work after lunch. In the morning she had learned a simpler pattern with me.

narciza and felicidadYou might be able to make out my sample band sitting on the Felicidad’s skirt. Narciza and Felicidad were puzzling it out together with the suggestions of others peering over their shoulders from time to time. However, time was running out and so I was called over to help before I could take back my sample and leave. I talked her through one repeat but I ended up leaving the sample with her in any case after having had my arm very tightly twisted!


narcizas new patternThere’s the pattern taking shape. Some of you might recognize it from my second book. Narciza has enough information now to be able to continue weaving this motif.

It was an action-packed day with lots and lots of weaving going on. There hadn’t been any kind of plan for the visit, as far I had known. I was simply being taken to Huancarani so the weavers could meet me and Dorinda thought that they might like to see my backstrap loom and some of my weaving. The ladies had offered to provide lunch. Apparently I was known as ”La Laverna”…the lady who gave them orders for weavings from time to time.  Maxima had wisely thrown all the cones of cotton that Dorinda had back at the house into her bag and brought them along. She must have known that everyone would want to weave and would most likely not have thought to bring any of their hand spun yarn. They had, of course, all brought their spindles!

They enjoyed looking at my samples.  Maxima, who is currently working on a wide piece on her leaning vertical loom with strips of double weave patterning, enjoyed looking at my double weave sample and picked out bird motifs that she would like to copy.

the small group first thing in the morningThe ladies arrived in a slow trickle, one by one. I set up my backstrap loom while Maxima took out the cotton and started winding a warp. I had taught Maxima one new pattern the day before and Adviana another. Maxima wanted me to teach her the pattern I had taught to Adviana and I was happy to do so. However, once the brightly colored cotton was out, everyone wanted to try some and there was a frenzy of activity as warps were prepared on fingers and toes everywhere I looked!

casimira warpingWho needs warping stakes when an index finer and big toe do nicely?

teaching momentI love this wonderful teaching moment as one of the elders starts a warp for one of the younger ladies. Dorinda told me that she had never seen this young lady before and that she was not part of the weaving co-op. She has high hopes that she may now join. I sat with her and got her started on a pattern and got the impression that she was not an experienced weaver. She was having a difficult time working the sheds and asked for my help. Who knows…this may have been her first time actually weaving although she would have been exposed to it all her life..

weaving generationsI love seeing the various generations represented in this picture. The older lady isn’t wearing a hat as she had insisted on my wearing it. I was out in the sun with the first group of ladies to arrive while she very wisely sat in the shade.

I took my very first selfie so I could see how I looked in that hat. I like it!

selfie with hatEveryone wound a warp with the same number of ends as Maxima had and they all wanted to learn the same pattern! How was I to manage that? There was only one tiny sample in fine 20/2 wool to pass around and one pattern repeat was 25 picks! There wasn’t enough time for me to weave samples right there and then so that small groups could each have one to examine.

eulalia figuring out the patternI asked Dorinda to copy the pattern chart I had made for Maxima. After working with one of the younger ladies, I could see that the youngsters quickly understood the chart and were able to weave on their own after I demonstrated just 4 or 5 rows. They still pleaded with me for ”unita mas!” but I left them to weave on with the chart and they got on just fine. Of course, the more experienced weavers would be able to sit, figure out and copy a woven sample with few, if any, problems but we only had one such sample to pass around. Above, you can see Eulalia. This lady blew my mind. I don’t know how many times she caught a glimpse of the tiny sample as it was being passed around but she sat and started weaving an almost perfect copy of it.

She soon gathered a fan club and I was the biggest admirer of all!

copying the patternYou can see Maxima in the center starting a warp for the lady seated next to her with pattern chart in hand. Narciza in the foreground has her own chart and is on her way. Narciza is a real ”go-getter”. I enjoyed meeting her a lot. And, that’s Eulalia in the background with her fan club. People learn in so many different ways. Of course, pattern charts are completely unknown and foreign to these weavers and it was interesting to see how eagerly the younger women took to them. If I had known that the ladies were going to be so keen and determined to use our time together to learn new motifs, I would have brought a dozen samples in heavy yarn for them to copy. I really hadn’t had any idea of what to expect.

copying the fish motifMy hat companion took my band of fish motifs and set about copying one of them on a band that she had brought with her. My fish are woven in heavy cotton and she could easily see the pattern to copy.

colorful woven bandsSome of the weavers had brought bands on which to work and the widest band had just enough ends to accommodate the fish motif.

maribel and daniel with dorindaIt’s not fair to have favorites but I had mine. ..19-year old Maribel and her toddler, Daniel. Maribel was the first one to arrive and should have had top priority to learn the new pattern. However, she sat by patiently while some of the older ladies got started and then sweetly asked me to teach her. She then took herself off to a quiet spot away from everyone else so she could concentrate and happily wove her band. Dorinda is seated next to her making more pattern charts.

maribels patternAfter lunch, she was happy to sit near one of the older ladies and talk her through the pattern in Quechua. She had me won over!

And, she was excited to be able to copy some of the patterns in my book that require the same number of ends. I think she went home one very happy weaver.

maribel-collecting-patternsMaxima and I were kept really busy helping everyone who wanted to learn. If only we could have taught everyone but there simply wasn’t time. I’ll be better prepared next time. I can’t wait for next time!

max-starting-another-weaver-offMaxima is starting the weaving for one of the ladies while she looks at the chart.

max-helping-another-weaverAnd then the student took over and you can see her pattern emerging. Once she has a full repeat woven, I know that she will be able to continue on her own simply copying what she has already woven.

Lunch was a”pot luck” of rice with chili sauce, potatoes, corn and sheep and goat cheese. Some ladies just kept weaving as everyone wanted their chance to learn.

pot luck highland lunch

lunch breakAfter lunch it was even more fun as it started raining and we had to cram onto the church porch.

church huancarani

weaving on the porch after lunchThere’s Maribel weaving with Daniel between her legs. Dorinda is making yet more charts. Maribel is calling out the pick-up to the lady seated on the other side of Dorinda. There was lots of talk and laughter in Quechua. I loved listening to Maribel call out the moves in Quechua to other weavers. Every now and then I would hear a word in Spanish. As I had suspected, there is no word in Quechua for ”blue”. They use the Spanish ”azul” or ”celeste” for light blue.

weaving-on-the-porchI learned that if you leave the circle someone will quickly wriggle in to take your place!

There were many ladies who simply didn’t manage to spend enough time examining the sample or get one-on-one instruction. They sat and wove anyway, chatted and laughed with their friends. Dorinda said that these ladies never have time to do this kind of thing. Maxima says that in their youth they would go out herding their animals and look for their little friends and neighbors so that they could sit and weave together.

I had to stop every now and then and look around and take it all in. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was be able to spend this day with the weavers doing what we all love. Even just looking at all the different hats in this one tiny settlement was interesting. The one with the woven hatband is especially cool…


admiring-patternsOne lady wove a pretty hook pattern and was happy to show it off to me.

comparing-patternsHer neighbor also admired it and I wonder if it was a new pattern for her. Perhaps she then tried to copy it.

ccopying a neighbors patternThis lady liked the pattern her neighbor said she had just invented and now she is setting out to copy it.

In the late afternoon weavings got put away and spindles came out as everyone prepared to stroll across the ”green” to the fabulous photo spot for the group photo.  Narciza, reluctant to stop weaving, looked at me and said ”unita mas?!” How could I resist?

I told you in my last post that Narciza hitchhiked into town two days later on market day hoping I was still around so that she could learn more. She and her sister Maxima wove together at Dorinda’s place. I had left two woven sample bands with Maxima plus my book and I think they had fun with that. Maxima is showing off her new patterns in this photo that Dorinda sent me but I can’t quite make them out.

narciza-and-max-learning-new-figuresWhen I got back to Santa Cruz, I wrote emails to some my backstrap weaving friends and was able to deliver a new order of bands to Dorinda for the ladies.

bands paza

Here they are warping for the very first one.The weavers from Huancarani come into town on Sundays to bring their produce to market. They often go to Dorinda’s place for tea and cake (Dorinda loves to bake!) before returning to Huancarani. They ask if there are any orders. She had good news for them last Sunday.


The area is so green and pretty now that the rains have come. Every night during my stay there was a downpour at around 4am. We would wake up to clean sparkling freshness and the delicious aromas of Dorinda’s lovely garden.


And, finally, a picture of dear Dorinda walking me to the bus stop on the day I left. I did try to take a selfie of the two of us in Huancarani but I apparently need more practice with selfies. Dorinda has worked so hard with the weavers over the years and has lots of stories to tell of the ups and downs during the establishment and development of the weaving co-op, the handcraft club, the girls club and her relationship with the weavers. There is plenty to read on her PAZA Bolivia website and an opportunity to donate if you would like to help.


















  1. an absolutely lovely post. Thanks so much. Kathie

  2. Thank you for this story, so good to read! I realize how spoiled we are with all our books, patterns ans possibilities to copy those patterns. I have great admiration for those ladies who make so beautifull work with only yarn and their fingers and toes! Love your beautifull pictures i will show them to my group! I try to teach a group of weman weaving a pebble band. They want to use inklelooms because they do not like backstrap ! They find it very hard to learn but after several lessons most of them are weaving! I take that as a compliment because they have only done crosstitch in their lives.

  3. Laverne, I love your blog! I love seeing all those beautiful women gathered together with their big toes to weave spectacularly beautiful bands. It’s awesome! You have the most amazing life. Cheers!

  4. Amazing story and what great experience with these weavers. I would have loved to be there to learn and watch and be with these ladies. By: Sofia Hudson

  5. Wonderful story. Thanks so much.

  6. What a beautiful adventure! I am so inspired by you and all the ladies. Sharing love through weaving.

  7. What an action-packed day! I can practically hear them all chattering and calling out, and I can feel your wonder at being in that group. All those legs and feet, holding warps. Amazing to see their technique of body + yarn. So happy for you! This sharing of patterns and knowledge and love of weaving is so precious.
    And your first selfie is hilarious 😀

  8. Thank you so much for this. I really enjoyed every bit.

  9. How beautiful. You are a born teacher. There’s nothing like practising a craft together. Sharing a weaving culture is even more precious.

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