Posted by: lavernewaddington | May 26, 2017

Backstrap Weaving – Over the Hump

I am back home and over the hump. Normally I don’t have a hump to get over because, as soon as I return, I simply jump into a new exciting project at the loom that has been slowly developing in my head during my travels.

This time, however, I did what I normally consider a ”no-no”. I left a major project unfinished on the loom before I traveled. I have found in the past that it is quite difficult to pick up an unfinished project like this, especially when I have been away from it for two months. The flow has been interrupted. I can see on other projects that have been interrupted in this way precisely where I had stopped and then started again. Something changes…perhaps tension or beat…something.

This is the silk project I had left behind unfinished…

There are a mere five inches of patterning to go to match the start but these five inches will be very intense.

I had started the piece with a 3-color pebble weave when I had a beautifully-tensioned, happy rolled-up warp and I now need to match that patterning at the other end. Now that I am approaching the end, the warp is being a bit beastly as variations in tension of the fine silk strands become increasingly apparent. I know how to deal with these variations but when you are working with hundreds of strands of 60/2 silk it can become quite tedious. So, that was the hump that had to be overcome. I needed to sit down and take up the slack on the looser ends and get everything back into that happy place I had so enjoyed for the first eighty inches or so.

Now it is done and I am on my way! Over the hump I go!

I sit down on a cushion on the floor in my weaving space. I can’t see out the window. My view is of the side of the bed.

A question was asked in one of the online groups about how people felt about their weaving space…how inspiring it is and what they would do to improve it. I gave that some thought and concluded that my weaving space is not one bit inspiring. But, I also concluded that it doesn’t need to be. It’s simply cluttered and chaotic!

It seems that I am completely absorbed with what I am doing and living inside my head when I am sitting at my backstrap loom. Sometimes I pause and imagine what I might see outside my window if my room were to be suddenly picked up and deposited elsewhere. I can hear the palm trees rustling outside. Just for a change, rather than a busy, noisy and sometimes smelly street market, perhaps there’s a beach just down the street and the movement of air from my ceiling fan is a nice cooling coastal breeze. I have to admit though that I do love that chaotic street market!

Even though the kind of pick-up patterning I do requires a lot of concentration, I can still pause and let my mind travel. I recall some of the lovely things I experienced on my latest trip away. Like the gorgeous views from the plane as I traveled from place to place…

There was a glorious parade of snow-capped peaks on the way up to Portland. Here Mt Shasta looks like it is floating with the clouds above the blue-tinged landscape.

The beautiful farm and barn in which I weave with my friends in Petaluma. Northern California looked so green, fresh and luscious after all the rain. It looked like a land in the process of healing.

Stunning views of the city of Seattle as we come in to land. As the Space Needle passes by I remember having dinner there with Tracy to celebrate Marilyn’s birthday as well as enjoying the Folk Life Festival with the Space Needle soaring above us.

Enjoying a peaceful lunch with birdsong and the view looking out toward Yosemite at Anne’s place on top of the hill.

Winding warps for my trip to Australia while taking in the view of Betty’s blueberry crop and lovely forested property.

I missed Marilyn’s birthday on this visit to Seattle and I was too early for Folk Life. We found something else fun to do instead.

I was lucky to arrive just in time for the annual Kyoto Sale.

I had never heard of this event before but Marilyn is a frequent visitor. She told me of being able to buy short kimonos for as little as $10 and showed me some exquisite double ikat examples that she had purchased in previous years.

I envisioned having to dig through racks and racks of expensive garments to find the one or two super low-priced items, but no! every kimono on the rack was $10 or $15!

After attending the Seattle guild’s meeting, a group of us set off with flashlights to explore the dark warehouse stuffed with Japanese clothing, lanterns, baskets, chests and ornaments.

And, when our weaving group got together the next day and we told of our purchases at the Kyoto sale, guess where a few of the ladies rushed off to at the end of the day. They appeared wearing kimonos for our second day of weaving.

Here’s my $10 score which looks surprisingly good over jeans…

And there were these…a basketful of obijime…

I caught up with many old weaving friends on this trip and met several new ones. I got to spend time with 7-year old Lily once again when I wove with Lori and the group in northern California. Lily had lost several teeth and experienced an incredible growth spurt since I saw her just six months ago. She also spent the entire day weaving with us when all she could sit still for last time were two or three picks on her pebble weave warp before bouncing away to pick flowers and enjoy the farm.

On this visit we wove a traditional patterned tubular band of the Peruvian and Bolivian highlands. We then wove and sewed a band to the edges of handwoven cloth using the weft as the sewing thread. I bring pieces of cloth that were woven by my weaving friends in the central Bolivian highlands. The handspun wool is dyed using local plants as well as cochineal. The colors and the way the weavers combine them are stunning.

The cloth can be edged with patterned tubular bands…

or, a plain-weave tubular band can be used instead. The piece can be further embellished with various decorative stitches…

The mouth of Ashli’s small pouch is decorated with cross-knit looping…

Here’s Lily sewing a band to her piece of cloth. Tiny hands had to manage the cloth, the needle and operating the backstrap loom all at once. She is wearing one of my woven silk bracelets.

Here is Narciza, one of my Bolivian weaving friends, attaching a patterned tubular band to the edge of a woven bag. At first you wish you had a third hand to help but you soon get the hang of it.

Lily’s activity soon attracted a friend. Oliver took some time out from tearing about the farm on his bike to come and watch…

And, there was still energy at the end of the day for some tether ball…

I got to see the wide project that Lori started last time we got together. Lori plans to make this into a pouch. She finished it on this visit. Like me, me she wants to ponder the finished piece for a while before cutting and shaping and sewing it into the finished product. She then plans to add edgings and decorative stitches.

Lori showed me a beautiful Huichol bag that she had bought. I have seen woven bags in her collection on past visits, woven in the balanced double-weave structure with pick-up patterns that is typically used by the Huichol people. This one is different in that the peyote and deer motifs are embroidered. The entire surface of this bag is embroidered in cross stitch.

The strap is decorated using the same single-faced supplementary-weft technique that I learned here in Bolivia.

It is so wonderful seeing youngsters like Lily being attracted by weaving and I adore this Mothers Day picture taken of my backstrap weaving friend Janet delighting her granddaughter and great nephew with her spinning…

I got to head to far northern California to visit with Janet on this trip too. The ladies up there were still buzzing after having had workshops in sprang braiding with Carol James. Tracy, who often weaves with me on these visits, has been busy making pouches using various sprang techniques.

I fell in love with the second one from the left and so Tracy and I arranged a swap….I’ll weave one of my silk ribbon necklaces in exchange for a pouch.

Janet has taken off in a different direction with her sprang. She is making garments and using her handspun cotton (of course!)…

This sprang tunic is gorgeous. As the sprang structure stretches, this is truly a one-size-fits-all piece. The typical one-size garments that are sometimes sold always make me crazy. They never fit me. Here’s what the back looks like. Unfortunately we didn’t notice that one of the fringe bundles was tucked under…

Janet is using the Ecuadorian-style vertical loom that she constructed after her visit to coastal Ecuador a couple of years ago as her sprang frame…

She has a new piece ready to go in her handspun cotton…

Here’s Tracy working with the frame that Carol James uses with her students…

And, Tracy took advantage of the fact that there are lots of willow sticks at Janet’s to gather some and bend them into shape to make nifty sprang frames.


While Tracy and Janet did some carding,

Alli came over with her bub to do some Andean Pebble Weave with me…

She was very comfortable standing to weave with her sleeping baby on her back…so sweet! She could tie the warp to the strap of the carrier.

In Portland at the guild meeting, I got to see my Braids Conference companions Barbara Walker and Linda Hendrickson. Linda gave us a brief run down of her recent trip to Myanmar for her continuing studies of the tablet woven sagzigyo (Burmese manuscript binding tapes). She promises to give a more comprehensive description in a program to the guild later this year.

While on the road, I did a little bit of weaving and study. Marilyn and her husband Rainer are filming a documentary called Interlacements and wanted some footage of me weaving on my backstrap loom. As I hadn’t brought anything with me, I was invited by Marilyn to choose yarn from her stash and create a warp. Just grabbing yarn and creating a large-ish project without much thought or planning is completely foreign to me! But, we had limited time and I set to it. I decided to weave something that I would later give to Marilyn but, at the same time, I wanted it to look like ”me” for the documentary. So, of course, I included what I have come to see as one of my signature patterns…the leaves in supplementary weft. I used Marilyn’s stash of 10/2 perle cotton and embroidery floss for the leaves.You can see the result of not having woven a sample first from which to take my measurements. There wasn’t time for that! I (almost) ALWAYS sample! I didn’t quite get it right when judging the width and so the piece had widened slightly. I will take advantage of that and use the narrower beginning as part of a shaped flap for the bag I will create.

The other thing I had time to play with was trying to find a way to neatly finish off tubular bands when they are woven and  sewn around the perimeter of a flat piece of cloth. When attaching tubular bands to pouches, there all sorts of clever ways to deal with and hide the 20 warp-ends that remain once you have finished weaving the band. It’s not so easy to do that when you place the tubular edging around the perimeter of a flat piece of cloth. Thee is nowhere to hide the ends! You can see the two wrist cuffs that I wove and edged with patterned tubular bands…

On the one on the right, you can see the kind of ugly join where the tubular band starts and finishes (look just above the bottom left hand corner). On the one on the right I got smart and hid the (ugly) join under the button 🙂 The Andean weavers are able to join the two ends of the tubular bands in a way that makes the join barely noticeable. One advantage is that generally the tubular band is dwarfed by the large pieces of cloth to which the are attached and the eye is drawn more to the patterning on the beautiful cloth than the edging band. But, even so, the join is beautifully done.

I decided to work on creating a neater start and finish to my tubular bands when I use them to edge a flat piece of cloth. I needed to figure out a way to hide those twenty warp ends.

The example below is in heavy wool yarn. The join really jumps out at me on this piece but it is a much neater finish than I have been able to achieve so far. I am confident that if I keep playing with this and use increasingly fine yarn, I will be able to eventually create a quite acceptable join. I am really pleased with this! You will see some measurements written down for those who have ever wondered how much warp to measure to edge a piece. These measurements ensure that you have a comfortable amount of space in which to operate the loom right until the end of the band. My general rule is to add 50% to the perimeter measurement but my warping pegs just happened to spaced at 39” (rather than 36”) so I just went with that! 36” would have worked just fine. I have a tutorial on weaving and sewing these kinds of edging bands here.

Lastly, I would like to show you a backstrap that Mary, whom I met and wove with in Alabama on this recent trip, has woven since I saw her.

How gorgeous is that! This was woven using Peaches and Cream cotton. Anyone who is a regular reader of my blog will know that I emphatically steer people away from that kind of cotton when one is a beginner. I always recommend a mercerized cotton for starting out as it is smooth and more resistant to pilling. Un-mercerized, soft, loosely-twisted cotton, like Peaches and Cream, used for warp-faced weaving on a backstrap loom will shed, fluff and pill dreadfully in unskilled hands. Any scraping of the heddles will cause the warp threads to fray and the heddles will start sticking together.

However, when a weaver understands how to use the body to operate the loom, as Mary clearly does, abrasion is reduced to a minimum.

Result: a stunning, thick, cushy strap!

Backstrap weavers use their bodies to relax and increase tension on the warp at will and it is these constant adjustments of the body position that enable them to open clean and clear sheds without having to struggle with or scrape heddles or over-handle the warp threads.

Once these coordinated body movements have been mastered, a backstrap weaver does not have to be limited to only the smoothest, friendliest, mercerized cotton.

These coordinated movements are precisely what I teach in my Operating a Backstrap Loom dvd on Taproot Video. I finally watched it having brought back a copy to Bolivia 🙂

I was thrilled to be present when people responded to my last blog post and ordered the dvd while I happened to be at Taproot Video in Seattle. It was fun being able to sign copies and go along with Marilyn to mail them. Thank you so much! Of course, Marilyn and Rainer at Taproot Video continue to sell and ship my dvds along with Joan Ruane’s, Kris Leet’s, Marilyn Romtaka’s and Linda Hendrickson’s.

I will show you more projects from my online backstrap weaving friends next time.

















  1. Who would have thought that weaving could be such a social and globe-trotting occupation! I can see how useful it is to have the opportunity to reflect on all these experiences while focussing on your weaving.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about my pink and orange backstrap! Still love it and love weaving on my backstrap loom.

  3. Pasé un tiempo alejada del blog y telares.
    He vuelto y…eres única!!!
    Felicitaciones y mi abrazo desde Chile.

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