Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 13, 2017

Backstrap Weaving – What in the world? Where in the world?

Where in the world am I?

The Tibetan tent and flags adds a spot of color in a dreary day. The tent had been erected next to a Buddhist stupa and was intended to shelter honored guests at a Tibetan wedding.

While all this was going on, I was inside weaving with a group of backstrap weaving friends. We heard the occasional gong, deep booming drum beat and singing. We peeped outside to try and catch some of the ceremony but it had been moved indoors due to the weather.

The building in which we were weaving is owned by Sonam, a Tibetan stone mason. He built the stupa and it was his wedding day. We caught a glimpse of his bride and her attendants draped in gold-colored scarves. Each guest had brought a scarf and placed it on the couples’ shoulders. I know that butter tea was served. I had tried that in Nepal where it was called ”Sherpa Tea”.

The sun came out a few days later and we were able to enjoy warping on the picnic table with the lovely Tibetan tent as our backdrop.

I won’t blame you if you haven’t been able to guess where all this took place…it’s Western Massachusetts!

From there I headed to a lovely city where Janie and I discovered an alley named ”Weaver”…

…and where Janie has a fabulous pole in her basement around which we could hold a backstrap weaving party…

We all adopted different sitting positions.

In the picture below, Karen, in the middle, is sitting on yoga blocks which helps her maintain that position with her legs bent under. That position is a handy one if you like to have your warp steeply angled. You can position your backstrap almost under your butt so it doesn’t ride up. You can then have the place on the warp on which you are working almost at eye level. Karen’s warp in this picture isn’t steeply angled but she could use that kind of angle if she chose to. Then you simply raise yourself slightly on your knees to relax tension on the warp. Relaxing tension on a steeply angled warp is very hard to do if you are sitting like I do, flat on the floor. I prefer a more gentle angle on my warp as is used by backstrap weavers in South America.

Alice, on the right, was weaving this sweet Andean Pebble Weave pattern…

Terri warped, wove and finished her backstrap during my visit. She used some really pretty purple and pink variegated cotton yarn…

She got to use it when we wove double weave bands together later…

We explored double weave using some traditional Bolivian and Bedouin motifs and then some people moved on to create their own designs…we had cats and Halloween pumpkins, swinging monkeys and llamas. Chris in Massachusetts brought me a rabbit motif that her daughter Emma created for us to use.

It was a lot of fun…lots of laughs. I have never had a group that could concentrate on weaving pick-up patterns while chatting and laughing so much! We were all very pleased with our work…

And yes, there were some quieter more serious moments. Goodness knows what I am saying here but whatever it was certainly got everyone’s attention!..

Karen, who was the most confident about creating original designs, was using this beautiful backstrap that she wove since my last visit when we wove Andean Pebble Weave together. The main motif is an original one of mine from my first book

And check out the knit hat in which she has incorporated an Andean motif with pebble spots and all!

Now she is busy adapting some of the Bedouin motifs that I showed the group and creating her own pattern for a fine band that I think she plans to use as jewelry. She’s using the embedded double weave technique for this one.Janie is keen on making jewelry too and has gone down to size 20/2 cotton to weave an Andean Pebble Weave band. She is using a pattern from my second book..

First comes the warping and then the heddles are made. Janie’s cat Bugsy needed some affection as there had been a pesky visitor (me) in the house for several days grabbing mom’s attention…

And here’s the sweet band underway…

I love the close-up of my friend Terri’s bird’s-eye maple sword in that picture and, how gorgeous is that band? It will make a lovely bracelet or neck ribbon.

Speaking of jewelry, I made a couple of tubular bands to hold pendants just before I left Bolivia for this trip…

This ñawi awapa tubular band nicely holds a silver pendant that I bought while scouring stores for beads, buttons and findings that last time I was in Arizona.I made it in 20/2 wool. I have been wearing it as a tripled bracelet rather than as a necklace. This next one is a modified tanka ch’oro pattern also made in 20/2 wool and woven as a tube. It holds a lovely weaver bird pendant which is the logo of the Weavers Guild of Greater Cincinnati. I wanted to show it to the weaving friends from whom I got it last year and so that tells you where in the world we all were in these pictures. I was really ill on my last visit, crawling miserably into bed at the end of each day. This time was different and I even went English country dancing with Carolyn on Saturday night! What fun that was!

Janie also showed us how she uses two dowels to make a simple band lock. Using this system, she can have the end of her woven band hanging freely rather than wound up around the beam. I can see this being really useful if you are weaving a very long or very thick band which would be too cumbersome to have rolled up on the beam. I did see a weaver from Chahuaytire in Peru who had his woven cloth hanging freely. He could pick up his cloth at any time and show us his work without having to do any un-rolling.

So, here is Janie demonstrating for us using one of my silk bands. Pass the woven band around a dowel (you will have to imagine that the part that is sitting on top of the dowel is unwoven warp)…

Place a second dowel underneath…

Roll the two sticks together as shown for one turn…

Place the backstrap around the far dowel (pay special attention to how the strap is placed in this picture)…

When you want to advance the warp, lean forward a little and separate the sticks. Pull the end of the woven band through and then lean back again to secure the band within the ”lock”…

I haven’t tried it myself but Janie uses this system and loves it. THANKS, JANIE!!

I have been really pleased and excited to see some pictures starting to trickle in from people who have bought and are using my latest e-book on Complementary-warp Pick-up.

Christine Oettle Rusconi in South Africa showed this picture on Facebook. She dove right in with one of the wide patterns. The patterns in my latest book range from 4 threads to 20 threads wide and this one has 20 pattern threads plus the interesting border that Christine created…This put such a big smile on my face!

Julie showed this next one on Ravelry. She is using her Gilmore MiniWave loom to weave one of the 9-thread patterns. I love that she has used two columns of the pattern separated by plain weave to create a piece that could easily become a lovely pouch for a cell phone. Julie’s picture shows her swords within the two sheds forming her ”picking cross”. Those who have my book will know all about those picking crosses!

Lorna, who wove with me last spring and who also has my book, is weaving this 16-thread pattern on her inkle loom… I love the gold on the border.

Ginny in New Hampshire sent me this picture of her backstrap weaving set-up in her pick-up truck. There is her band attached to the glove compartment with a lovely Andean Pebble Weave pattern in progress. There is an 18-thread variation of this pattern in my new book which uses two simple sheds which makes it easily transferable to an inkle loom or a rigid heddle set-up.

Here is the backstrap and bands that Ginny has been making since she first tried backstrap weaving in June…

And I am thrilled to show you Bethan’s finished poncho. Bethan has been corresponding with me from France about this project for a few years now. It is all her hand spun yarn which she dyed with lichen and walnut husks. She wove two panels on her backstrap loom and sewed them together….awesome! She commented on some problems with getting the tension even but here is the finished poncho and it is absolutely amazing! Where’s my spindle?!

And, I am so happy to see that my second and first books have not been forgotten in the excitement over my latest one. Geja Spruit in the Netherlands just wove this stunning band using a pattern from my second book. I don’t think anyone has yet shown me their work with this particular pattern from my book…

For those of you who have bought my latest book and learned the method, you will find more complementary-warp patterns in the second half of my second book. However, I should tell you that the patterns I include in that book tend to be larger ones (lots of threads for making wide bands) and many may not be suitable for inkle looms.

And, while on the topic of my various books, I thought I would take this opportunity to explain what they are about and what the difference is in the techniques that are taught in each one. As interest has grown in my latest book, I have had a few people writing to me asking me to tell them about these differences and so I have decided to go into that here in this post.

Firstly…. what in the world is the ”complementary-warp” structure?


”Complementary”means that both faces of the woven cloth are structurally identical, with their colors reversed. A motif that is dark on a light background on one face will appear as a light motif on a dark background on the other. A double-faced band is produced. Within this large category called ”complementary-warp” there are several varieties that are woven in the highlands and lowlands of South America.

One variety involves aligning the warp-floats so that little spots or ”pebbles” are created. That form is commonly known as ”pebble weave”. Here are the two faces of a pebble weave band with its characteristics spots. This is one kind of  arrangement that exists within this larger category called ”complementary-warp”…

Another way of aligning the floats can give a very solid, rather than spotty, look to the pattern and background. This form is often called ”intermesh”… (some weavers don’t push the warp threads close together which results in a fabric that has a more open ”meshy” look rather than the very solid-color look, shown below, that I prefer). This is yet another variety within the larger category called ”complementary-warp”.

One more way of aligning the floats that is used in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia, is one which creates twill lines within the motifs and in the areas surrounding the motifs. Rather than spots or solid color, you can see the diagonal lines that have formed in this woven band in the sections of the star and in the background….(in some books this form is called ”uneven twill”)

Quite often, I find woven pieces in Peru and Bolivia that combine these various techniques making it impossible to call a piece ”pebble” or ”twill” as the weaver has used both arrangements to be able to most efficiently tie down the floats to form a motif or fill the space around it. You can see both pebble spots and diagonal twill lines in this band….

Once you have learned the method for picking up the threads to weave complementary-warp patterns and can follow the standard pattern chart, all these varieties of patterns – pebble, intermesh and twill – are available to you. Most of the patterns in my new book are of the ”pebble” variety but one or two combine both pebble and twill. Threads are picked up by hand or with a pick-up stick for each and every shot of weft. The charting system is the same for all these varieties of complementary-warp patterns.

The method only requires two basic sheds and can be worked on any loom that allows you to produce warp-faced bands…backstrap with rigid  heddle, backstrap with continuous string heddles, inkle looms, to name a few.

My Inklette set up for the complementary-warp pick-up technique.

And, what about this other thing called ”Andean Pebble Weave”….what in the world is that?

There is a certain group of pebble patterns that have two particular pick-up sheds that are faithfully repeated along the entire length of the pattern. I call patterns that fall into this group Andean Pebble Weave (capital A, capital P, capital W) to distinguish them from other pebble patterns. I call the two regularly repeating pick-up sheds ”pebble 1” and ”pebble 2”. The threads from these two sheds repeat so regularly in the pattern that they can be placed within string heddles. This means that the weaver does not have to pick up those threads by hand. He, or she, can simply pull up a heddle.

It’s a four-step sequence:  1.Pick up threads by hand to form one shed according to the pattern chart and throw the weft. 2.Lift the heddle for pebble 1 and throw the weft. 3. Pick up the threads for the next shed by hand according to the pattern chart and throw the weft. 4. Pull up the heddle for pebble 2 and throw the weft. Start again.

Only every other shed needs to be picked by hand. That makes the weaving relatively fast! So, warps that have been set up to use the Andean Pebble Weave method will have two sets of string heddles,  like Ginny’s band that I showed above attached to her glove compartment, and this backstrap warp below…


And, this one below on an inkle loom. If I use my Inklette or any other small-ish inkle loom for this method, I need to have the loom clamped to a table so I can pull up on the heddles without pulling the loom up and off the table!

I wove an inkle band with designs in Andean Pebble Weave on a couple of road trips and at the beach. Ikea pencils came in handy for heddle sticks!


This is the method that is followed up with many more patterns in my second book. The method is taught in the first book, Andean Pebble Weave. The second book, at left, provides more patterns.

However, it is important to know that you don’t have to use the two heddles. They are simply there as an option to make the process faster. You can just go ahead and pick up every shed by hand if you prefer. As for me, as much as I LOVE pick-up, I’ll use the two sets of heddles whenever I can! But this is not possible for every pattern. Then, of course, it is very handy to know how to form picking crosses and pick threads efficiently by hand. This is precisely what I teach in my latest book.

Recently on Ravelry we were asked by a member of the Backstrap Weaving Group to explain the differences between all the pick-up structures. I made an attempt to at least define the ones that I have encountered in South America and maybe I will write about that next time with the aid of lots of pictures! But for now, let’s leave it with ”complementary-warp” which is, after all, my favorite….for now, anyway!

I have moved onward to Arizona for five days of weaving with friends 🙂 Let’s see what lovely patterns emerge from this gathering.







  1. Wow, love all the weaving! I admire your ability to make up your own patterns. That poncho is incredible; I never thought that inkle weaving or backstrap weaving could produce something that wide for garments.

    I am a huge fan of continuous style weaving on triangle, rectangle and square nail peg looms whether big or small. I spin a lot for weaving in mind.

    I hope to see more posts about your trip! It’s always interesting to see how people will do thier own ideas in any type of textile creation. I enjoy how you are visiting people across the country that you have met online with the common interest in weaving.

    • Thanks so much, Sheila. Backstrap weavers in South America generally limit their pieces to hip-width although I have seen pieces up to 1 meter (39”) wide. They sew panels together to make wider pieces of cloth In South-east Asia, the weavers go even wider than that!

  2. Thanks, Laverne, for all the beautiful photos and for the refresher on the different styles of complementary warp pick-up. This is a very useful reference post.
    All the best in your further travels.

    • Thank you, Jim. I hope you are finding time to spend at the loom.

  3. I love your posts. They are so interesting and informative. I am taking a Backstrap Weaving class at Tinquy next month. Then hopefully at some point taking one of your classes. Thanks.

    • Have a wonderful time at Tinkuy, Judy! I know a lot of people who will be there and it is hard not to be going….but other weaving adventures await! I hope we can weave together some time.

  4. Oh Laverne I love that Tibetan tent! And thanks for showing Ginny’s glove compartment trick. I am definitely going to try it! We can’t wait to have you back next year 🙂

    • I can just see you weaving in the car! Pictures, please!

  5. thanks for sharing! I love the tent too.

    • Thanks for your comment. It would have been cool to weave inside that tent.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I love the various designs and plan to try applying your ideas using your book. I learned backstrap weaving in laos. The looms are much wider but I can only stripes so far. Do you know of weaving groups in central mass?

    • Hi Fabienne. Massachusetts seems to have a lot of weaving guilds. Perhaps you could join one. I am sure you will find people interested in backsrap weaving who would love to hear about your experience in Laos.

  7. Laverne, thanks so much for including my band along with the other stunning bands. I love the Tibetan tent and it’s always such fun to hear about all of your adventures. I can’t wait to read the next blog post.
    Julie B.

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