Posted by: lavernewaddington | November 2, 2018

Backstrap Weaving – Time for a new Tool

One weaving tool which hasn’t really made its way into my kit is the temple, an instrument that helps weavers maintain consistent width in the cloth they are producing. I have never really felt the need to use a temple and that’s most likely because I haven’t used my backstrap loom to create the kind of cloth that I felt required one. The ladies with whom I studied in Guatemala used temples. They were wonderfully simple tools….a piece of bamboo that sat underneath the cloth with a couple of small nails holding it in place.

I have to admit that I would cringe every time we pushed those nails into the edges of the woven cloth. When I took the pieces that I had started weaving with my teachers in Guatemala back to Bolivia to finish, I continued using the temples for a while. However, I soon abandoned them as I really felt that they weren’t doing anything for me. I have seen some fine Bhutanese textiles with horrible holes gouged at intervals into the edges from the sharp ends of the temples and that, more than anything, has really put me off using them.

But, now as I am typing, I am remembering that there has actually been one piece of cloth that I wove where I could see a clear need for a temple. It was a wide silk piece that I wove some time ago. I did manage to get away without using a temple because I couldn’t bear the thought of pushing nails or even pins into the edges of the silk.

When weaving this wide piece, I was finding that the cloth would ripple slightly as I propped the shed open ready to pass the shuttle. I had to try and grab the edges of the cloth, first one side and then the other, to straighten and smooth the cloth so that I could be sure that I was laying in the right amount of weft. A third hand would have been handy! It was clumsy and slowed me down but I was willing to do it to avoid using the ”dreaded” temple.

My Montagnard (Vietnamese hill tribe) weaving teachers used wooden temples with carved pointed tips for the cloth they wove on their backstrap looms. They even used them for narrow bands…

And, my weaving teachers in coastal Ecuador who wove on vertical looms rather than backstrap looms, used a similar style of temple cut from a large tube of bamboo that they attach to the upper face of the cotton cloth on the loom. I remember really struggling to bend that slat of bamboo into place each time it had to be re-positioned on the cloth. This heavy-ish sturdy cotton did not suffer at all from the pointed tips of the temple.

Why all this talk of temples? Well, I would like to weave another sheer cotton piece like the one I just wove but using much finer cotton. I don’t have a reed that is fine or wide enough for the piece I have in mind and so I will have to resort to trying to maintain the sett and width by other means just like the Guatemalan weavers in Alta Verapaz do. The temple will help with the width. Maintaining the sett will be another story! What tool do the ladies in Guatemala use?….skill and lifetimes of experience and know-how passed down through generations!

Until I get the fine cotton singles that I would like to use, I will practice with the little bit of hand spun cotton that I have left over from my most recent project. For that project I used a reed and so I have a sample from which to take calculations for width and something to guide me to determine and try to maintain the spacing between warp threads. I have wound a short warp with half the number of ends that I used for my scarf. Wish me luck!

Here are some bits and pieces I have gathered together for possible temples…

The piece at the bottom of the picture is the temple that came with a Karen loom that a friend gave me. Pins have been taped to a piece of wood and the temple was sitting on the back side of the warp-faced cloth. The bamboo pieces are the temples I was using with my teachers in Guatemala. The nails that pierced the cloth and then turned into the open ends of the bamboo, are sitting on top of the tongue depressor. I was wondering if cutting points into a piece of heavy cardboard like the black stuff you see there and reinforcing it with a tongue depressor would also work.

Or, there’s this….contributed by friend Franco to the backstrap weaving group on Ravelry many years ago…

It was working well for Franco. I would love it if I could get something like this to work for me. It measures and maintains width all at once!

As for my current project…it is finished! Except for the very first part which I un-wove and turned into fringe, I got a consistent 9 1/8 inches of width.

First patterns underway.

After finishing the hem-stitching the far end, I slowly unrolled the cloth and worked my way back to the start, burying weft ends as I went. Then I  cut the weft out of the first wider part of the cloth and hemstitched that end.

Here it is off the loom waiting to have its fringe twisted before being washed and pressed.

Procrastinating! Enjoying the cloth and taking pictures because I was nervous about what was going to happen to it when it was washed!

Moe procrastination…yes, it’s sheer now but will it lose this translucency when it has been washed?

A whole day has gone by. Tomorrow I’ll wash this thing.

Post-wash and press: it lost between 1/8” and 1/4” in width and the warp threads moved closer together ever so slightly. It feels so soft!

Post-wash cloth with twisted fringe.

Post-wash verdict: I love this super soft supple cloth that is so unlike anything I have woven before!

Now I am thinking about dyeing it. Should I?

During all the pre-wash dithering, I decided to take a sample that I had woven before my last trip away and make it into something. You might remember that I wanted to make a wool shoulder bag with a built-in pocket in the style of the ch’uspas (coca-leaf bags) that the Bolivian weavers make. I learned how to set up the warp and weave the pocket back in 1997 with my teachers in Potosí. This small green piece is the wool sample that I most recently wove to refresh my memory of the technique. I edged the little pocket with triple cross-knit looping.

I decided to go ahead and make this into a little zippered pouch. I edged it with a tubular band style that is woven in Chahuaytire, Peru which also served as the strap. The bottom is decorated with coil stitches and the pocket is edged with single cross-knit looping. A four-strand braid makes a nice zipper tab.

The wool surface loved to attract the stray bits of cotton that I have had flying around during my latest project.

I had started gathering materials for this project before I had finished weaving the cotton scarf. I thought about what I could possibly fit into the tiny pocket and found that my door key sat within it perfectly. Two days later when I wanted to go out, I turned my apartment upside down looking for my door key. I was locked in and had completely forgotten about having placed the key in the little pocket. I had to call a friend who keeps a spare for me to come and let me out. Another two days went by before I picked up the little green bag once more to work on it and discovered the secret contents of the little pocket. Duh!

So….I guess the hand spun-cotton-with-temple experiment is next. I have also wound my skeined silk into balls ready for warping. I am thinking about weaving a silk cowl….just a simple tube to drape around my neck instead of a whole scarf. At three-and-a-half months into the grey hair transition I am still thinking about wearing color around my face to brighten things up a bit. Until next time……..










  1. Your sheer piece has turned out beautifully Laverne! Regarding temples, I think the Bhutanese don’t mind about the holes along the edge of their fabric because those selvedges are always hidden inside the seam allowance of a kira or gho. The Cambodians used a very fine pin at the ends of their bamboo temple (similar to your Karen temple perhaps) that left very little mark even in fine silk, but I was always getting scratched, so have never tried that method. I’m sure you will find a way!

    • Hi Wendy. It’s interesting what you say about the holes in the edges of the Bhutanese fabric…they get hidden! They still make me cringe, though…can’t help it 🙂

  2. I love seeing your fine cotton after washing…it looks lusciously soft and airy. I can understand your trepidation about washing it the first time, after so many careful hours of weaving! I think it is lovely in white . On my computer screen I can make the photos full size and your scarf just begs to be touched! The Chahuaytire edging and the colors you have chosen for that little bag are exquisite. I’m so glad you showed me how to weave this when you were here in September. Now I want to learn the other finishing techniques you used on the bag, the cross knit looping ( single, double and triple?) and the coil stitches…..Are directions for these anywhere here on your blog or elsewhere in print? Thanks the for inspiration to weave more little bags, even if that means there’s yet somewhere else for the keys to go missing!

    • Thanks, Lausanne. If you have a book on embroidery or search the net, you might find the Van Dyke stitch which is the single cross-knit loop stitch worked flat rather than on an edge. Also, my students always tell me that the coil stitches are basically bullion stitches. I have a page on this blog on the triple cross-knit looping. I wouldn’t exactly call it a tutorial. I basically show how it works. Or…you can wait for me to return!

  3. Hi Laverne,
    Your cotton fabric is soooo beautiful that I vote to not dye it. The sheerness and your workmanship are stunning in the natural color.
    Again, you have produced a masterpiece. I can’t wait to see the next piece.

  4. Nice transition of the green bag.
    Would not dye the white, but you might.
    Thank you again for the inspiring work.

    • Thank you. It was nice to work with all the colors in the green bag after all that white-on-white! I decided not to dye, by the way.

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    • You’re welcome. It is useful to me to write things out like this. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  6. Dear Laverne,

    It is a great pleasure to see your beautiful projects—I love your color harmonies, the complex patterns and interesting structures you use and your meticulous craftmanship.

    Regarding your need for a temple: why not try using a metal ruler and two magnets?

    Your fan,
    Bettylou Whaley

    • Hi Bettylou. Thank for your comments. As for the magnet idea, I am not sure if the magnets I have will be strong enough. I need the temple to really grip the edges and stretch them out…not sure if the magnets would do the trick but it is worth trying.

  7. Think about using a floating selvedge which can be tied to the 2 end beams, say of nylon? To be pulled out when the piece is done. Love your pattern work!

  8. I want to join the ranks of those suggesting you NOT dye the lovely white piece. I think color might distract from the beautiful designs.

    • Thanks for that. I have decided not to dye it. The comments from you and other readers have been very helpful.

  9. Hi again after a long time! I read and thoroughly enjoy every blog entry you write. Thank you so much.

    I often improvise a temple using the method you learned from Franco, If you don’t have the alligator clips that are needed I would be happy to send you some. What I do is fix strong elastic bands to the clips, then stretch them onto the indented ends of a stick shuttle that is about 8 inches wider than the weaving. The shuttle lies on the top surface of the textile, otherwise its weight will pull the edges down.

    For a long time I felt that using a temple to get good selvedges was kind of like cheating, but I subsequently learned that it actually serves another important purpose. On loom-woven fabric, the temple and the reed work together to not just maintain the width, but also to maintain the sett of the warp and the integrity of the weft tension at the edges of the fabric.

    Virtually every weaving culture uses them so I have never understood why my first weaving teacher was so adamantly against their use.

    I’m drooling over the beauty and lovely-ness of your white scarf.

    Bye for now.
    Bonnie Datta.

    • Thanks for the tip about temples, Bonnie. Your shuttle idea is great. It has been a long time and it’s nice to know that you are still out there reading. My reference to Franco in this post and now hearing from you makes me think back to ”old” times in the Weavolution days. I have found some clips. Now to see if they will work.

      • Laverne: I too hated using temples for the first 30 years and now I almost love them. I have also tried a number of things with alligator clips on a floor loom and I think Bonnie Datta’s adaptation sounds great if you’re not into nails and hollow bamboo. Saludos-Kate

  10. You sound a lot like me; I just use thicker yarns! 🙂 “I want to do this. What do I need to do to accomplish it?” And it usually means using tools or looms in a slightly different way than what they may have been engineered for, to do it. Unlike you, I haven’t gotten around to weaving silk…..yet. 😀

    I always find it so wonderful and interesting to see what people will create out of any given yarns. Colors and yarns I might choose are often so different from what others choose; others’ initial vision is often so different from what I have in my head as is the choice of project to make. Its all just fascinating! I rejoice in it all! It’s exciting to create beauty and inspiring to see what other people make that is also beautiful.

    Your sheer cotton peice is lovely! I understand after all that work how washing might concern you, but cotton doesn’t felt like wool does. Did you wash it by immersion in a big kettle or one of those plastic flexible buckets? I usually wash my peices that way and have had very good results.

    I look forward to seeing how your temples work, and now I am wondering if I should get one or make my own temple for weaving. I want to work up my own handspun linen as an undertunic to wear for reenactments. Of course a handspun wool overtunic would have to be made to go along with it….. But we shall see how it all works out. So many ideas in my head!

    You keep trucking on, chica. I look forward to seeing what you weave.

    • Hi Sheila. Thanks so much for writing. It’s nice to know a little bit more about you, your weaving and what you like t do with your woven cloth. I washed the cotton piece by hand in a plastic bucket after letting it soak for a while and I’ll probably do that every time it needs washing. Hand spun linen is a long way off for me still. I am just getting into spinning cotton for a repeat of this project.

  11. Hi Laverne – Were your ears burning today? Nothing textile or back strap related. We’re in Hawaii – Oahu – and we did a tour of the island today and there was a couple from Australia on the tour. Made think of you. Hope all is well. Thanks for your blog – un abrazo fuerte! Virginia

  12. Laverne your handspun cotton transparent scarf is beautiful. I use a temple to weave with that is 2 alligator clips with strings attached and weighted with metal washers. I like the suggestion of the forked shuttle with the alligator clips and elastic bands. And with your new purse instead of storing the house key, keep a constant supply of chocolate covered cocoa beans to nibble on!

    Thanks for sharing!

  13. I’m glad you decided to keep it white. It’s natural color makes it shine on its own. And although we are heading into winter and I’m into the woolies at the moment, I’m inspired about working with cotton again when the weather warms. Can you double or triple up the threads in your reed? I have one reed that’s about 52 bamboo slats per inch, but I haven’t considered putting cotton singles through it yet! I’ve been fascinated with temples for a long time (it’s a TOOL!) but never have used one. I do usually use floating selvedges though (same size as the main threads but plied). But the nylon suggestion could be better…

    • Yes, we are totally on the same page, Kristin! I will be doubling threads in the reed and I like the idea of the floating selvedge. I just wove a narrow sample without a reed (and didn’t use a temple) and it simply involved way too much fiddling round. It’s a pretty good result but there was too much time spent pushing threads around. I am spinning my own cotton now and trying very hard to make it finer than the Guatemalan cotton I bought.

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