Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 11, 2019

Backstrap Weaving – Mess or Success

I feel like I am back at square one with my ikat experiments in terms of not being able to predict what the end result will be…..Mess or Success??… 

But then, I suppose it depends on how you define success. My experiments have been about trying to create images using the ikat technique with little or no shift in the warps threads to blur the image. I know that many people consider blurring the very characteristic that makes ikat so attractive. Quite often you can’t even notice the blurring unless you are examining the images closely. It is the overall effect that is important…the bird’s eye view rather than the ant’s view. Other times the blurring is very noticeable as if that was the very thing at which the weaver was aiming. One example of this is the fabric that you can see below from Uzbekistan. Soft blurred edges are what make these patterns so attractive.

Ikat fabric from Uzbekistan at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

My most recent experiments have been with silk. The first one, which you can see and read about in past posts, gave me images with barely any shift at all. I was so pleased! The silk I used was given to me and I have no idea of its origin. It was something like 5/2 cotton in size and somewhat “hairy”. That kind of smooth well-defined motif was what I had been after. I wanted something sharp and crisp like the the bold geometric patterns seen on ponchos woven by the Mapuche people of central Argentina and Chile. You can see an example of a Mapuche poncho below.

For my second experiment I followed exactly the same procedures, the only difference being that I used a finer and more slick kind of silk…I am guessing that it was something like 8/2 cotton in size. I got slightly more shift but have no real idea about how to account for that. I can only guess that the finer slicker silk made the difference.

Now to experiment number 3….same silk, same procedure, different kind of dye. I started with a multi-color warp in tones, of green, blue, grey and gold.

Here’s the warp stretched on the makeshift frame that I use when I wrap the warp threads with ikat tape. I have a small table with shelves that is made up of open bars. There are no solid surfaces and it turns out that it makes a very nice frame on which to hold my warp under tension while I do the wrapping.

My tools are a charcoal pencil with which I draw the pattern onto the warp threads, a paint brush with stiff bristles that I use to erase mistakes in my drawing, scissors to cut the tape and to remove incorrectly placed wrapping, a sharpener and of course the ikat tape itself.

My pattern has a kind of yin-yang thing going on in the center although the colors will not reflect the yin-yang concept. I was hoping for an illusion of slight “curviness” but I don’t think I managed to pull that off.

After a the blue dye bath, this is what I had. I looked carefully at the pink wrappings searching for dark spots which tell me that the dye leaked under the tape. I didn’t find any….not  that anything can be done at this point if the dye had in fact managed to get in.  I think my wrapping technique is getting pretty good!

Here is the warp back under tension on my backstrap loom. The scissors sit nearby ready to be used to cut off some of the wrappings. What I notice is that I need to work on getting my lines straight. You can see that the vertical line that is made up of ten separate wraps at the far right of the pattern is quite straight. The matching one on the far left certainly is not! How did I not see that? Those were the last wraps that went on and possibly I was tired and careless at that point. I have found that I need to take lots of breaks when I am doing this kind of work because it is indeed easy to get a bit careless when you are not feeling fresh any more. Oh well, nothing can be done about that at this stage.

Here is the woven motif. You can see that the warp threads shifted more than I would have liked them to. For me, calling this a success would mean being able to account for the fact that the threads shifted more in this experiment than they had in my second experiment.The only thing different about this project was the brand of dye and I hardly think that that could have had any effect. Standing back and looking at it with the eye of a bird in the sky, I  have to admit that I am very pleased with it. The ant’s eye view is less pleasing to me 🙂

I decided that there was enough fabric to be able to fold the piece in half and make a pouch. So I decided to play with the amount of unwoven warp that was left and add some figures using supplementary weft. I changed to a finer ground weft so that I could add a second supplemental weft without thickening the fabric.  I added a couple of the little paisley motifs that I had designed to use on a silk scarf some time ago. That scarf had been woven in 60/2 silk and the paisley motifs had been fine and delicate. How different the motifs look on this heavier silk! I wanted them to sort of match the shapes in the center of the ikat image. And then I designed a swirl for the small amount of space that remained.

My paisley patterns in supplementary weft on a silk scarf I wove in 60/2 silk.

I did end up folding the fabric and sewing it into a pouch. I even remembered to put in a lining before sewing the pouch. Lining always seems to come to me as an afterthought. I have yet to decide on whether I should edge it with a plain blue tubular band. That would hide the turns of pale blue supplementary weft that can be seen on the selvedges. And, I need to add a zipper.

I am heading towards using finer silk for my next ikat experiments. I have a cone of 30/2 silk that a friend gave me. It is not ready-to-dye and needs to go through a process of preparation. Thank goodness for my online weaving friends who are always willing to help when I need information and tips for such things. I have ready-to-dye 60/2 silk but I don’t feel ready to leap into that kind of fineness for ikat yet!

So, the 30/2 silk needs to be skeined and prepared.

While thinking about all that, I decided to slip in a small project…a silk ribbon on which to hang the awesome macrame seahorse that a talented young macrame artist in Australia made.

She is on Instagram as one_mile_smile_creations if you would like to check out her work. I think my little seahorse is actually her profile picture. I thought that the seahorse was a nice piece to buy from her as I was at that time visiting a part of Australia where she lives that is known as the Sapphire Coast. 

The silk ribbon has various fish and ocean motifs with seaweed, currents, ripples and bubbles. These patterns are charted in my Complementary-warp Pattern Book and several of them were contributed by my online weaving friends.

Perhaps I am just trying to put off winding those skeins of 30/2 silk and fiddling around with the preparation process…I don’t know…but I saw that still had enough of the multi-color naturally dyed silk that I have been using in these recent ikat projects to squeeze out one more project. This time I decided to create a slightly longer warp and weave it using very fine silk as the weft in the hope that the resulting fabric might have just enough drape to allow me to use it as a cowl. I won’t know until it is done and wet finished. It might stand up like a piece of cardboard!

So, here is the warp I wound with the scraps of silk that remain….

Instead of winding stripes of random widths, I wove twelve-end sections in each color. I have been wrapping sections of twelve ends in ikat tape so far and so it will be interesting to see how this warp will look with each ikat section being a solid color rather than a mix of various tones.

Here it is out of ts black dye bath. I didn’t challenge myself with curves or horizontal lines this time but I did create a pattern that is quite a bit bigger than the other three experiments. I think it will make a really nice cowl if it works out. If it doesn’t, oh well, I get another pouch! If the fabric does turn out to have enough drape, I will need to come up with a way to secure it at the back once it is around my neck. I have plenty of time to figure that out. I don’t see any dark spots under the tape on first examination. I think my wrapping was successful.

The big unwrapping ceremony is on standby while I finish another tiny tape on my backstrap loom. This time I am making a silk ribbon on which to hang the Koru pendant that I got in New Zealand. I chose a a pattern of curls to match the Koru curls that represent the unfurling leaves of the New Zealand silver fern. The pendant is one-and-a-half inches across at its widest point. The silk ribbon is tiny! 

I will leave you here with a picture from Gonit Porat in Israel. Gonit learned to do Andean Pebble Weave using the instructional and pattern e-books (PDFs) that I sell on Taproot Video.  I love being able to make connections like this with weavers on the other side of the world via my books. Gonit does amazing and inspiring work using eco dyeing and tablet weaving techniques as well as pick-up by hand. She teaches in her studio in Israel and this is the work of one of her students, Tal. This Andean Pebble Weave warp is tensioned on the frame of a rigid heddle loom. 

For me, this picture represents a little piece of heaven. Thank you, Gonit, for allowing me to show it here and for providing me with a beautiful image with which to finish my blog post. (If you are interested in buying one of my instructional ebooks but unsure about where to start, please read this page which gives you information on each book in terms of the audience, kind of loom and skill level at which it is aimed.)





  1. Your work is beautiful as always. Thanks for sharing your process. I was wondering when you weave the narrow silk ribbons, do you place them on sticks or a string through the end? Is this covered on any of your books?

    • Hi Judy. Thank you. I am weaving the tiny tape using dowels just as I would with a wider piece. I feel more comfortable using rods and my nice wide backstrap. I don’t cover this in my books but you can see how one would use a string at the start of the warp rather than a rod if you watch my free video on Basic Warping for Backstrap Looms. That part comes close to the end after I have finished warping.

      • Thank you. I want to try some silk ones but am a little afraid of the fine threads and warping them.

      • I just updated my last reply to you with a link to my video on warping which shows using string at the start. There really isn’t anything that much different about using silk. It’s more a question of eyesight if you are going fine. Just start with something short so you can see how it handles and work up to the length you require.

      • Thanks so much!

  2. You are awesome Laverne and an amazing perfectionist. Hugs to you and be well. Kate

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