Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 17, 2020

Backstrap Weaving – Into the Deep End

When I sit here deciding on the title of my blog post, it’s amazing the number of times that the title “Lessons Learned” immediately comes to mind. But then I think…Nope, I’ve used that one before. It’s lovely to weave structures and follow methods that I have used dozens and dozens of times over. The lessons have been learned from multiple mishaps. There’s no risk. It’s all fun. The results are guaranteed.

My current project doesn’t fall into that category. I broke my rules about sampling which left me with a large-ish project with a number of firsts and, therefore, many risks. And, I am still not done, so who knows whether this will a mess or success? Many lessons are being learned along the way while I splash around in the deep end.

I am still in ikat mode. You might be thoroughly bored with this topic by now. I certainly am not! There has been plenty to keep me on my toes. 

It was time to move on from 30/2 silk to the finer 60/2 silk. If I had been sensible, I would have woven a small sample to see how well I could handle keeping the pattern aligned in 60/2 silk, test the new methods that I have been hoping to use, as well as sample the dye colors.

Problem number 1: I decided that I should re-use the pattern that I had created some years ago in an ikat project in black-and-white in 20/2 cotton. I felt that I could double the pattern and still not end up with anything too wide in the finer silk. Well, it turns out that 60/2 silk is not all that much finer than 20/2 cotton. I drew out my pattern and calculated the number of threads I would need without fully realizing just how wide the project would end up being. Once I realized how wide it would be, there was the opportunity to scrap it and start over with something smaller but I was too carried away by the pattern at that point! I couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out.


Problem number 2: I didn’t check my calculations and, therefore, didn’t dye enough thread in the base “rye” color that I like. I prefer the more subdued rye color over white. Once I had measured out the rye-color dye, there was only a tiny bit left in the jar. I thought ….What the heck…and threw it all in. Then I discovered the mistake in my calculations. So, I was short on yarn, with no dye left. I was in a position where I could have changed my pattern to a smaller one in order to suit the amount of thread that I had dyed. But no, I had my heart set on that pattern and wasn’t giving up. I dyed more thread in a color called “wheat” and figured out a way to work it in so that it looked like it had been planned.

Problem number 3: While I had placed the wheat-colored thread in the warp in what seemed like a nicely balanced way, I forgot to take into account the distribution of the threads into the bundles that would be tied with ikat tape and the placement of the wheat color in the pattern itself. It turns out the the wheat color wasn’t so well positioned after all. But…..I was beyond caring at that point!

Problem number 4: This wasn’t so much of a problem as a challenge. I wanted to divide the warp in two so that I could tie my pattern onto two layers of thread at once and create an instant mirror reflection. I divided it so that it was half its width, placing one half on top of the other, and checked countless times that I had the two layers aligned correctly so that I could start tying the pattern. This was my first time doing this and I dithered over it for a long time! I did something similar in another ikat project. That time I halved the warp so that it was half its length and, for some reason, it was easier.

Problem number 5: After all that dithering, I measured incorrectly and started tying the pattern in the wrong position. Never mind, I had only just started, I cut out the ties and happily started again, very pleased with myself for having done so. Then, when I was well into it, I discovered that I had made another mistake and was off in the pattern by one bundle. Urgh. I wasn’t going to start over. I adjusted the pattern and I think I can get away with it!

Here’s most of the main pattern tied…

I am usually very particular about sampling before I launch into a large project. It never occurred to me to sample the dye colors. In terms of color, this project has not turned out ANYTHING like I what I had originally envisioned! Fortunately, I still love it! Of course the colors in the paper chart that I have are based on dyeing over white. I had to expect that dyeing over rye and wheat would produce tones that did not match the chart. In fact, I was hoping that they would be duller colors. I dyed several layers of color in this project and now I know that I really can’t expect any color, no matter how strong it is, to completely cover and cancel out the underlying color. I was just lucky that I didn’t end up with a muddy mess! 

A discussion online had me thinking about weavers that work with natural dyes from plants that they grow themselves.. I am sure that they often get unexpected variations in the colors as rainfall and other conditions vary from year to year and must affect the quality, strength and tone of the colors that the plants produce.

This is the first color I dyed. It wasn’t what I had been expecting. I then tied some more sections on the green, adding some small motifs like the three you see here, to preserve this first color.

Below, you can see the result of the second layer of color. If I had been wanting teal, this would have been perfect. However, I had been expecting something VERY different. I tied off a few sections to preserve this color and unwrapped others ready for the third dyeing. Goodness knows what the third color will look like! At this point I was already contemplating Plan B:  if this project was a disaster, I would take off all the ikat tape and dye the whole thing black. Then I would be able to save it by weaving some colorful patterns into it in supplementary weft. It would still be a nice “something”…just not an ikat “something”.

Deep breath….here comes color number three…again, not what I was expecting!

Above, you can see it with all the ikat tape removed from the two combined layers. The two remaining strips of tape are preserving the teal color and are tied to the two layers separately. This means that I can now open the warp to its full width and leave those strips of tape in place while I start the weaving. I always feel more comfortable weaving with some ties still in place as I believe that they help minimize the amount that the threads shift. I am not crazy about having the teal there and I will probably weave some motifs in supplementary weft on those strips to almost completely cover them.

Now to get the cross sticks in and make heddles…882 of them! It was fun peeling the two layers apart to see the completed pattern.

The threads are still sitting together in their little bundles, somewhat stuck together after having been tightly wrapped for so long. I try to leave them that way as much as I can as I think that this also helps stop them from shifting too much out of alignment (although it is really tempting to strum and fan the whole thing out to get the full effect of the pattern).

In other news, I am moving along with my latest book project even though this ikat project has been occupying a lot of time. Sitting at the frame and tying patterns is very relaxing after typing away on the book project but it also opens my mind up to thinking about the current instability here in Bolivia and also the dreadful bush fires in my other home, Australia. Many people have written to me with their concerns about the situation in Bolivia as well as for my family, friends and property in Australia. I am always grateful to receive those messages and I reply to them in as much detail as possible. I hope you will understand if I don’t feel like talking about any of that here.

I’ll leave you with a picture taken by my brother, Wayne, of little bit of re-growth in the blackened bush at the back of his home on the mid north coast of NSW.




  1. Thank you for sharing of your adventures with the Ikat project, you are brave and fearless. I guess I can guess for the fact that you live in Bolivia, or I say South America. I love your work and I have been buying many of your books. I am weaving some of the patterns on my inkle loom and they are coming out more or less ok. I know I make mistakes but what ever it takes I mean to learn it and make those lovely looking patterns slowly but surely. Hope your home and your family are ok in Australia and hope situation gets better in Bolivia. I am from Peru, was born in the Andes but never learn to weave as a child.

    • Lovely to meet you, Maria. Thank you so much for your comment and good wishes for Australia and my family there. I hope that you will show me your work on your inkle loom one day.

  2. You did it!!! Enjoy the weaving 🙂

  3. Dear laverne, what a stunning result of unexpected colour. Beautiful.
    Looking forward to seeing it in progress. Love from a not (yet) burning Hobart. X Anna

    • Hi dear Anna. I hope you still doing okay there in Hobart and maybe getting some rain and good air to breathe. Thanks for leaving a comment. I always love to hear from you. xx

  4. That was one of the most timely and inspiring posts of yours I’ve ever enjoyed. As I age, my abilities evolve and so do my desires.

    I just bagged a very fine-threaded project that I enjoyed working on, and then worked on a bit more, and then realized I had exceeded my grasp, and cut it. I liked the stretch of being inspired to try it, and the set up as far as I made it, and I felt good about letting it go and recycling for other use as much as I could when the time came.

    But the thing I enjoyed most about it was the bit in the middle, where I kept trying to straighten it out, not rushing nor stopping but just being with it, enjoying the process, and the experience of working it out and flexing my creativity. I was comfortable putting it away, and able to enjoy the vistas of more modest possibilities still on the horizon.

    I’m sure there’s a lot of life-metaphor in there, what a delight it has been to find my sister weavers have the same sorts of issues and find so many possible outcomes! Some other work has been accomplished around here as I ponder the next project (or which old project to complete).

    Thank you for enlivening a very cold and snowy few days in Vermont, the sun came out today.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! I too love feeling to connected to weavers all over the world with these common problems and mishaps.

  5. Just wonderful to go through this whole event with you Laverne! The refinement that you achieve in backstop weaving is beautiful and stunning. Your photography is very informative and your designs are so varied in colour and style. I love your work, your devotion and your knowledge. Best wishes from another Aussie, in Brisbane! Jenny Jackett.

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