Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 12, 2020

Backstrap Weaving – How warp-faced are you?

I have to remind myself now and then that there are varying degrees of “warp-faced-ness’. Goodness knows that I have told my students this many a time when they have asked me to help them figure out the number of warp-ends they need to create a certain width. I can only give a ball-park figure because my warp-faced may be very different to theirs.

I often give the same warp (same material, same number of ends, same length) to a group of weavers and then have them compare their woven bands. All will turn out good warp-faced bands but the differences in width in the bands can sometimes be quite surprising. There isn’t a correct width as far as I am concerned, as long as it is indeed warp-faced. You just want to have a consistent width. If the band gets too wide, the weft will be exposed. If it’s too narrow, the weaver won’t be able to get a good straight beat as the threads will be crammed and may even be trying to climb one on top of the other. I encourage them to compare bands because in the early stages, before habits are formed, they can easily adjust their methods if they happen to prefer the way another weaver’s band looks.

Everyone eventually settles into their own version of warp-faced-ness. Mine tends to be on the more open side with perhaps a hair’s breadth space between the threads. I see these differences even among my indigenous weaving friends here in Bolivia. These ladies have been weaving most of their lives. I buy bands from the weaving co-op that my teacher Maxima runs in the central Bolivian highlands. Several of the bands woven by women in the same community will have the same motif but look different, even if ever so slightly. I can see each weaver’s version of warp-faced. Is the motif long and narrow or wider and more squat?

For me, the important task is knowing exactly how wide my project is going to be on the loom so that I can make sure that I get started on the right foot. While planning, I will use measurements from previous projects to figure this out. As my projects get wider and the thread I use gets finer, I find that there is another important task that sometimes gets overlooked. That is, making sure that the threads are equally spaced across the width of the warp. That’s a big task when you are working with 1600+ ends. I can measure my warp before starting to weave and see that the width is spot-on. However, I also need to check that the threads are evenly distributed across that width. They may be more spread in one part and much less so in another but still give me that perfect width. Believe me, when you have a bunch of brown or black threads spread before you, it is not that easy to tell!

Having stripes in the warp makes the task so much easier. My warping notes tell me the number of threads in each stripe. I can calculate how wide each stripe should be and move threads around until they are all sitting as they should. I can take an entire morning to do this! I sit there pushing threads around, measuring, pushing them around again until I finally feel ready to throw the first shot of weft. I’ll keep measuring and checking until I have at least an inch woven.

When there aren’t any stripes, you don’t have any kind of visual aid. Just eye-ball it? That’s not recommended in my case. I have no talent whatsoever for eye-balling things.

The first give-away of uneven spacing when using a warp with no stripes can come when you weave supplementary weft motifs that span the warp. The little leaves that run across the bottom of this solid red piece varied in girth and showed me clearly that the threads were pushed slightly closer together in some places than in others. I consoled myself with the fact that identical leaves are probably pretty hard to come by in nature! Another sign that would suggest a more serious difference in warp spacing would be if you were unable to achieve a straight weaving line. If one part of the cloth is advancing more rapidly than others, one possible reason is that the threads in that area are sitting closer together than they are in the rest of the warp. I have had that happen and I know just beating harder on that one spot doesn’t help!

Of course, there is a way to check in the absence of stripes. It’s just a little more fiddly.  Tie off the warp threads as you wind the warp in even sections. Figure out how wide those sections should be and then measure each section as you spread the threads out ready to weave. Easy!

The last ikat project I did had stripes. This had not been intentional but ended up coming in handy.

Once the plastic ties had been removed from the warp, I could use the thread-count in the stripes to help spread the warp out evenly across the beams of the loom. As a result, the repeated patterns in that project were evenly distributed across the width of the warp.In my excitement to get my very latest ikat experiment underway, I neglected to consider the way the threads had been distributed along the beam. Firstly, I had to recalculate the target width because you may remember my mentioning a certain mishap with scissors in which a chunk of ends got cut when the warp was on the ikat wrapping frame. I caught that error just in time because I had been busily spreading the threads out to the original width calculation. I guess I was too distracted with congratulating myself on picking that up to remember to check the distribution of the threads! It’s not disastrous. But you know how it is… you, the weaver, can see it when most likely no one else can. In any case, this gives me a chance to point out to you this idea of varying degrees of warp-faced-ness which might help you in your own projects.

Here’s what the warp looked like after it was dyed…

It’s back on the wrapping frame so that I can unwrap. You will see that there are more ties on the horizontal bar on the right than on the left. The left bar is at the starting end of the warp. I wrapped two layers together to create that bar. For the other bar, I wrapped the two layers separately so that I could open out the warp to its full width and leave those wraps in place while I wove.

In my happy place: weaving has commenced and I am part-way through the first row of supplementary-weft figures in the first un-dyed section. You can just see the very edge of some of the pink wrapping tape at the far end of the warp. I was over-frugal when I wound this warp because my silk is in short supply. It’s a short warp and I didn’t leave myself much working space at the end.

This is what the supplementary-weft motif looks like….

I particularly like the appearance of “reverse embossing” (my made-up term) that is created on the back of the piece when I use this particular supplementary-weft technique…

Here it is fresh off the loom. There’s lots of fluff to be picked out (this silk is surprisingly fluffy…not all slick and smooth as you might expect silk to be). I also broke two warp threads which I had to replace with a color that doesn’t quite match. Luckily this happened outside the ikat areas. Those ends need to be woven in. You can see them in the lower part of the picture. The cloth has a very matte appearance at this point and is somewhat stiff.

I washed and pressed it….maybe you can see how that brought out the sheen…

Then I decided to add a warp-faced band to one of the ends using the un-woven warp-ends as weft. This is the way that some ikat textiles from Sumba, Indonesia are finished. The bands are applied to both ends of the cloth. I have been told that these textiles were typically finished with striped warp-faced bands in plain weave. In the 1970s some weavers started using ikat-patterned bands on these edges and I have also seen examples of bands with pick-up patterns. In examples that I have seen, the bands sometimes turn out to be slightly shorter and in some cases quite a lot shorter than the width of the cloth and end up pulling in and puckering the cloth. On other examples, the length of the band perfectly matches the width so that the cloth lies flat. I don’t know whether these different ways of applying the band have been intentional.

What I can tell you is that in my experience of having woven only two of these kinds of bands, it is really hard to prevent the puckering!

I have seen a couple of videos of weavers in Indonesia weaving these bands (I embedded one video that had been made by the late Kay Faulkner in one of my recent ikat posts). Here’s another which was filmed by David and Sue Richardson in which the weaver twists the warp ends that have been pulled through the shed.

Her textile was going to be worn and washed and the fringe, therefore, needed to be tamed.  In the videos I have watched, I have not seen the weaver using an additional weft thread that moved back and forth through the sheds alongside the bundles of warp-ends. Strictly speaking, I have been using the un-woven warp ends as supplementary-weft because I do use an additional weft thread to hold the band together. In my examples, adding the bundles of warp threads to the shed is what attaches the band to the cloth but is not what is being used to actually weave the band. As my piece will be hanging on a wall and, most likely, won’t be washed again or be subject to wear and tear, I will leave the fringe in its original wild state.

Let me try attaching these bands fifty more times and I just might be able to conquer the puckering!

You will see that the two ikat motifs that are supposed to be identical in proportions are not. After all I told you at the start of this post, you will know why. 😉

I have lots of things to show you from my online weaving friends. I continue to get woven feedback on my latest book Warp-faced Double Weave on Inkle Looms and was excited to receive a message from Susi in Germany showing the motifs she has designed in double weave on a band for her niece. Showing people how easy it is to design in this structure and encouraging them to do so was one of my goals in writing this book. I am going to save those pictures for the next post but would like to leave you with something bright and beautiful after all the dull brown I have been posting!

The backstrap loom is so versatile and this following project by Judy Kavanagh shows another exciting way of using these looms. This project is very different to mine in that it is not warp-faced, it is not woven using commercial yarn, it is not in muddy colors and it is practical rather than purely decorative….

Judy is using a rigid heddle and her own handspun wool and silk yarn to create a scarf. She uses a cardboard sleeve around the woven cloth to help her maintain a consistent width.

How gorgeous is that?! She used three strands of a 2/28 merino in dark fuschia as weft. I hope this has you all whipping out your rigid heddles.

And, here it is finished with twisted fringe. Thanks, Judy.

I am staying safe and well here. I sewed my masks and continue to build up my pantry in the hope of being able to spend even less time out of my home should things get worse here.

Take care, please.



  1. Thankyou Laverne for your wonderfully detailed discussion of keeping the warp threads evenly spread across a warp-faced piece. Very timely for me, because this weekend I have really been noticing how careful I need to be to not allow my supplementary weft pattern threads to draw the warps they span together & make that section more dense. For me, making sure I use my body to create maximum pressure on the warp whenever I am laying in my supplementary weft threads (not just when I am throwing the ground weft) is something I am trying to be more conscious of. You’ll be able to see that learning journey when I finish my current band & get all the photos up on the Ravelry project page!
    The other thing I’ve been thinking about while weaving this weekend is the balance between striving for perfect weaving vs accepting the human-ness of my weaving. Finding the balance between wanting to prefect my technique & have mastery of my materials but not wanting it so perfect that you can’t see that human hands made it & that a life was lived as the piece was woven (I was chatting so much as I wove my 3rd motif that it really shows!) I love that your ikat motifs have slightly different proportions. The difference is so subtle that I wouldn’t have noticed until I looked more closely, and then I only felt the joy of sensing the human behind the creation.
    Keep up your stunning work!

  2. PS, I love your term “reverse embossing”!

  3. Wonderful to see your woven kabakil!

  4. Why don’t you have Colombian weaving pieces in your page?

    • I have included some when I have come across them. I know that I have included other textile arts of Colombia like the ply-split braiding and crocheted mochilas created by the Wayuu people of the Guajira Peninsula. I have shown hammocks made in that area too and talked about the work of Mirja Wark who documented the weaving patterns and techniques of the Wayuu people.One of my students who has been to Colombia brought some pieces that she had bought there to show me and I included pictures of them on my blog. Another student of mine is Colombian and also brought textiles that she owns to show me. They were shown in one of my posts. If you type Colombia into the search field on this blog, the results give ten posts in which the word is mentioned. You could try looking at those.

  5. Great! I didn’t see the ones you mentioned. I’ll go over it again.
    Thanks from a Colombian weaver.

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