Posted by: lavernewaddington | July 24, 2020

Backstrap Weaving – Staying Balanced

One part of me is crying out for more ikat while another part is telling me to take a break, process what I have learned so far, and then head back in. I am really pleased with my latest ikat piece, mainly because I don’t have to add the familiar footnote: ”The colors didn’t turn out anything like I had expected them to”. This time I mixed my dyes…two kinds of blue with a blue-grey…and got very close to what I had in mind. Can I replicate it? Probably not. I am using such small quantities and don’t have the equipment with which to measure them. All I have is the tiny spoon that comes with the Stevia. 

In my last post, I showed you the warp extended on my backstrap loom. I told you how I was getting “railroad tracks” and had unwoven to see if I could do anything about it. No, there wasn’t a fix that I could see so off I went again with the weaving satisfied that I had at least tried.

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe the “railroad track” effect is due to the two layers of warp threads being slightly misaligned. I think that they got misaligned when I folded the warp in half to set it up on the frame where I wrap it with plastic. This is only the second time that I have folded the warp to halve its length. Other times I have either folded it in half to halve its width or not folded it at all.

This is the other project where I folded the warp in half. You can just see the two horizontal bars of white on either side of the center. That’s where I tied tape to secure the layers before I folded it. I think that’s the key and not doing that might be where I went wrong in this latest piece. I’ll just have to do another and test this theory! 

I was pleased that the pattern in my latest piece came out balanced, that is, my warp threads were quite evenly spaced across the width of the piece. Many things about this piece make me very happy! 

I say that the threads were “quite” evenly spaced because there is some tell-tale exposure of the supplementary weft in some parts where I added a motif in the center of the piece. 

I created a little motif in supplementary weft that would suit the ikat shapes. The hardest part of this was creating and placing a motif that would fit exactly in the available space. So, I had to start weaving the motif at just the right moment, make sure that I got to the center of the motif when I had reached the center of the warp and make sure that I maintained an even beat so that the two halves of the motif were balanced. The horizontal center line is created by wrapping the supplementary weft around equally spaced warp threads….it looks like chain stitch and is a method I learned from my teachers in Guatemala. I couldn’t use the usual inlay technique for an uninterrupted line like that because the resulting float would be way too long.

The Guatemalan weavers use this chain-like “stitch” in their figures to form things like the brim of a hat, a bird’s beak, the base of a skirt, a wing, or a plant and feet. You can see some examples below in the piece I wove with my teacher in Guatemala. 

Weavers in Bhutan also use it although they execute it in a slightly different way. My friend Wendy Garrity uses it in her work.

Here I am nearing the end. You can see the railroad tracks. I am thinking that in certain motifs, this effect could actually enhance a pattern but using it in that way would require being in control of when and where it occurs. I can’t see myself being able to do that!

Here it is fresh off the loom before being washed and pressed good and hard. It’s just the right size to hang on the narrow bit of dividing wall between my living/dining room and kitchen. However, I think I’ll be saving all my wall hangings for the time in some distant future when I am able to move back to Australia.

So, that marks the end of the experiments with un-dyed 60/2 silk for the time being. I’ve run out of thread. I’ll be spending some time now looking at my stash of colored 60/2 silk and the remains of my un-dyed 30/2 silk to see what kind of ikat project comes next.

As I said earlier, part of me is saying that I should take a break and do something else. I saw some work in striking black and gold by a Russian artist online that, at first glance, looked like Finnweave. When I read her descriptions, I saw that it was in fact crochet! It seemed to me that the motifs could be quite easily replicated in Finnweave. That is, if I could remember how to do Finnweave! I don’t weave this structure very much and have to go back to my notes each and every time I want to try it. My notes are scribblings of information taken from various sources including the Baizerman and Cahlander book on double weave structures and an article by David Xenakis in an old Prairie Wool Companion. 

This is the last thing I wove in Finnweave….It’s in 8/2 cotton and has motifs that I saw on belts made by Otomi weavers in Mexico.

I set up the warp with multiple heddles. It’s the only one of the balanced structures that I have tried that I am able to successfully weave without using a reed to maintain sett.

It’s a double weave. Two balanced plain-weave layers are being woven…one dark and one light. They are connected when there is an exchange of colors between the two layers, that is, when you create a pick-up pattern. You can see the dark and light layers separated in this picture….

For all other work in balanced structures, I use one of the lovely bamboo reeds that I have. I have two wide ones and one small one. The small one is the finest.

Recently, I used the small one with my 30/2 silk as I test to see if perhaps one day I could dabble in weft ikat.

A couple of years ago I was using the larger reeds for my experiments with cotton sheer cloth and weft inlay…

This is what the cloth looked like after being washed….

I experimented with weaving a small piece without a reed (because the reed was too cumbersome for this width) and using a flea comb to beat!…It was somewhat successful but there’s no need to mess around with this on wider pieces when you have a reed, is there?

I think the first piece I ever wove using one of the bamboo reeds was this shadow weave piece from many years ago…

It’s fiddly reaching and working with multiple heddle rods behind the reed and I am grateful that Finnweave, with its need for multiple heddle rods, works for me without the need for a reed. 

When I saw the black and gold crocheted piece that I mentioned earlier, I was reminded that my friend Betty had given me two cones of 20/2 cotton…one black and one gold. Perfect! So, I set out to weave a width sample.

The finest thread I have used for Finnweave so far has been 8/2. I needed a new sample in 20/2.

My first sample was cute but way too small to really give me a reliable measurement. I will probably return to it some time and weave a wrist cuff so that I have another structure to add to my wrist cuff collection.  I used it to also test the proportions of some shapes I was panning to use in a bigger project.

I then created a wider warp.

There was a bit of a wobbly start as I got back into the rhythm of the moves and working out how best to interlock the weft threads when working with two shuttles. The lower pattern is from bags that are woven by Otomi weavers in Mexico. The pattern that I am starting is part of a motif from a piece I photographed in the National Museum of the American Indian in D.C way back in 2007, also from a textile woven in Mexico. I have doubled it and added a motif in between.

Although I am able to stop the warp threads from drifting together and making the piece warp-faced, you can see that the sett is not equal. The motif on the right is wider than the one on the left….something to work on. The motifs at the weaving line that I am just starting to weave are some basic leaves that I created. Of course, there had to be leaves! I am pleased with the way this is turning out. I am anxious to see how it all comes together after wet-finishing and am hoping that the black is color-fast. I am so used to the what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature of warp-faced weaving, that it is hard to wait until the wet-finish to discover how this will really look and feel. The 20/2 thread is not hard to work with . It is helpful that the threads are paired in Finnweave and so the units that I need to pick up for the pattern are easy to see. 

Doramay Keasby wrote a nice article in Handwoven Jan/Feb 2011 in which she compared five types of double weave pick-up structures. She noted that Finnweave gave the smoothest pattern (that is, no feathering along horizontal or vertical lines. Feathering along horizontal lines look like icicles hanging off the end of a roof and can be a pretty effect) but is not double faced. So, you wouldn’t want to use it for something in which you would like both faces of the cloth to be admired. There is pattern on the reverse but it is rather odd looking.

So, that’s what has kept me busy and sane these last couple of weeks. That, and another Zoom meeting with some weavers along with my attempts to learn some new juggling tricks. I confess that I didn’t get too far with my spinning in the Tour de Fleece. I plied one lot of the green I was spinning and got through the purple. But, I am motivated to do some three-color pebble with this yarn and just need to keep that goal in sight. I am not adding extra twist as some people do for wool that is destined for warp-faced weaving. I just don’t like the way the “tight” thread feels and I would rather just adjust the technique I use to operate the loom to account for a softer yarn.

The messages that I get from online friends are a big help in these unsettled times too! Keep them coming. Please never feel shy about contacting me with questions. I include an email address in all my publications for that very reason. Or, you can write to me via a comment on this blog. The comments go into moderation before they are approved for publication so you can ask me not to publish, if you like. 

Here are some projects from my online weaving friends….

Annette Giles has created a nice set of wrist cuffs using the warp-faced double weave structure that she learned in my book. I see that she added a touch or two of her own to some of the patterns. That’s a good first step toward designing one’s own motifs.

Judy Lepthien has also been using my Warp-faced Double Weave on Inkle Looms book and has already started creating some patterns of her own.

Wendy sent me a picture of the piece that she wove on a backstrap loom and sewed into a pillow. She tells me that she had some trouble handling the wider warp with the multi-sword pick-up technique that I teach in my Complementary-warp Pick-up book and so she went back to a narrower band to practice it some more. Then she was able to better handle this wider piece. The pattern is one used by weavers in the community of Chinchero, Peru.

Josefin Waltin has been using her own hand spun and hand dyed yarn to weave fabric on a backstrap loom. She used this fabric to make a sweet bag….

Carlos Vargas has been working with un-mercerized cotton on his backstrap loom to make some beautiful fabric too.. He said that he worked out a way to operate the loom so that there was not too much abrasion of the un-mercerized cotton. If not handled well, un-mercerized cotton can create a mess of fluff in the heddles and make it impossible to create clear sheds. Backstrap weavers need to have different strategies up their sleeves to allow them to work with a variety of materials. It would be a shame to have to be limited to only the smoothest and friendliest of materials…only mercerized cotton and only very tightly spun wool, for example.

It’s nice to finish this post admiring Josefin and Carlos’ soothing colors.

Take care, please and I’ll see you again soon.


  1. Beautiful work Laverne. The endless possibilities with backstrap are awesome. K

    • Thank you, Karen. Yes, there’s so much and I am sure that I am simply scraping the surface!

  2. Lovely work. A question:
    “Carlos Vargas has been working with un-mercerized cotton on his backstrap loom to make some beautiful fabric too.. He said that he worked out a way to operate the loom so that there was not too much abrasion of the un-mercerized cotton.”
    I wonder what Carlos’s method is? I agree that un-mercerized cotton and less tightly spun wool could be nice.

  3. What a lovely way to style your pieces Annette – beautiful!

  4. Your blues are beautiful Laverne!

    • Carlos didn’t elaborate. However, I can tell you that it is important to know how to operate the loom without scraping the heddles back and forth along the warp as you raise them in order to clear the shed. You need to be using certain kinds of warp material to get away with doing that. For softer or hairier materials, the heddle rod needs to be pulled straight up without scraping as the weaver tightens the opposite layer of threads and brings the body forward to relax tension on the heddled layer of threads. It’s a coordinated set of moves. Advancing the warp as often as possible also helps so that the heddles and shed rod are not sitting on the same section of warp for too long.
      My video class Operating a Backstrap Loom demonstrates this.

    • Thank you, Wendy. They were exactly what I had been hoping for. I don’t often get the colors I want, so naturally I was pretty pleased.

  5. Beautiful!

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