Posted by: lavernewaddington | August 7, 2020

Backstrap Weaving – At the Bottom of the Tool Box

Last year I decided that something had to be done about my collection of backstrap weaving tools. This picture was taken back in 2016 and I can assure you that between then and 2019, the collection had grown with the bins being replaced by larger ones and the addition of yet another. My smaller tools were getting lost at the bottom, things I hadn’t used for a while were getting dusty and one of the bins was top heavy and inclined to topple over. It was time to make a change.

I bought a four-drawer chest. I won’t show it to you because it was kind of cheap and nasty. It did the trick. The top drawer holds all the beams…the round ones, the square ones, the split beams and all the shed rods and heddle rods in their various lengths and girths. Some of the beams have carved ends. Some don’t, and just have rubber bands at their ends to hold the backstrap in position. The beams that support the two ends of the warp are pretty much all around the same length. It’s the sticks that go between that vary greatly depending on the width of the piece I am weaving.

The second drawer that hold the swords and shuttles is my favorite and it’s in that drawer that I can often get lost in nostalgia. One of my favorite parts of the set-up process for a new project is selecting just the right swords for the job. Sometimes, I’ll need two or three. Sometimes they need to be hefty, other times slim. Sometimes I like to have them in two distinctly different colors of wood. It’s easier to select and pick up dark threads when they are sitting on top of a light sword and vice versa. I love projects that require multiple swords as I enjoy the clack-clack sound that they make as they bump against each other in the warp or when I remove them and place them in a pile by my side.

The red, black and white project at left, which I wove some years ago, was woven in a fairly dense structure in 8/2 cotton which meant that I got to use one of my heftier swords.

The teal silk project was the first I had woven in a width that was too great for my standard beams. I got to use an extra long rod that I happened to have for the near beam (it had been a particularly long shed rod in a Guatemalan loom that I had been given) and cut some dowel for the other end.

That long beam came in handy again when I wove these two wool panels that were sewn together to make a lap blanket. The structure was less dense which meant that I chose to use lighter swords. I needed several because I was working with multiple sets of heddles.

Here are some swords in vastly different sizes for different kinds of projects…Above, you can see two swords that are the biggest and smallest in a collection of six that make up the standard set used by my weaving teachers in Salasaca, Ecuador. Below, you can see one of the big boys alongside the very first band-weaving sword that I was given to me to use by one of my teachers in Peru. That sword has become bent out of shape with use over the twenty-four years that I have owned it.

While selecting tools for my current project, I found myself sitting on the floor surrounded by swords and shuttles enjoying trips down many memory lanes as I recalled the places I had been when I had acquired a certain piece, the people I had been with, or the person who had made the tool or given it to me. If there is anything good to be said about the times in which we are currently living, it is that I allow myself the time to do things like this.

I laid out just some of the pieces for a photograph before they got returned to the pile in the drawer.

There are swords that I have bought from, or have been given by, my weaving teachers. Others were given to me by my weaving students. There’s a lovely collection of five band-weaving swords on the left that came to me via two of my Australian students and which are made from different woods that are native to Australia. The tool with its label still attached is some kind of spatula made from sassafras wood from Tasmania. One of these days I will bevel the edge and use it as a sword.

The sword with the pretty carved pattern was made by Allen Berry and given to me by my students. You will see a shawl pin (another gift) and a hair stick that are being repurposed as pick-up sticks along with others in wood and bone. Some of these came from trades that I made with my indigenous teachers in the highlands and lowlands. A lovely fine sword in olive wood sits above the hefty one and was made and given to me by a student. There’s one very fine sword in that lot that came with a Guatemalan loom I was given. I treasure that one when I am weaving a piece with four selvedges.

I love my ice cream-stick shuttles and there’s a quirky little shuttle-like thing near the spatula which is actually supposed to hold fishing line. I found it in an antique store while on a road trip in Australia with a weaving friend.

This is just a basic outline of the “wheres” and the “whos” behind those pieces.. Of course, all the pieces hold stories and fond memories that go much deeper than these brief descriptions.

This piece sitting on top of one of my ikat experiments from years back, is the one that started the whole nostalgia trip! It was well and truly lost at the bottom of the drawer. This is my oldest home-made tool. It is ugly, grubby and unimpressive, right? It started its life at three times this length as my attempt to make a shuttle for the Navajo-style tapestry pieces that I was weaving back in 1995. Once I discovered backstrap weaving, I knew that I was unlikely to continue making tapestries. The shuttle got cut down and roughly beveled and started its new life as a sword and beater. I love it. You can see the darkened ends where my hands have grasped it to beat the weft into place. I wish it were long enough to use in my latest project. It’s been hidden away for far too long.

The third drawer in the chest holds many of my weaving samples and some of the finished pieces. The last one is full of all those odd bits and pieces….cable ties, turn buckles, cord, backstraps, reeds, rigid heddles, band clamps, umbrella ribs, bicycle spokes, rubber bands, dpns….you get the idea.  I can reach over and open it while still seated at my backstrap loom and dig out just the right little piece of equipment that I need.

As for progress on my latest project, I washed the finnweave sample that I showed you last week and was happy with the way it looked and felt. I figured that the sett I had used had been good. I have two pre-colombian balanced-double-weave textile fragments and it’s amazing how these two pieces that both have exactly the same pattern are so different in appearance. It’s almost like one got washed and the other never did…

Cloth that is woven using the finnweave structure has a very distinctive look on the back. A comparison of the back of the sample that I wove a few years ago as a replica of these fragments and the backs of these very fragments confirmed that I was using the same balanced-double-weave structure that the weavers who produced this cloth had been using in pre-colombian times.

Here’s my washed and pressed sample alongside the new finnweave warp and my selection of tools. I later added a light-colored sword to that set when I realized that picking-up black threads on a dark background wasn’t going to work for me.

Backstrap loom warps are often left just lying on the ground while the weaver is off doing something else. In their limp state they can often look like a freaky mess…

Place the backstrap around the hips, place tension on the threads and everything immediately looks friendlier!

And friendlier still once the heddles are in place…

I often read comments in online groups from people who wonder what happens to the warp on a backstrap loom if you have to get up and do something. They think that surely all the sticks must fall out once you relax tension. No, they don’t. The kinds of heddles that I make grip the sticks to which they are attached. I can tilt and shake that warp about knowing that those sticks are going nowhere. Nor is my shed rod which is tied to a second cross stick. My far beam is lashed to the bottom of my bed and the near end of the warp is safely lashed to its beam. It might look like an ugly mess on the floor but it’s all under control!

Probably the worst that can happen is tripping on the weft as you walk away. That’s like pulling on a drawstring which totally rumples up the fabric.

For that reason. I am now in the habit of parking my shuttles, in this case two, on top of the fabric at the base of the warp before I remove my backstrap and place the near beam gently down on the floor. You can see the nice light-colored sword that is sitting under my black threads. And, there nestled between the two swords is the sweetest little tool that I am using to help pick-up the threads. My student, Claire, made that and gave it to me when I was visiting in Tasmania. It was cut from a stick from an apple tree. You might know that Tasmania is often referred to as the “Apple Isle”. 

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You will notice that I have managed to get through this post so far without any reference to my books! Until now!! Those who have been following my blog over the years will realize that my travel-to-teach lifestyle can no longer be. Fortunately, I can continue teaching and showing you things through my blog posts. I try to illustrate with as many pictures as possible. I know that not everyone wants to read all the text and that just being able to scroll through some eye-candy is also nice.

And, there’s also teaching via my books which gives me an income. So, I will leave you here with a little bit about my latest books and hope that you may feel inspired to make a purchase. And to all those who already have….THANK YOU!

 

One of the features of my most recent publications is the inclusion of supplemental instructional video clips.

I know that some people like to have movements and steps frozen in images. Others like to have detailed written instructions that help them to visualize the process. And others like to hear the instructions while watching the movements on video. Some people tell me that they hear my voice in their heads as they weave.

I like to include all three options so that I can satisfy a variety of learning styles. Apart from the instructional video clips, I include some “just weaving” clips so that you can also watch the movements in silence without interruption.

All my books are available at Taproot Video as PDFs. The titles in English are also available as spiral-bound books.

 

 

 


Responses

  1. I love this tour of your tools Laverne! Thankyou. My favourite tool also helps me see dark threads more clearly in low light: my metal pick-up stick. It is made from a mixture of metals that catches the light beautifully and shines pink between the threads. You have helped me realise it would be useful to find something larger made from metal that I can use as a sword – I will be keeping my eyes open 🙂

    • Hmmm….I have never considered a metal sword. That would add a different note to the musical loom sounds.

  2. There is something so deeply satisfying about this – admiring your tools and remembering where you got them, and talking about organizing them. It gives that “all’s right with the world” feeling – much appreciated in these crazy times!

    • Yes! And just allowing oneself the time to do it and enjoy it. I realized that was something I hadn’t done in a long time. There always seemed to be something more urgent to attend to.

  3. I love your little apple pick up tool, what a sweet present! Taking time to tidy and organize our crafts feels good once we allow ourselves time to do it! I too am trying to get my self organized as well, slow going at times. . .

    Enjoy!

    • Yes, I love the apple tool, Kelli. It has sat in my tool bag waiting to find its purpose. As for the organizing, there are four drawers in the chest I bought and I have spent considerable time getting lost in each and every one! I consider it a luxury being able to do that.


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