Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 2, 2020

Backstrap Weaving – The Flip Side

Lots of people ask me about how the pandemic is affecting me here in Bolivia and there is plenty to say about all the negative ways in which lives have been changed. But, there’s also a flip side…at least there is in my case…and there are some positive things going on as well as a direct result of not being able to travel and being obliged to stay in one place. I was thinking about it and this is the longest period of time I have stayed here in Bolivia since 2005! There was a period prior to that during which I hadn’t left South America for nine years but, after 2005, I seemed to be regularly picking up and flying away.

This long period at home has my Ideas Notebook crammed with planned projects and leaves me with plenty of time to play with those things that do require more sampling, planning, charting and trial-and-error which, for me, is best done over one long uninterrupted period of time. I have lots of uninterrupted time.

I showed my finished Finnweave sampler in my last post and am pleased to tell you that I found a use for it beyond just being a sample to which I can refer for future projects. It makes a wonderful cowl. Having worn my hair long for most of my adult life, I am very much aware of my bare neck and how cold it can get now that I have cut my hair short. I was very conscious of that on my winter visits to Australia and New Zealand last year.

Yes, I had a moment of frustration the other day and took it out on my hair in the form of yet another DIY haircut. At 10:30 pm with toothbrush in mouth this suddenly seemed like a good idea. While we are certainly not in cowl-wearing weather here south of the equator, the time will come when I can be back visiting the USA in the spring and fall, and hopefully Australia in the winter months, when the air can get a little nippy.

Quite a few people have been curious about the Finnweave I have been doing. I explain that I chose this structure simply because the pre-columbian textile fragments that I have were woven this way. There are of course other kinds of double weave pick-up structures that can be used to weave figures and the figures will have a certain appearance on the front and back of the cloth. Weavers can choose the look that they prefer. As always, I refer to the Doramay Keasbey article in Handwoven Jan/Feb 2011 in which she compares the front and back of bookmarks that she wove using five different doubleweave pick-up structures. 

So, what about the flip side of my Finnweave? The Keasbey article includes Finnweave and I can show you the two sides of a motif on a piece that I wove some years ago using 8/2 cotton which I think is much clearer than trying to show you the example in the finer 20/2 cotton that I just wove.

You can see that smooth horizontal lines on one face look like toothy lines on the other . This particular motif does not have any fine vertical lines but a fine vertical line on the “good’ face looks like a column of small disconnected horizontal dashes on the back. Occasionally, I prefer the way a particular motif looks on the back in that from a distance it resembles blurry ikat with those toothy edges. It’s a softer look. The upper face has a much smoother and sharper appearance.

So, I will keep my Finnweave cowl on hand as I think about my next project using this structure. There’s not much chance of it being used as a cowl any time soon as we have temperatures in the high 90s with one day at 100 degrees forecast for the next eight days. The tropical “winter” is over!

What has been keeping me busy lately is refreshing my memory on three-color reversible pebble weave. It’s another one of those things that grabs my attention every few years. I showed you in my last post the sample I wove in tencel using this technique some years ago in which I used yellow and white on a blueberry background.

I can’t find that sample anywhere now but, thank goodness, I am better at keeping tabs on my notes. However, my notes could have been better and it was frustration with trying to interpret them that led to the late night hair-cutting incident! After a good night’s sleep, I got the notes all sorted and I chose primary colors in 8/2 tencel once again to test whether I had indeed understood the steps.

Examples from Peru shared with me by Mary Spanos with the red, green and yellow sections of three-color pebble..

I am using my backstrap loom with string heddles as you know. If you are a tablet-weaver, three-color double-faced pebble weave is apparently quite straightforward. I have read about people doing it by using triangular tablets but also square tablets that have holes in the sides. So, if you are in a great hurry to learn this, you might want to go with tablets. I’ll leave you to investigate that further.

I will be writing a tutorial on this eventually for those who use string heddles. “Why don’t you just use tablets?” you might ask… I am more interested in the string heddle process as that is the way the technique is woven here in South America.

I have examples of three-color pebble weave in pieces I bought in Peru on my very first visit in 1996. These particular pieces were relatively expensive and I had to think long and hard about investing in them back in my do-it-on-a-shoestring backpacking days. They blew my budget for the following ten days. I am so glad I bought them, though. My weaving friend Mary also sent me pictures of some similar pieces that she owns.

The three-color pebble weave figures in these particular pieces are not identical in appearance on the back of the cloth.

Here you can see the back of one that I wove myself many years ago in a non-reversible technique….

I haven’t yet had the chance to sit with a weaver who knows how to do the double-faced version and so my efforts have been guided by the writings of Adele Cahlander and Marjorie Cason in The Art of Bolivian Highland Weaving and a lot of trial-and-error of my own. Just by chance I was able to pick up a small piece of cloth that was woven using the double-faced three-color version. It was being used as the cover of a small photo album that I found in a souvenir store right here in Santa Cruz. I grabbed it! Thankfully, it had only been glued to the photo album along its edges and I could easily remove the cloth.

Bolivian cloth with pattern in double-faced three-color pebble.

The cloth is so very tightly woven as is the way here in Bolivia, that it is impossible to separate the warp threads to perhaps get some clues about how it was woven. In any case, I am using a series of  steps for my own experiments and am getting the results I want. I feel that I could replicate the pattern on this cloth if I wanted to.

I would, however, love to be able to spend time with the Bolivian weaver of this piece of cloth and see if she has some other less laborious and more efficient way of achieving this which will no doubt have me slapping my forehead and exclaiming “Of course!” On the other hand, perhaps I am doing it just the way she does….I would love to know! Bolivian weavers think nothing of what may appear to us as extremely laborious weaving tasks….think of what they go through every time they finish a piece of warp-faced cloth with four selvedges, or the thread-by-thread pick-up that goes into weaving pieces like the red and black one you see here….

A weaving of the Jalq’a people of Potolo, Bolivia.

So, here is the piece in tencel that I wove to practice creating patterns using all three colors as outlines, background and fillers. My sample motifs got smaller and smaller as I gradually centered my focus on just some very specific aspects. These patterns are charted in my Complementary-warp Pattern Book.

The idea was to refresh my memory about this technique and, as it turned out, improve my notes for next time. But it was also about wanting to weave something using the wool I had started spinning during the Tour de Fleece. My spinning output is quite sad. I simply can’t manage to motivate make myself to devote that much time to it. I am more interested in charting and weaving. In any case, I have some yarn to use and after sampling in tencel, I was ready. I had originally planned to sample in some industrially spun wool but everything I found in the closet was either too heavy or too stretchy. I do have some Knit Picks Palette but I didn’t want to push my luck with that. The method I use has a lot of heddle action and I wasn’t sure how well the Palette would stand up to it.

A couple of wrist cuff projects seemed like a good way to start….

I used a little leaf motif that I had created for my Complementary-warp Pattern Book (slightly modified here) as well as part of a larger flower motif that I had created for the same book in the Garden-themed section.

One of the challenges for me when using this three-color technique is finding three colors that will work well together on both faces. I have a light color -white, a very dark color – black and a medium color- let’s call it tan. These three work well together. Other combinations may not. If, for example, I use two medium colors like purple and green, I can have them sit on either side of the  lightest color on one face, but they will have to sit right next to each other on the other face. In that case there may not be enough contrast between the two for the pattern to be easily distinguishable.

You can see that  tan and black sit right next to each other in the leaf motifs on the upper face and are separated by white on the lower face. I played with the outline color in the flower motif using both white and black as shape outlines and tan and white as the fillers.

My hand spun yarn stood up well. Admittedly, this is only a very short and narrow piece but I can tell thatf it will do well even in something much larger.

I added an eye-patterned tubular band in the same colors and then played around with different buttons for the button-and-loop closure. I love this cuff! 

Next on the loom, was another cuff project using the green and purple that I mentioned above. I didn’t do any outline color-flipping in this one. Here it is getting its tubular edging. I love weaving and sewing that edging! (Check out my book if you would like to learn how to weave this patterned tubular band to use independently as jewelry, for example, as well as weave and sew it as an edging).

These are the buttons that I eventually chose…a flower one for the garden-theme and an interlocking shape to match the interlocked motifs which are charted in my pattern books.

The last thing is to braid and sew on the loops that go around the buttons to close the cuffs.

So, what’s next? While I am in wrist-cuff mode, I might make one in Finnweave. I do like to have examples of the various structures that I use in my wrist-cuff collection. I also feel motivated to spin some of the colors that I am least likely to use and then dye them so I that I can continue to play with three-color pebble. If you have suggestions for three colors that would work well together no matter how they sit in relation to each other, please let me know. I wove this wool three-color pebble some years ago in which the orange and green played well together when placed right next to each other….….and look just as good on the other face where they are separated by white.

Finally, I would like to promote my publications…in this case, the one I produced on the eye-pattern tubular band which you have seen along the edge of the cuffs I made. My ability to earn has been greatly reduced with my inability to travel to teach and book sales help to keep me afloat. Perhaps you would like to try weaving an eye-pattern tubular band. I have two versions of the book. One, which is only available as a pdf, teaches how to weave the band as an independent tube which can be used in jewelry and other accessories. Ideas are given in the book.

In addition to this, the other extended version shows you how to weave and sew the band to the edge of cloth as I have done. It also goes on to teach two other decorative finishing techniques that are used by some of my Bolivian weaving teachers. This extended version is available as a pdf and as a spiral-bound book.

Both the short and extended versions, in either pdf or book form, give access to supplementary instructional video clips and are available at Taproot Video.

I’ll be donning my masks and venturing out a bit more in the next week or so as I need to re-stock the pantry before our national elections this month. I plan on staying in and well out of the way during and after that event.

Take care and please stay safe.










  1. Your garden cuff is beautiful Laverne!

  2. I am so looking forward to the day you can be back in the US……

    • Yes! Hopefully we can have many weaving gatherings!

  3. Thank you for sharing all of this “play time” information! I too loved reading that some day you hope to return to the US to visit. I did down load the Handwoven article for future reference. I’m still working on the knitting works in progress! But I’ll return to the Backstrap weaving, also Hubby will be returning to work, he sits in my Backstrap weaving seat!

    Take care, stay safe, and ENJOY! Kelli

    • Hi Kelli! I am glad that you got hold of that Handwoven article. You might decide that you would like to try one of the other double weave structures when you have a chance to compare front and back. Knitting sounds good and I hope you get your backstrap weaving seat back soon!

  4. Thank you for a fine introductory essay about your three-color pebble-weave structure. The photos showing the back side confirm that you are creating the structure I hoped you were — one which I worked out on paper several months ago but not yet attempted.

    Of course I am curious about your picking technique; I am preparing to warp something up to try a probably-tedious finger technique I *think* will work, creating both weft sheds simultaneously using three fingers on both hands. But I have heretofore been mostly a stylus-user to date, so this will be a challenge for me — though a return to something closer the finger techniques I was first taught in Peru.

    Of course I will be first in line for the publication of your technique when you write it up!

    Best Regards —

  5. Thank you Laverne, even though I do o ther kind of weaving I enjoy very much reading your blog, thank you for sharing Jimena

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment, Jimena. It’s nice to “meet” you!

  6. 😍

  7. is there an explaination on how to warp for this type of weave in one of your current books…I have them all as ebooks so would be easier to look up if I knew where to look…

    • Hi Janet. No, I haven’t written about this three-color version yet. It’s something that I am working on. And, thank you for buying my books!

  8. Dear Laverne, the Finn weave is lovely. I thought of one obvious 3 colour pattern…red white black, that I get attracted to. Or red white blue the colours of many a flag. I have to think a bit longer about more subtle combos. Good luck with elections. Love from tassie xx

    • Thanks so much, Anna! and, as always, it’s lovely to hear from you. Of course, red, white and black is one of my all-time favorites. I’ll have to try that.

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