Posted by: lavernewaddington | April 2, 2021

Backstrap Weaving – The Story of the Hummingbird.

I am busily weaving the third panel in the Within These Walls series and having quite a lot of fun with it. After all the pick-up that I had to do on the second panel to create that sensation of chaos, I am enjoying the wide open spaces in this third piece and feel like I am zooming along. In this piece the friendly hummingbirds play a major role in building the transition from the chaos and darkness of Panel 1 to the harmony of a newly established normal in Panel 3.

I am using doubled 140/2 silk for this one as I had run out of my red 60/2 silk. It’s a rosier red and I love it even though much of it ended up being covered by black dye. It did mess with my head at the start when I kept counting the doubled threads as two threads instead of one when I was doing the Andean Pebble Weave pick-up. I am well over that now.

It’s funny to think that the very first motif I ever wove with my teachers in Peru was a hummingbird. This year of 2021 happens to mark the 25th anniversary of my first trip to Peru during which I had my first experience learning to weave on a backstrap loom. I know that I met my teachers some time towards the end of August 1996. My birthday is in mid-August and I remember quite clearly spending that day alone in Ayacucho. I was so sick and had been for weeks after having eaten something that had been fried in bad oil. I decided to move on to Huancayo and find a place to stop still for a while so that I could give myself a chance to recover. It was either that or head back to Chile. Thankfully, the abuela who ran the hostel at which I stayed made it her mission to make me well again. She made me dandelion and papaya smoothies every day which she said would clean my liver.

I have been thinking back on that experience and those little bands of fine threads that I wove with one end of the warp connected to my waist with string and the other end tied to a bush in the yard. Before my teachers arrived with their thread and sticks I had no idea what motifs we were going to weave, what structure I would be learning or even what kind of loom we would use.

The very first motif the ladies started demonstrating looked like it was gong to be a simple triangle flanked by a couple of inverted ones. I thought that it was very sensible starting with some basic shapes like that. However, just as I started to get my head around that, hoping that I could then predict what was to follow, things changed and I was lost. I thought that asking what the figure was meant to be might help. I was told it was a hummingbird. That didn’t help because I simply could not relate the little figure on the band to anything that looked like a hummingbird to me!

Even after returning to Chile with all my little bands with their clearly recognizable dog, llama, puma, human and various bird motifs, I simply could not make out how that little figure was supposed to be a hummingbird. The figure you see above is my replication of my teachers’ motif woven with a lot of their help which mostly involved their pushing my hands out of the way and taking over every time they saw that I was lost or about to make a mistake. You can tell from the wonky selvedges that this was not their masterful work.

And then I thought that perhaps I had misinterpreted what my teachers called “picaflor”, which is not the official Spanish word for hummingbird. Perhaps that’s their nickname for bees. But nope, I still couldn’t see it. In any case, I have since learned that picaflor is indeed another name for hummingbird.

Here are some more figures from my learner bands from 1996…

And then one day, it occurred to me that perhaps the black outlined triangle in the figure is the bird’s beak and the bird is looking straight at me. That would make the red line and two little bumps directly above it the top of the bird’s head and two eyes. The main red triangle is the bird’s body and the sides are its wings. Can you see it? The bird is flying straight towards me. I was delighted! How unusual to depict a bird head-on lie that! Once I could see it, I couldn’t un-see it. The band was glued into my journal and I never wove it again. It was quirky and interesting but I didn’t like it enough to use it in any of my projects. Later, I found another hummingbird motif on a band from Taquile Island and now I have created my own original one.

Just the other day on a Zoom call I pulled out my learner bands because I wanted to tell my weaving friends about my 25th anniversary. I had long ago removed the bands from my journal so that I could photograph them and show them in my workshops. I started telling them The Hummingbird Story and showing them the little figure. Literally as the words were coming out of my mouth, I suddenly saw it! The figure is TWO hummingbirds in profile facing each other with connected beaks. Of course! How did I not ever see that? I am sure that you saw it right from the beginning and must think that I am mad.

I was actually a little disappointed about this new discovery. I had quite enjoyed the unique idea of depicting a hummingbird flying straight towards the viewer. Oh well.

The little hummingbirds that I created in my Within These Walls series are depicted in profile. Some are solid and some are outlined. You can see one of them in my latest panel busily unraveling the chaos lines that had covered the previous panel…

Others are collecting sticks and plants with which they will help me build my own world within my walls. I am quite accepting of the fact that I shall most likely remain within these walls for the rest of the year. The supposed roll-out of a vaccination plan here has been carried out in the true Bolivian style that I have come to expect…utter chaos and confusion. I gather that it may not have been much better in some other more developed countries. And, I know that with limited resources this can’t be an easy task.

Some of the supplies have already mysteriously “disappeared” according to a newspaper report today. Every time I turn around there is a new website on which we are supposed to register. I have signed up to three so far with no sign yet of when anything will actually start happening for the general public..

I have advanced quite a lot since I took the picture of Panel 3 above. I am just about to reach half way and my thoughts have started turning to what I might weave after this project. I am still deciding about whether to weave a fourth panel in this series. If I don’t, I hope to weave something with my handspun wool and have decided that all Zoom time from now on should be spent spinning. I would really like to do some more of this three-color reversible Andean Pebble Weave. Here you can see the technique on two wrist cuffs that I wove last year.

I also have these two strips that you can see below (they’re both about twice the length that you see here) that I wove from my handspun llama fiber years ago, probably back as far as 2005. I sewed them onto cotton cloth that I had also woven on my backstrap loom and made shoulder bags. The black bag with the grey strip got used a lot and the cotton part ended up looking rather shabby. I have since removed the llama part which looks good as new and thrown away the cotton cloth. So, I want to weave new pieces to create new bags but, this time, in my handspun wool. I am never short of projects! The brown one was my attempt to replicate a scrap of band that I had bought in Cusco on that first trip in 1996.

The fabric for the bags will be in warp-faced plain weave and I’ll weave straps in the three-color reversible Andean Pebble Weave. On a strap, the different ways that the three colors position themselves in this technique on the two faces can be appreciated. The two faces can look quite different…

While on the subject of spinning I wanted to tell you that tinyStudio Creative Life Magazine is now offering subscriptions to its magazine in print form. I have seen Suzy Brown and the team showing off the print version of the latest issue and it looks luscious. There are 120 pages of content beautifully bound in such a way that it always lies nice and flat on the table. You may remember that Suzy asked me to contribute to issue 9 (below) with a bit of a story about my learning to weave with my indigenous teachers. Hopefully, once subscriptions have taken off, she will consider printing some of the back issues too. Subscription includes free shipping for the four issues per year from New Zealand. Here is an excerpt from the website which will give a better idea of what this magazine is about:

Mindfulness, simplicity, and a conscious approach to fiber crafts. These are the foundations of an inspirational magazine! tinyStudio Creative Life Magazine is created especially for fiber artists of all kinds, spinners and yarn artists. We aim to enhance your fiber life with projects, patterns, creative rituals, fiber artists’ stories and articles, ideas for storage and decluttering, ways to reuse and recycle, and articles on fiber producers who themselves adhere to conscious and caring processes. The ultimate lifestyle magazine specifically for people like us, who have a passion for all things fiber!

I actually have a lot more to show and tell you about things I have been seeing online in forums, Zoom lectures and via backstrap weaving friends about backstrap weavers on the Tibetan Plateau, on the island of Yap, the Himalayas and in Costa Rica but I think I will keep those for a post all of their own soon.

To finish, I would like to share with you another part of the continuing story of Maribel. You may remember that I first met her back in 2017 when I went to the central Bolivian highlands to meet the ladies in my teacher Maxima’s co-op. Nineteen-year-old Maribel had been the first one to show up at the gathering with her toddler Daniel, eager to get involved, put the weaving skills that she had been observing but not practicing her entire life to use and become a paid member of the co-op. She asked to learn how to read my pattern charts and after starting to weave one of the patterns set about copying charts from my book.

Some weeks later, she showed up at the co-op with her first woven band in naturally dyed handspun yarn using the pattern that I had taught her via the chart.

You can see that it was accepted and labeled by the co-op ready for sale. I so wish that I had bought it!

Next came her first faja

That has been followed by her first aguayo, completed with the help of her mother-in-law. This piece was not destined for the co-op but is most likely for her own use. These ladies much prefer the finer synthetic threads with their bright colors when they weave for themselves.

Dorinda tells me that Maribel is now Secretary of the Association of Artisans in her community of Huancarani. Such good news! I can’t wait to see what she weaves next.

March 31st marks the end of another quarter of business on the Taproot Video website where I sell my books and video class. Thank you so much to all of you who continue to support me by buying my books and telling weaving friends about them. I have been enjoying meeting new pick-up weavers and re-uniting with past students in my Zoom workshops and love running into some of you here and there in the social media forums.

Take care everyone and stay safe, please.


  1. What a nice story about the hummingbird! But so sad to hear you about vaccination in your far away country. I had my first last week and hope with more peaple vaccinated fot better times. I myself did a lot of spinning wool this winter from wool of a “swifter sheep” and now and then I try to weave with it. But mostly it is destined for knitting. I have all your books and are so happy with all the patterns and explaining. But I also love weaving Scandinavian bands. Thank you for sharing your stories!

    • Hi Marianne. Than you so much for taking the time to leave a comment for me. It’s nice to hear from you again. One of these days I would also like to knit with my handspun but right now I will use the small amounts that produce for my weaving. I find it hard to take up the spindle when I would rather be weaving but I did spin through a 2-hour Zoom call today…baby steps!

  2. Hi Laverne, lovely stuff as always! Which of your books has the ladies weaving pattern? I would love to do that pattern for a weaving tote bag….thank you. Love, Luise

  3. I can see the head-on hummingbird, but not the two in profile! How funny, that everyone sees the same motif in different ways. And how lovely to read this short summary of your entire weaving journey. Stay well!

    • Keep seeing the hummingbird head on. I am training myself to see it that way again too. I hope you stay well too.

  4. Very nice! I just had to comment on the beautiful humming bird pattern. If you’ve aver been “flashed” by a humming bird, as I call it, it is what you see just as the sun blasts off its iridescent feathers under its chin and reflects the brilliance if a hugh awsome splender. Cherish it well.

    • Thank you. Wow, I have never experienced what you describe. It sounds amazing and certainly something to cherish.

  5. I marvel at your life adventure of learning to backstrap-weave in Bolivia and Peru…Twenty five years of creative, mindful work and a world wide following who will seek you out on zoom if need be! I hadn’t thought about your options for vaccination in Bolivia. Might it be possible to petition the Australian embassy if you are still an Australian citizen ? I just had my second dose and wish I could spirit you to Vermont where it is as easy as making an appointment at the local pharmacy….and your age group is now making appointments! I am glad you are at peace with your enforced solitude. Your spinning will only get smoother and faster with all the time you have to dedicate to it. I look forward to seeing your remade bag with that lovely grey panel of weaving and especially the reversible three-color strap you plan to weave. Have you taught 3 color Andean Pebble Weave in any of your books yet or elsewhere here on your blog? Here’s to swoons of hummingbirds, lovingly dismantling the chaos of the world bit by bit…. That’s an image to hold onto!

    • Thanks for your lovely comment, Lausanne. I haven’t taught the three-color reversible Andean Pebble Weave in my books. I am self-taught in the version in which all three colors appear at the same time on both faces and the way that I do it is very fiddly. I am hoping that one day I will meet an Andean weaver who will laugh at the way I do it and show me how it can be achieved using half the steps that I have come up with!

  6. Wonderful stories you tell about your experiences learning to weave and I love the three panels with the hummingbirds unraveling the chaos. When I was in Brazil, I learned they call hummingbirds bejafleur, Portuguese for kiss the flower, which I thought was lovely. I just can’t imagine pick up with 140/2 silk. Wow. Thanks Laverne.

    • Thank you, Judy. I love that Portuguese word for the hummingbird. I have since seen the Quechua word for it: q’ente.

  7. Hola Laverne!
    Me encantan tus posts y las historias que narras.
    Me gustaría saber dónde puedo conseguir hilo de seda porque todo lo que he hecho hasta ahora es con algodón.

    • Hola Irma. Yo compro seda de una empressa en EEUU Red Fish Dye Works. Aca en Bolivia no hay.

  8. I saw the hummingbird coming straight at me. It was only after you mentioned seeing two birds in profile that I can now see that, too.

    • I prefer the one coming straight at me but I have since read that a depiction of two hummingbirds with beaks attached as if they are “kissing” is a symbol of reciprocity, nurturing and rebirth.

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