Posted by: lavernewaddington | June 4, 2021

Backstrap Weaving – Between Science and Magic

Between Science and Magic….I have copied the title of this week’s blog post from the title of an article by Maria Popova that my friend Susan sent me on a new publication about the amazing and magical hummingbird…a subject which has been dear to my heart as I weave my way through my series of panels called Within These Walls. The article is accompanied by beautiful pieces of artwork such as this one created by John Gould in 1861 and states that…

There is, indeed, something almost magical to the creaturely reality of the hummingbird — something not supernatural but supranatural, hovering above the ordinary limits of what biology and physics conspire to render possible.

The magically larger-than-life hummingbirds that I created for my first three panels played a fantasy role as messengers, friends, guardians and helpers as I wove my way through pandemic maze and, while poking around online, I found that it is not unusual to assign magical qualities to these little creatures.

I found an article which described the role of a single hummingbird in Andean textiles as being a messenger between the three levels of Andean existence…..the underworld, the heavens, and all that lies between. Hummingbirds are often depicted in pairs in highland textiles with their beaks connected and are said in this case to represent nurturing and new life.

Which makes me even happier when I think back to 1996 and the fact that the very first motif I was shown by my backstrap weaving teachers was a hummingbird….although I had not recognized it as such at the time. It also amazes me that I first came to see it as a individual figure flying straight towards me in its role as messenger and that only years later I was able to also recognize it as two mirror-image figures with beaks connected. I find it magical that this one figure can, at least to my eyes, be seen in both these ways.

In 1997, I returned to Peru where I learned to make sling braids with a gentleman in Yanque in the Colca Canyon. He later introduced me to a weaver friend of his in Cabanaconde. She taught this bird figure to me along with others in a supplementary-warp structure. This is the actual band that I wove with her. I wonder if this too is meant to be a hummingbird.

Here’s another excerpt from Maria Popova’s article…

Essential as pollinators and essential as muses to poets, hummingbirds animate every indigenous spiritual mythology of their native habitats and are sold as wearable trinkets on Etsy, to be worn as symbols — of joy, of levity, of magic — by modern secular humans across every imaginable habitat on our improbable planet.

In the first panel in my Within These Walls series the magical hummers are valiantly fighting their way through the chaos to bring me (caught in a window between worlds….do I try to get back to Australia or stay here in Bolivia?) messages of comfort and solidarity as well as practical items….yarn and sticks for my loom.

In the second, they help me build the walls of my safe space and create a new normal within, planting saplings as a way of bringing pieces of the natural world inside. They even warp my loom for me.

In the third, while I remain safe within the walls, they stand as guardians hard at work trying to maintain some kind of a connection between the four disjointed pieces.

Which brings me to the fourth and final panel in the series which the drawing at bottom right in the image represents.

This one is my vision of a post-pandemic world and one in which the hummingbirds’ work is done. I figured that they should shrink back to what could be called a “scientifically acceptable” size in this final panel.

I got out my sampling band to see if I could create a tiny, yet still recognizable, hummingbird figure. The tiniest that I could create was still the length of the little weaver figure’s face and that was okay because I read that the largest species of hummingbird, the Patagona gigas, grows to eight inches (in some reports 9.1″) in length and is native to western South America. Perfect!

In the fourth panel all the pieces are connected into one smooth shape. This shape, which I create using ikat techniques, is filled with a tree around which three tranquil backstrap weavers sit at their looms.

In my last post, I showed you the root system of the tree. It is unusual for me to weave a newly-created pattern without first having sampled it. I paid the price by having to un-weave and make several adjustments to those roots. I didn’t sample the foliage either but got luckier this time and only unwove to fix mistakes.

A big part of the challenge is fitting all the pattern into the ikat-created shape, not allowing any parts to overflow and disappear into the solid black areas. I wanted the shape of the foliage and the roots to still give the impression of the stair-stepped figures that I used in the other three panels without having them look like hard-edged confining walls.

I enjoyed designing a baby and placing it on the back of one of the backstrap weavers. The hummingbirds are yet to be seen in this image. They are flying high being normal hummingbirds doing hummingbird stuff.

I love how the sheen of the unwoven warp has been captured in this picture. I am again using doubled 140/2 silk for this one. Three threads broke this time…one mysteriously and the other two through my own carelessness. I am impressed by the way this fine silk stands up to this warp-faced structure on my backstrap loom.

Here’s the finished tree. You can see the hummingbirds in this one. I had been wondering just how high hummingbirds fly off the ground in their search for nourishment and read that they have been known to fly as high as the balcony of a 14th-floor apartment to sip at a feeder.

Pale-bellied Hermit Hummingbird. John Gould 1861.

This fourth panel is still on the loom as I have yet to weave the horizontal band of pattern across the top. Of course this leaves me wondering what comes next. First of all, I will get out the good camera and see what I can do to get better photos of these pieces. So far, I have been using my tiny iPod. My good camera has never much liked red so we’ll see how that goes.

My internet wanderings in search of information on hummingbirds have taken me to unexpected places. In one such place I found inspiration for a possible future project in three-color Andean Pebble Weave. If that materializes, I’ll tell you more. One of my online weaving contacts suggested I weave a wrist cuff with my hummingbird figures and the new backstrap weaver. That might happen too. Perhaps the hummingbird is becoming another signature pattern for me. It might be fun to combine my favorite leaf pattern (another I consider a signature pattern) and the hummingbird in one piece.

Thank you for following the progress of this project. I hope that you have enjoyed the developing story. I’ve been working on it for several months now and it is not something I would have considered taking on if I had still been traveling three times a year.

Until next time, I’ll leave you with this beautiful image by Australian-born photographer and filmmaker, Christian Spencer. You can see a whole ballet of his hummingbird photos if you chase him up online.


  1. Wow!!!

  2. This extraordinary piece has taken you and us on not only on a textile journey, but a spiritual one as well. You have reached far beyond your four walls, and touched us like the hummingbird, quietly and gently. Thank you, Laverne. ❤️

  3. Bravo!!!!!
    Laverne, I have been following your incredible journey of hope! Thank you for sharing!

    • You are very welcome. Thank you for taking a moment to leave me a comment.

  4. Laverne- your writing, thoughts and weaving of colibrí brought tears to my eyes. Do you know the Mayan legend of the hummingbird. I will try to find it for you.💜 Kate

    • Thanks for sharing the Mayan legend with me. In the meantime, I have also found the Guarani legend. And, I am slapping my forehead because I have only just realized that the new-ish 10 Boliviano bill here in Bolivia has one of the giant hummingbirds on it. How have I not noticed that?!

  5. These are fabulous! The detail is almost incredible. Thank you for bringing so much good out of a difficult season.

  6. Your posts are always so beautiful, but this one is enchanting as well. Love love love it!!!!

    • Thank you, Deanna. The more I look, the more amazing hummingbird things I find.

  7. Beautiful work, beautiful message, beautiful tree! I hope that a group of your weaving friends here will soon be outside together, tied to a tree and weaving just like your vision (probably with narrower warps!)

    • Thanks, Tracy. Say hi to our backstrapper friends for me

  8. I loved reading this bog and seeing the images. Thank you!!

    • Hi Annette. I am glad that you enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

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