Posted by: lavernewaddington | July 23, 2021

Backstrap Weaving – The Road to Double Weave

Weavers often classify themselves as being either Color and Texture people or Structure people. I know that I fit very well into the latter category. There might also be categories for those who are more motivated by Product or by Process. Again, I am all about the latter. The other thing that I love is imagery. I love to weave pictures.

I am in awe of the iridescent effects that floor loom weavers are achieving these days. The cloth is astoundingly beautiful. However, I don’t have any desire to create that kind of cloth myself even though I would be happy to wear it! These days, more and more, I find myself turning to pictures. And lately, it has become more about a desire to tell a story.

Standing outside my seasonal rented home in Vald’Isere. You can just make out the date in stone above the other door…1627.

When I was in my early twenties, my life revolved around mountains and skiing while I wandered back and forth between Thredbo in Australia and Val d’Isere in France. I worked three jobs in the Australian ski resort so that I could just ski without a care for the entire French season. I did eleven seasons back to back. One of the three jobs was making headbands and hats on a knitting machine and selling them in the ski shop that I worked in and eventually managed. I had a punch-card machine and wove pictures, hundreds of them! The fun part was coming up with patterns and designing the pictures.

On a visit to Australia many years ago, I was surprised to find one remaining item from those knitting machine days among the bits and pieces that were in storage. Anyone who knows me will know that I am not about color and so I suspect that the strange combination in this hat (there’s baby pink!) is the result of my just throwing together a bunch of odds and ends of left over yarn. I was happy to see that even back then I was attracted to the kinds of bird figures that are found in textiles of South and Central America.

Hummingbirds from the Within These Walls series.

Andean Pebble Weave is really nice for designing pictures and I have learned to work within its limitations figuring out how to tie down floats so that I can bend the rules a little and create shapes that would normally not be possible.

That allowed me to have a lot of fun with my pandemic story project ”Within These Walls” but there were really only a few times when I decided to bend rules.

But even without bending any rules, there are so many possibilities and I have filled two books with a wide variety of Andean Pebble Weave patterns. They include many original contributions from my students and friends who were thinking right outside the Andean box to come up with figures and patterns that had meaning in their every day lives and surroundings. In doing so, they encouraged me to do the same.

My instructional book includes 24 patterns. The follow-up pattern books contain over 200 more.

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am once again weaving hummingbirds in a new piece. I guess that I am just telling a story of joyous freedom as they hover and turn and flit from flower to flower. It’s a nice change from all the walls I was erecting in my last project! And along the way, thanks to my online weaving friends who send me links and articles, I learn more about the role hummingbirds play in the lore and legends of indigenous groups here in South America.

One of my most recent discoveries was that the Yaghan people who live in the southern part of Chile where I used to live in the 1990s, tell the tale of a hummingbird called omora, which means “little spirit”. It battles and defeats a wily fox that has fenced off water during a drought allowing the Yaghan people to once again access water. I also read that the Mapuche people of central Chile and Argentina associate the hummingbird with life-giving water.

Another online weaving friend wrote and told me about having read an interpretation of a figure that is made up of two opposing hummingbirds in textiles of the community of Karhui in the Peruvian Andes. The two birds appear with their beaks touching. The use of these figures in this community demonstrates that the weaver has feelings of affection or love towards the textile’s recipient. And right on the tail of having received that information, my online weaving friend, Bonnie, sent me this extraordinary picture of two such hummingbirds that was taken by her photographer son, Darik Datta. I am showing it here with his kind permission….

I decided to use warp-faced double weave to design my little hummingbird figures in my latest work as this structure gives me the flexibility to design birds in all kinds of positions and stages of flight. I am weaving for the pure joy of it and for the fun of designing.

I learned to weave warp-faced double weave with two sisters in Potosí, Bolivia back in 1997 when I was still living in Chile. Since then, I have observed several other Bolivian and Peruvian weavers using this structure using a variety of set-ups. My favorite and simplest way will always be the way I was taught by Juliana and Hilda in 1997 although I choose the backstrap loom over the horizontal ground loom that they use.

My first lesson was on a narrow band. This was my first time using a horizontal ground loom set-up and I hadn’t quite figured out how to position myself to comfortably weave the narrow band. I soon learned that unless you were raised weaving on these looms and therefore developed the right amount of “bendability”, there is no comfortable way! At least back then I was able to tolerate being in bent over positions for hours but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as comfortable.

I learned to select colors using the tip of a bone tool called wichuña and manipulate the two basic sheds to form the lower layer of the double weave.

Dark and light threads are wound together as pairs when the warp is being created. By simply selecting one of the two dark and light threads in each warp pair, I was able to weave pictures of little birds in lovely solid colors…light figures on a dark background. If I had just left it at that and not taken any more steps, the colors that I discarded from each pair would have floated untidily on the back of the band as in this example on the left of the front and back of a band…

The beauty of warp-faced double weave is that all those unruly discarded threads can be woven into a second layer below the first with just a few clever manipulations of the two basic sheds. The upper and lower faces then look like two smooth-faced bands with no floats at all…example on the right.

From the simple band, I advanced to a much wider piece under Juliana and Hilda’s guidance. Juliana would keep scoffing and saying that I really needed to learn a warp-float technique and not this double weave which she considered child’s play. I am pretty sure that this was mostly said to tease Hilda who had not learned, or at least not fully mastered, the warp-float technique that Juliana had been taught to weave as a child! It is often the case where one sister had the opportunity to learn a technique from an elder that the other sister did not.

You can see the difference between warp-float patterning on the right and the smooth warp-faced double weave in these two examples of belts woven by the Mapuche people of central Chile and Argentina.

When weaving the wider piece, I was finally able to settle into a position doubled over on my knees. Unfolding myself at midday was a slow and painful task! My hands took some time to get used to gripping and beating hard with the bone tool. There were ruptured blisters to deal with.

You can see the simplicity of the set-up in this wider warp. It’s just two basic sheds of doubled threads, one of which is controlled by the metal rod that holds the blue string heddles. The other layer of threads lies on top of the long broom-handle stick that sits beyond the heddles. This simple set-up is what made it possible for me to write a book showing how weavers can also enjoy using this simple two-shed set-up on a standard inkle loom.

If you already know how to use an inkle loom and enjoy manipulating the threads by hand to create patterns, I know that you will enjoy my book….Warp-faced Double Weave on Inkle Looms. I have tried to cater to several different learning styles by providing dozens of step-by-step pictures for those who like to see the process frozen in small steps. There are detailed descriptions of each step for those who like to use text to create their own visuals in their mind’s eye. And there are video clips for those who like to hear the steps described while watching them in action.

With Hilda and Juliana I got to weave a nice variety of the bird figures that are so typical of this region of Bolivia. When I was in Otavalo in Ecuador back in 2005, it was interesting to see that many of the younger women were opting to wear the typical belt of Potosí rather than the traditional belt that they would normally weave themselves. Goods are brought from Peru and Bolivia to be sold at the famous market of Otavalo and the Bolivian belts were one such item to end up in the stalls. It seemed to be a way for the young ladies to show that they were well-off enough to be able to afford to buy an exotic foreign item rather than weave their own belt. But that was many years ago. I wonder if these belts have since gone out of fashion and been replaced by something else.

Typical bird figures of Potosi, many of which I wove into my cloth.

Hilda was always checking on how hard I was beating the cloth. The quality of the textile in the eyes of these weavers has a lot to do with how firm it is.. They are looking for durable hard-wearing cloth that is wind proof and highly water resistant. This comes from a combination of the tightness of the twist in the warp threads and the heaviness of the beat. My desire to please Hilda is what led to my gripping the bone tool so hard and tearing up my hands. It was worth it because the finished cloth was admired by other highland weavers that I met in my travels. This was the only time that I was ever praised for my cloth because since then I haven’t generally aimed at creating the kind of hard-wearing textile that my weaving teachers favor.

Over the years I have found that the warp-faced double weave structure does not necessarily need to be reserved for stiff and durable cloth. I have made lovely flowing and flexible tapes with it as well as sturdier pieces that work beautifully as belts. I have designed both angular and curved shapes, animal figures, lettering and geometric patterns.

Which brings me to my current hummingbird piece. I filled all the space on my paisley sampling warp with frolicking hummingbirds and my experiments with foliage. I then made the necessary adjustments to my charts as I wasn’t entirely happy with some of the figures. However, I do I find that over time I become less and less critical. And so I am going to listen to others who tell me to stop calling this a sample band and see what I can do with it. Because it is so difficult to choose one face over the other, I hope to be able to weave several strips and place them side by side alternating dark and light faces to create some kind of useful “product”.

The combination of my arrangement of paisley shapes and the hummingbirds was purely accidental but I think that it somehow works. It adds just the right touch of magic.

I know that I have mentioned before that possibly the only disadvantage that I can think of when using this structure is the fact that the two layers of cloth do not connect in the areas of solid color between the pick-up patterns. This can create a sort of ballooning effect if the solid-color area is vey large. You you might just be able to make out a little of that on the light side of the fabric.

It’s one reason you find that a lot of the Bolivian pieces are very busy with pattern. Little squiggles and spots are often placed between and around the main figures which ensure that the layers connect as frequently as possible to create more stable cloth. I think I have come up with a clever way to create more frequent connection in my hummingbird piece without making the whole thing look too busy. I invented a fantasy plant that is losing its parachuting seeds. The seeds are floating around in some of the open spaces.

And so, it was time to think about the next strip of hummingbirds. I could use all that I had learned from this piece in the planning of the next. Time to piece together the next pattern chart. You know how I love that part!

Once I had drawn out enough pattern to keep me busy for a while, it was time to wind the warp and make all the heddles. As you can see I use a four-shed set-up when I am using threads as fine as this 60/2 silk. I only bother with the extra time and effort to set up this way if the threads are fine like these or if there are lots of them. This warp satisfies both criteria…there are 720 heddles there! The process wasn’t as straightforward as I would have liked. When I first sat down to make heddles, I realized that I had mixed up a ball of 140/2 silk with the 60/2s when I was warping and hadn’t noticed because I was winding two colors at once. The difference in weight of one of the strands just wasn’t apparent when I was holding two threads in my hand. Back to the warping board! Unwinding doubled strands of fine thread is not fun.

The different colors in the heddle string show that I am scraping the bottom of my supply of the fine thread that I like to use for these heddles. It makes for a colorful warp.

And this is where I am at so far in the weaving. No paisley this time. I have run out of charted figures and now need to take a break from the loom to continue creating my patterns. There is still plenty of band to be filled.

I hope that this post might motivate you to try warp-faced double weave. My book includes a tutorial on designing using a lovely leaf pattern as an example and of course there are plenty of charted patterns to keep you busy before you get to the designing stage. The book is available as a PDF or as a spiral-bound book at Taproot Video.

I just gave myself my fourth DIY pandemic haircut. I went pretty short this time and I am sure that I will appreciate this length this weekend as our Santa Cruz “winter” promises to bring us temperatures in the high 80s. Until next time…..


Responses

  1. the hummingbird piece is jawdroppingly beautiful! And I can’t imagine how long it took to do the pickup… a labour of love for sure, and it shows!

    • Thank you! Yes, it’s a slow process but I love seeing how each new figure turns out. It’s hard to put down!

  2. I so enjoy your updates. Often I am wandering along toward some new view of doing things, and I have been thinking a lot about various double weave possibilities based on work from did long ago. You have given me a lot of energy to get on with it, and a lot to think about too. Thank you so much for sharing pictures and thoughts.

    • Thank you, Karen. I’d love to know where it takes you.

  3. Your work is so inspiring, Laverne! I do so enjoy reading what you’ve been up to. 🙂 Best wishes to you.

  4. Spectacular as always. I love the flower designs in with the humming birds. I did one band learning warp faced double weave from your book and really enjoyed the freedom of design with that technique. Thanks for sharing your work and processes.

    • Thank you so much, Judy. I hope you will return to double weave some time.

  5. such beautiful work, I am in AW. I am a beginner on an inkle and when I conquer it I want to move to backstrap. When I’ve got that figured out I would love to weave surfers and palm trees on bands. I live in the Caribbean.

    • That sounds like a get idea. While weaving patterns from a book is nice, it’s so much more fun to be able to represent your surroundings and things that are personally meaningful to you in patterns you create yourself. Happy weaving.

  6. So wonderful to read fine the details of Your work .

  7. Admirable su trabajo, gracias por compartirlo, la sigo desde que tuve oportunidad de conocerla personalmente y compartir en un Encuentro Textil en Cuzco el año 2012.
    Saludos cordiales desde el Sur de Chile.

    • Gracias Maria Elizabeth. Ah, ese evento en Cuzco. Qué momento tan especial fue!

  8. I love your haircut and color! Thank you for sharing some of your life’s adventures. Enjoy the weaving the beautiful hummingbirds.


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