Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 15, 2021

Backstrap Weaving – Making the Most of It

Back when I was doing my training to be a teacher of English as a foreign language, I remember being told over and over to make sure that any original materials that we created were designed to be multi-functional. Why go to all the time and trouble to create something that would be used once in only one context?

I loved creating my own materials for English-teaching. Back then when I didn’t have much time for weaving, it seems that I poured all my creative juices into doing that. It was multi-functional in that I got to be creative while at the same time providing some welcome fun time for my students away from the text books. And I got better and better with using the same material in different ways with a variety of groups in a variety of contexts at different levels in their learning. And, as a bonus, it gave me a reason to buy stationery. I discovered that I have a thing for stationery.

Give me a chance to draw and paste and sticky-tape and color and I am happy as a baby.

When it comes to weaving, I have folders and closet shelves piled high with charts that I have created for projects. They got used once and then filed away, like the mega chart that I created for my Shipibo-inspired project that you can see above. Sometimes I wonder why I keep them. But then you know how that goes….about a week after you throw something away, you find that you need it, right?

My cat always enjoyed my get-down-on-the-floor-to-chart time.

So, with all that in mind, I am pleased that I have been taking the hummingbird charts, over which I have long labored, and using them in a variety of ways…making the most of all that time and effort. And, I am not done yet. I have a theme in my head for a future project…something that I wish to express, and all this sampling is hopefully leading me there. It’s all just a vague idea at the moment and I am still waiting for the light bulb to come on. In the meantime, I’ll just keep weaving hummingbirds.

I wanted to see what my hummingbird motifs looked like in a large format. I had completed my piece in 60/2 silk. In that fine thread, the stepped nature of the lines that form the various diagonals and curves is not all that noticeable. But what about in something much heavier? Would those lines then become clumsy and ugly? I combed through my stash and found that the only thing I had that would work in terms of having two high contrast colors was 8/2 Tencel and so I created a short warp for sampling. Some particularly high-twist crochet cotton made pretty heddles for warp-faced double weave.

What a dream it has been to weave with this heavier thread! Firstly, the Tencel is gorgeous to handle. It plays well with the crochet cotton heddles and is so easy to see when doing pick-up compared to to the 60/2 silk…no surprises there. I do think it is a shame to use Tencel, which is so much appreciated for its draping qualities, in a dense structure like warp-faced double weave but it was the only option in my available stash for this experiment. I promise that I won’t do it again!

Because the theme that I have in my head concerns embellishment and also the lack thereof, I decided to embellish my king-sized hummingbird to the max. I really enjoyed planning those “hippy bandanna” curls and swirls and I think they add to the playfulness, the love of life and joy of flight that hummingbirds always suggest to me. The hummingbird will be my new signature pattern.

I felt that the curve-like lines and stepped diagonals looked fine. I certainly did not feel distracted by the fact that the steps in these lines are more obvious than they are in finer thread. In fact, I would have to say that I was pretty thrilled with the whole thing.

So, what was next? I could see that 8/2 in warp-faced double weave in something of this width (3″) would simply not be useful for much…too wide for a sturdy belt or bag strap and much too thick and heavy for anything else. So I turned once again to my stash for something a little finer. I happen have, courtesy of my friend Deanna, a good supply of natural-colored 30/2 silk along with a small quantity of it that I had dyed in a color called “rye” for an ikat project I wove last year. The problem was that I did not have any other color that would allow me to weave pick-up patterns in double weave. Yes, I could dye some but…sigh…I wasn’t in the mood!

Solution….use supplementary weft to create the patterns. Bonus: for the supplementary weft structure, I can use the same chart as I do for double weave. I like to use several strands of a finer thread for the supplementary weft which gave me a nice selection from which to choose in my stash of 60/2 silk. I went with rye warp and teal supplementary weft.

The pattern color that you see in the double weave version on the right comes from warp threads that do not float as opposed to the silk piece in which the pattern is formed by floating weft threads. I love the added dimension that the supplemental weft threads give to the cloth. Bonus: I only made one set of heddles for this structure as opposed to four for the double weave piece. The double weave bonus: I can create horizontal lines of any length I please which I can’t do in the supplemental weft structure as the weft floats need to be limited to a certain practical length. That meant that some parts of my original charts needed to be modified. Long horizontal lines for wings needed to be transformed into sweeping curves. It took some time but wasn’t difficult to do and I am really pleased with the way they turned out.

While I wait for that light bulb to come on which will enable me to figure out how exactly to compose the themed piece that I have in mind, I will weave these embellished hummingbirds into something useful. I think I will use my embellished hummers with some indigo-dyed cotton from Guatemala that I have and use it to make journal covers as I have in the past. That will involve an outing to the stationery store to find a nice sized journal. I want something quite big so that I can squeeze in a lot of hummingbirds. I am hoping to get something that has paper that is nice for sketching.

The indigo and champagne colored Guatemalan thread along with the initial width sample that I wove for the first journal.

I used this 30/2 cotton in the past for mini-journal covers which I have given away as gifts. I wove my friends’ initials into the spines of the books…no re-gifting allowed!

For these, I used embroidery floss for the supplementary weft but I can tell you that removing strands from the slightly twisted six strands of floss is a royal pain if you are wanting to use very long lengths. I like to split all six strands and then lay them back together again so that all twist is removed. That way they lie flat and ribbon-like on the cloth just the way I like it. Yes, it’s a pain and so I might use silk instead. Combining threads to create multi-stranded weft is so much easier than pulling stands apart.

In the meantime, Zoom time is still spinning-and-plying time and progress is ever so slow. It gives me lots of time to think about how I would like to over-dye some of these colors and what I would like to weave with them. The planning is all the more important when using one’s own handspun and I already blew it by over-dyeing a really nice green with black the last time I used this handspun to weave some cuffs.

I also have another idea for an ikat project developing in which I combine it with three-color reversible pebble weave. I am sure that it will happen long before this handspun is ready for use.

And so I keep myself busy and out of trouble and keep my spirits lifted. Book sales at Taproot Video are keeping me afloat and I am hoping that the cooler temperatures in the northern hemisphere mean more cozy time at home weaving for those who live up there and maybe time to try some of the patterning techniques that I teach in my books. As always, thank you all for your support!


  1. The swirls on the hummingbirds are a wonderful addition! Seems to give them more of a sense of motion. And it’s great to see the structure of the pattern close up. I’m working on my own double weave patterns and your examples are helping me figure out how it works. I just realized that you can use pebble weave patterns for double weave and got all excited.

    Meanwhile, I’m slowly but surely figuring out backstrap weaving! My first backstrap band, compared to one from the inkle loom-

    Messy, but I’m getting the motions down. Your instructions have been invaluable!

    • Thanks, Lisa. Your bands look great! You seem to be getting on very well with your backstrap loom. I am not sure what you mean about using pebble weave patterns for double weave. If you are talking about the kind of warp-faced double weave that I do, you would have to chart the motif again using a different kind of grid because pebble weave uses warp floats and the double weave that I do doesn’t but you could produce motifs that look similar.

      • Thank you! Yes, that’s what I meant 😀 I recharted some pebble weaves without the pebbles and it fit into the diamond chart perfectly. I’m planning on doing your fish patterns in double weave after I convert them as a strap for a bag.

      • I would love to see the fish in double weave. I transposed thoseto pebble weave from tablet weaving patterns. It will be fun to see them taking on yet another life. That’s really making the most of a motif!

  2. Planning and sampling really is a great inspiration. You do that so well!

  3. Your “stash” of charts are an invaluable archive that should be preserved for future weavers, and even for anthropologists. Perhaps you can start working with a museum or university now to document and preserve your charts.

    • Thank you. It’s very kind of you to say so but it’s hard for me to see any value, beyond my own personal use in my lifetime, in the charts of my own original designs. Maybe one day I’ll photograph them all and preserve them that way.

  4. Your hummingbird designs are all so happy, and you have lots of creative ideas for future embellishments!
    I have recently returned to Oaxaca and am getting started again with backstrap weaving – I have forgotten so much during the last 1 1/2 years away from here, but fortunately it comes back quickly! I am using your tutorials to do samples of the many techniques you teach, and I also have a half done pebble project that has been awaiting me!

    • Hi Marilyn. That’s good news that you have been able to make it back to Oaxaca this year. It must be all the more meaningful after having missed last season. I am glad that you felt confident enough to travel. I am not there yet! Enjoy your weaving and send me pictures if you like once you are up and running again.

  5. Different in the larger threads, but just as beautiful and very charming.

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