Posted by: lavernewaddington | November 29, 2021

Backstrap Weaving – Between Science and Magic Part 2

“Between Science and Magic”…this is the second time that I am using this title for a post. I saw it being used as the title of a review of a new book about hummingbirds and loved it. It is such a fitting description of these amazing little creatures. You sit and watch as they magically hover by a flower in a buzz and blur of wings. Then you watch some brilliant BBC slow motion footage that reveals the science behind their ability to do so. And yet the science doesn’t in any way diminish the feeling I get that I am witnessing magic.

As I sat sketching, crunching numbers and planning the next book cover that I wanted to weave, it dawned on me that the phrase is also a fitting one for how I feel about weaving. I decided that it would be fun to include the phrase on the cover of a book that I will call A Weaver’s Journal.

My planning notes look kind of scientific with all those numbers, diagrams and other scribblings. I don’t trust gut feeling or instinct when it comes to planning a project. I can’t eyeball width by winding warp threads and just stopping when it looks right. It all has to be figured out beforehand.

Colors don’t just magically come together in my head either. I don’t have a natural talent for that and envy it in others. I look at what I have in my stash and then go online for help hoping that I can somehow put together something similar.

I started with teal and then looked online for ideas.

I only have natural white and a color called “rye” in 30/2 silk and so needed to dye some of the white to teal. I have a jar of teal dye which didn’t work for me the last time I used it. The yarn simply refused to take up the blue component of the dye and ended up a very odd green. I am horrifyingly unscientific about dyeing. I don’t weigh the yarn. I make my best guess as to the amount of dye to use. I don’t measure the temperature of the water. If I get the intended color, it’s pure magic. And I don’t take notes! I mixed two blues that I have, one that is green-ish and another that is more like a standard dark blue and hoped for the best.

The balls of teal are the ones I dyed. They’re 30/2 silk. I wanted to get a color that was close to the tube of 60/2 teal. The fact that I did indeed get something close is magic to me! I would weave the hummingbirds using multiple strands of the 60/2 teal on 30/2 rye just like in the sample band pictured above. They would be surrounded by 30/2 teal, which would have other supplementary-weft patterns in gold. I didn’t manage to work the pale blue into the plan.

Warping…I am very methodical. Nothing is left to chance, wizardry or magic!

The strings at the top are to create sections and make counting easier when laying in the pattern.

I don’t wing patterns. The hummingbirds had already been designed, tested and adjusted. I had yet to design the words. I was made aware of just how clumsy I had become with cursive writing! I think that in Australia I was taught a Victorian style of cursive. The lower-case ‘r’ we were taught is not as attractive as those I see in other styles, and designing it so that it connected smoothly and, more importantly, without taking up too much space, was beyond me. So, you will see that my ‘r’s are socially distanced from one of their neighboring letters.

At this point, I was regretting the gold stripes. I dealt with those later. My phone’s camera sees the teal as more turquoise-y.
I am done with the ‘r’s at this stage. Good. My ipod camera is more teal-friendly.
Almost there!

I am using DMC #12 2-ply mercerized cotton for the heddles on this 30/2 silk warp. They play very nicely with the silk.

It’s a short warp and I wanted to see what my heddles looked like at the end. People often ask me if I re-use my heddle string. I don’t. But I just might pick the fluff off these while listening to a good podcast or two one of these days. The fluff forms a bracelet around the heddle thread and so it’s not just a matter of giving the heddles a good shake or beating. Each little bracelet ring needs to be broken.

The amount of fluff that collects depends on the kind of materials being used in warp and heddle string as well as on how you are handling the heddles as you use them to raise threads. It’s perfectly normal for small amounts of fluff to accumulate as the heddles naturally inch their way along the warp as the weaving advances. I am never aware of shifting them myself. They just seem to magically move along. When I was at the end of this warp and with far less space in which to work, I had to slide the heddles back out of the way so that I could insert a sword and my pick-up stick. Then I had to slide them forward again in order to continue operating the loom. I suspect that most of this fluff accumulated due to all that sliding back and forth at the very end.

I hadn’t wet finished the cloth for the first hummingbird book cover. I felt that the fine, non-mercerized, grabby, tightly-woven cotton that I used for that one really didn’t need that kind of finishing for its role as a sturdy book cover.

30/2 non-mercerized cotton that I brought back from Guatemala in 2008.

I had to face the fact that the silk piece did, and that wet-finishing was going to alter the carefully planned dimensions of the cloth…carefully planned to perfectly fit my book. Silk weft and silk warp did not give me the tight secure warp-faced weave that the grabby cotton had. Wet-finishing also made the cloth floppy and drape-y, lovely characteristics for a wearable piece, not so much for a book cover. It was very fiddly applying the floppy cloth to the book….but I got there.

The finished book and the good ol’ contact cement that makes it all possible.

You may have noticed that the gold stripes are gone. I wove a vey narrow length of tape in the 60/2 teal silk and used it to compensate for the lost width from the wet-finishing process as well as cover the gold stripes that had been annoying me. The tapes also covered some of the more irregular turns of supplementary weft…a bonus! I love the way it turned out.

The two finished hummingbird books.

There might be one more book coming if I can scrape together yarn from my stash that fits the idea that is developing.

In the meantime, I have had a little distraction, although it is still hummingbird-related. A Facebook page about archaeology recently shared some pictures from the textile collection of the museum of the University of Princeton. The description reads: Cross-Loop Stitched Border Fragment Featuring 54 Hummingbirds, 100 B.C -A.D. 200. Camelid Fiber and Cotton. Peru, South Coast.

This is magic….the fact that this shows up in my news feed on Facebook at a time when I am into all things hummingbird-ish. And how astoundingly gorgeous is this piece of work! I love that we have this evidence that people were just as in love with the magical hummingbird two thousand years ago as we are today and felt the desire to depict them in their art. The depth of color in this two-thousand-year old piece is incredible.

I know this technique as cross-knit looping and was taught it as a decorative and protective edging by my weaving teachers in Bolivia. I have also seen it referred to as needle knitting, the needle in this case being a sewing needle that carries the thread though loops rather than a knitting one. I have not come across anyone here in my travels who is using this technique to create these three-dimensional figures although I know that the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco (CTTC), Peru is currently working on recovering the technique and creating reproductions. Back in 2012 when I was in the U.K, Sue Prior showed me a piece of three-dimensional needle knitting that she had created as part of the work of the Peruvian Textiles Study Group in her Guild. It was a wonderful little sample. My email contact for Sue is out-of-date and I wonder if she still reads my blog. Contact me, please, Sue!

I thought I would try a little project of my own in chunky cotton to see if I could get a result that looked something like those three little tail feathers.

This is a first attempt and there is plenty that I will do differently if a second attempt ever happens. This just might be a good exercise to keep me busy while I ponder my next woven project.

I’ll finish by showing you the work of Fenny in the Netherlands. She is doing a spectacular job of weaving a pattern that was designed by my online weaving friend Eladio Salas in Mexico. That was many years ago after I had published my very first book. Eladio took very quickly to designing and weaving wide and complex patterns on his backstrap loom. He allowed me to use a portion of his amazing original design in my pattern books. Fenny’s work is beautiful. She has a nice loom which allows her to comfortably weave these wider patterns.

This pattern is charted along with 131 others in my book More Andean Pebble Weave Patterns which is available as a PDF or as a spiral-bound book at Taproot Video.

I am still staying in most of the time and staying safe. Hopefully we will get our booster shots soon. I wonder which one it will be. I went out to visit a friend yesterday. Strolling the thirteen blocks home on a Saturday afternoon is very pleasant because the downtown area is quite deserted. But then I got bitten on the leg by a dog! The bite area is black and blue from the force of the bite but fortunately only one tooth broke the skin. Maybe the universe is telling me not to get cocky and to just stay home!

Let’s finish with something pleasant…. 🙂


  1. You are incredible Laverne! Can’t believe that edging sample is so old ! Hope some mRNA booster makes its way to Bolivia. I am traveling now and understand your reluctance. The world is a whole lot safer, but not quite safe enough. Hugs, Kate

    • Thank you, Kate. I wish you continued safety in your travels. I am so happy to know that you are still visiting me here while you are away from home.

  2. You are so amazing! I marvel as I watch you grow and create and grow and create! Thank you for being you!

    • So sweet of you to stop by and take the time to comment. Thank you so much, Charlotte. I hope we have a chance t weave together again some day.

  3. I’m so impressed with those book covers! I haven’t yet made a wide piece and even narrow bands take me so much planning out that I can’t guess at how you can handle those! What a wonderful personal thing to have.

    I’ve been making progress though! Here’s some of the bands I’ve made from your pebble weave books:

    And here’s my dad’s christmas present, it’s a double weave belt for his bathrobe with the logo for the International Dark-Sky Association, which works to lower light pollution for astronomers.

    It’s slow going, hope I finish it!

    • Hi Lisa. Yay, you have found a way to post pictures in comments. I didn’t even know that there was a way! All your bands and your latest double weave project are beautiful. I am so glad that you have stepped into designing your own patterns so quickly. This will be a wonderful personal gift.

  4. Such beautiful work, Laverne. Very inspiring. I am just at the beginning stages of learning my way around a backstrap loom and am grateful for all the background learning I have done on other looms – jack, inkle, rigid heddle, tapestry, and pin – all of these skills come into play with my humble backstrap loom. I look forward to more learning!

    • Hi Mary. Thank you so much for leaving a comment for me. You have a whole range of skills with both warp-faced and balanced cloth to bring to your backstrap loom weaving. I wish you all the best and hope that you will share pictures with me some time.

  5. Amazing work and I love and envy your careful planning. That’s one of the hardest parts of weaving for me. I have to fight my natural random abstract mind constantly. I’m also amazed at how calm you were about having been bitten by a dog. Having seen many scuzzy dogs wandering along streets in Latin America – I’d be running to the doctor for some type of protective shot or medicine. Take care – and thanks for sharing your work and giving us more motivation. Virginia

    • Thanks, Virginia. Sometimes there is careful planning and sometimes not. i really need to change my ways when it comes to dyeing. I seem to say far too often…well that color didn’t turn out like I had thought it would! As for the dog bite story, I thought exactly the same when you told your story on Facebook about the bear that pushed in your front door and trashed your kitchen while you slept upstairs! I thought, wow, Virginia is so cool about this!

  6. the 3-D birds look similar to crochet or knitted in the round amigurumi.

  7. Laverne, your hummingbird books are amazing! I’m sure they will be a joy to use. Good luck with recovery from the dog bite. What a nasty surprise that was!

    • Thank you, Sandy. I must make myself write something on the first page before I fall into the trap of thinking that they are too nice to spoil with my untidy hand writing! The dog bite is healing well, thank you. Just a big nasty bruise now.

  8. Sheer magic by a unique artist. Thank you so much, Laverne…!

  9. Hello Laverne – I have passed on your blog page link to Sue Prior as she is a spinning friend of mine in Hertfordshire, uk, and FB friend so sent her a message via the same. I hope she gets in contact with you. Best wishes and love your work although I deem it way out of my weaving skills/ambitions.


    • Stephanie, thank you so very much. The grapevine worked very well and Sue and I have been in touch. Many thanks!

  10. Every one of your posts is full of eye candy, and I have loved everything you have woven, but this one is beyond exquisite and enchanting. I lovelovelove that book cover! Thank you so much for this post! (P.S. Yikes about the dog bite, though – I hope it heals quickly!)

    • Thank you so much, Deanna. I always lovelovelove hearing from you. Dog bite is on the mend 🙂

  11. Hi Laverne, I am so touched that my funny little Peruvian style band has got a mention on your fabulous blog! I can’t imagine how long it took to make that beautiful piece featuring 54 humming birds. I am still following everything you do but haven’t commented for a while simply because I ran out of suitable adjectives to describe your amazing work. Every time you post a photo’ of your latest weaving, I am in awe of your skill and the latest humming birds are no exception! Absolutely beautiful!!
    I am sorry I haven’t updated my email address which I changed 2 or 3 years ago but have now filled in the form below. I have had lots of friends contact me having read this latest blog so, be assured, you are still inspiring and wowing us here in the UK! I hope your leg heals quickly and send you my best wishes.

    • Sue, I am enjoying all the resources you sent me and being in touch with you for a catch-up. Just now, I was sent a link to another fabulous one which I will send to you via email later in case I have revived your interest.

  12. Oh, this is the best hummers yet! Lovely colour combination, the lettering is gorgeous, and the tapes work beautifully!

    • Thank you so much, Wendy. I wonder if you learned the same cursive style in WA as we did in NSW as kids. One thing I learned while researching this was that there was not a single standard across the nation which means that you would possibly be able to identify a person’s state of origin by their handwriting. Odd, isn’t it?

  13. Your cursive-style lettering is an inspiration for a project I’ve wrestled with, to create a more natural-looking cursive style to use in double-faced tablet weaving. I too have struggled to weave a decent-looking ‘r’ :).

    • That’s nice to know, Keith. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Supplementary weft gives a lot of freedom. The only thing I have to watch out for is float length and I can use up to a nine-span in this weight of thread.

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