Posted by: lavernewaddington | December 31, 2021

Backstrap Weaving – The Story So Far

More books! Well, just one more for now. I still have a book that I had originally bought for my current book-cover obsession but which I had decided wasn’t quite the right size. I might just cover that one too. I already have a name in mind for it…Daily Mischief. I would like to do this one in Andean Pebble Weave. It’s not an ideal structure for lettering but my friend Ruth in Australia came up with some quirky fun lettering in it when she wove a name tag for herself. A quirky, fun style would suit the Daily Mischief title, I think.

My latest book cover is once again in 30/2 silk and, as I only have natural white, I had to measure out my needs for this project and dye it. I combined two blues that I have with a color called Quarry and I am delighted to say that this is one of those times when I can declare that I got exactly what I had wanted. I am wondering if maybe I am getting better at this!

Although I loved the color, this scraggily heap was rather dull and uninspiring. I had to keep reminding myself that this is soft, sleek silk. When wound back into balls for warping, it started showing once again its silky loveliness. It’s funny how when it is woven on the loom it somehow takes on a very matte cotton-like quality only to recover its sheen once again after having been wet-finished.

The sheen returns.

The color palette…

All the smaller balls are the 60/2 silk which might get used as supplementary weft to create the patterns. The skein on the left is more 30/2 silk for warp that I also dyed.

The warps for the last three book covers that I have woven in 30/2 silk have all had 904 ends and the warp is just short of 13 inches wide. I use Schacht warping stakes that are five inches inches long. I take a lot of care with tension when I am winding my warps for the backstrap loom. These ends aren’t going to cut and threaded through a rigid heddle or reed and then tied and re-tensioned. This means that I need to get it right as I am winding at the stakes. I always say that a beginner can be handed a well-wound and well-tensioned warp and then proceed to weave something decent. But even a very experienced weaver will have a very difficult time dealing with a poorly prepared warp. There are ways of dealing with a certain kinds of tension issues but it doesn’t make for fun weaving.

I love seeing a new wide, evenly-tensioned warp stretched out before me.

For that reason, I don’t like piling more then two inches worth of thread on my stakes in case they lean, even ever so slightly, and will always wind my wide warps in sections. The following pictures are some that I quickly snapped as I worked. First I chose and then laid out my sticks on the floor…cloth beam, warp beam and cross sticks.

Then I decided how many ends I would have in each section. In this case I had 80 in each in the dark blue areas. I wrote that out so that I could check it off as I went. I wound the first section on my stakes, replaced the stakes with safety strings, saved the cross and transfered it all to the sticks on the floor.

I leave the safety strings in place. Later when I am weaving, I only remove the ones at the cloth beam. The ones near the warp beam will make good counting strings when I need to lay in the first row of each of the pattern sections.

Adding more and more sections. If I lose track because I neglected to check off the numbers on my paper, I can always count the safety strings.

This is a very basic figure-eight warp in a single plane. Backstrap loom weavers in some regions add the heddles and often a coil rod as they wind the warp. It’s not my habit to do so even though I was taught this way on a circular warp by my Montagnard (Vietnamese hilltribe) teacher. (You can read more about that here).

Next comes the lashing. I have my own rather unconventional way of doing this. Most backstrap loom weavers will tightly lash a header cord to the cloth and warp beams all the way across the width of the warp. I prefer using a metal rod instead of a header cord.

Using a metal rod in place of a header cord and lashing it to the beam. On this narrow warp from many years ago I only needed two lashing points at the edges of the warp. I prefer using cable ties now.

I have collected rods in a multitude of girths and lengths over the years. My lashing is done with cable ties, usually five to seven depending on the width of the piece. I count the threads so that one is placed exactly in the center and further divide the warp into other sections with two or more…again counting so that the cable ties are placed in exactly the right spots. Two more cable ties are placed at the two edges. Being precise in the placement of the cable ties really helps me when it comes to measuring and setting the width before the first shot of weft is thrown. I can calculate how wide the warp should be in each section that the cable ties divide and distribute the warp threads within those sections as evenly as possible.

Starting on the 452 string heddles.

Next, I set up a second cross so that I can use what I call the “twisty sticks”. These are two sticks that I grasp and twist to help me open the heddle shed. I explain how I set up and use these in my video class Operating a Backstrap Loom which you can stream or buy as a dvd at Taproot Video. You can also see me using them in one of the video clips in this blog post.

You can see the two rods that are bound with rubber bands on my warp in this picture. Those are my “twist sticks”. In the various regions around the world in which the backstrap loom is used, weavers use a variety of techniques to help them raise the heddled threads smoothly and create a clear shed. Using the twisty sticks just happens to be my current favorite way of doing this.

You can also see me using the twisty sticks on a silk warp in this video:

And finally, because I will be weaving this piece in warp-faced plain weave and want to avoid the corrugated look that plain-weave cloth can sometimes develop especially when the warp material is one which has little to no stretch, I insert a coil rod. The coil rod locks the two layers of warp threads together so that they can’t see-saw back and forth as I operate the loom. Many weavers achieve the same thing by weaving an inch or so first at the far end of the loom before turning the loom around and starting at the cloth beam. That also locks the two layers of threads together. In fact, that was the way I was taught to do it by my several of my indigenous teachers but I have since become a big fan of the coil rod. For me, it has other benefits in addition to the one I mention here.

Dar Ku from Myanmar allowed me to spend some time with her as she wove at her backstrap loom You can see the coil rod in her warp, the rod that is furthest to the left.

After measuring and pushing threads around and measuring and repeating, I finally feel that the sett is just right and that I can start weaving. Of course, there was time spent drawing patterns onto charting paper. That was something that I was doing while waiting for the dyed thread to dry. I had decided that this would be a Traveler’s Diary (yes, I settled on the single ‘l’ spelling) and charted out lines of verse that I thought would suit the theme as well as picked the best hummingbird figure to go with them.

The first lines of writing appear.

I really like the way the light blue supplementary weft looks on the light blue spine color and am thinking about perhaps weaving an entire piece that way in which there is only a subtle difference in color between the warp and patterning weft…even more subtle than what you see here. It will depend on how clever I can be at the dye pot. My dyeing is still all a bit “mess or success” at the moment.

The second line of verse and the hummingbird leaving us for its long journey of migration. I have been seeing articles recently on hummingbirds in some parts of the U.S that have actually started to change their habits and winter over.

Bye-bye hummingbirds. You can see the two swords I use to prop open sheds and beat. My current favorite pick-up stick from Guatemala is also there. The little tool with the handle is from Ecuador and also used to beat. I use it when I feel that I need a little extra “oomph” and use it to press the weft into place while inching my way across the warp. I use it in much the same way as highland weavers here use the llama bone tool. My llama bone tools are too harsh for this silk.

It’s still on the loom as I write. It will be cut off, washed and placed on the book cover. I will most likely need to weave narrow strips as I have with the other covers to compensate for lost width during the wet-finishing process. I don’t feel that I can precisely account for shrinkage in the number of warp-ends to ensure a perfect fit. Adding the narrow strips to the other books has actually provided quite a lovely finishing touch. You can see three that were added to the Weaver’s Journal. A fourth was also added to the edge of the back cover.

So that’s the story of the books so far…to be continued. I actually remembered to take a picture of myself at the loom as I approached the end of this one so that I can wish you all a very happy, safe and peaceful transition into the new year.


  1. Felix Ano Novo! May 2022 have us all well and happily plying Pace Mag In chilly wet az One can only hope rainy week end will keep some people home


  2. Oh! I think I like this colourway even more than the last, and it was beautiful 🙂

  3. To capture magic, with magic, is an amazing gift!

    • Deanna, what a lovely thought. You’ve made my day. Thank you!

  4. Tus telas para cubrir libros son una belleza! Hace unos años aprendí a encuadernar libros, y me costaba mucho encontrar papeles o telas con una textura y estampado que me gustaran. Vos encontraste una maravillosa solución: hacer tu propia tela. Gracias por tu recorrido por distintas maneras de abrir las caladas (to open the shed)! Es notable el enorme repertorio de recursos que encontraron las tejedoras para facilitar el trabajo. A veces encuentro que lo mejor que puedo hacer es pensar que en cada tejido debo probar o incluso inventar la mejor opción para abrir las caladas, ya que las urdimbres siempre son diferentes, según su hilado, el ancho de la urdimbre, la técnica que estás usando, la cantidad de capas… En tus relatos se percibe que hay una larga historia de aprendizaje, prueba y experiencia.

    • Muchas gracias, Laura. Estoy completamente de acuerdo. Muchos tejedores indígenas usan el único material que tienen disponible, lana, algodón, ortiga, seda, etc. y han desarrollado formas de trabajar con eso en su telar de cintura. Muchos de nosotros tenemos acceso a todo tipo de fibra y, por lo tanto, necesitamos adaptar los métodos que usamos según el material. Estoy agradecido de haber tenido la oportunidad de observar y aprender tantas formas diferentes de trabajar con un telar de cintura.

  5. I need to find out more about the coil rod before I set up my first backstrap loom!

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