Posted by: lavernewaddington | February 11, 2022

Backstrap Weaving – Star Gazing

Every night when no one is around I go up onto the terrace of my condo block and walk about star gazing for half an hour or so. It’s a peaceful, quite extensive space that covers the top of eight apartments. I don’t need to wear a mask up there and in spite of the light pollution from the inner city area in which I live, I can enjoy looking at some of the stars and planets while getting in some stretches and exercise. The air is fresh after a steamy summer’s day and I often wish that I could string up a hammock and sleep up there.

I remember one of the few times I was able to enjoy a night sky that was completely devoid of man-made light. It inspired me to weave stars into what I call my ‘Starry Night” wall hanging. I remember stepping outside my little room on Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca in Peru to go to the bathroom on a clear and bitterly cold night and being stunned and almost knocked over by the brilliance and abundance of the stars in the black, black sky over that dark, silent island. Kurt Laitenberger wove this motif with tablets and and I asked his permission to transpose it into the Andean Pebble Weave structure.

It’s interesting that it was this very same motif that caught my teacher Maxima’s eye the last time I was with her up in the highlands. I had taken many woven samples to show the ladies in the weaving cooperative and Maxima had chosen this one. Her first attempt to copy it on her own was not successful. Actually, she had started out very well but suddenly got stumped and stopped. She asked if she could watch me weave it so that she could learn. 

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I wove one motif and that was enough. Maxima was then able to continue just by following my woven example.

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Up on the terrace In these early months of 2022, it’s been nice greeting Orion on its return to the 8pm night sky on my side of the world and I am currently waiting on the Southern Cross to complete its circle low in the south and once more climb high enough to reveal itself above the light pollution and buildings.

An invitation in one of the online weaving groups to show-and-share star patterns prompted me to write this post. I actually wrote about this same topic about ten years ago but there has been quite a lot to add to it since then. Back then, I was able to share the Andean Pebble Weave strap on which I combined motifs woven by the Guaraní people here in the lowland part of Bolivia in which I live…

The Guaraní weavers use two types of complementary-warp structures in their cotton cloth. In the structure that they call Moisy, they represent all the natural beauty of their surroundings in large, bold renditions of trees, butterflies, birds, plants and flowers. However, in the pebble structure that I used above, they only ever weave two motifs – a snake and stars –  and there are an endless number of versions of these two items. You can see one such version on the woven bag.

My teacher told me that it was a snake that came to the first weaver in her dreams to teach her the patterns. The Guaraní people who live along the Parapetí River here in Santa Cruz also use the snake motif to represent that life-giving water. The stars are important guides in their agricultural cycle.

I found a story translated from Guaraní to Spanish in a book published by Artecampo, which is a craft cooperative store here in Santa Cruz, about a legend behind the use of the star motifs in Guaraní weaving…..it says that…

One day the children were taken and placed  like stars in the heavens and this is why women cry out about stars in their weaving. The stars not only speak of the sky but also about the richness of nature because one woman, in an attempt to stop her child from being taken, grabbed hold of a finger (or toe, it is not clear in the Spanish translation which). As she pulled on the finger, unfortunately, a piece broke off and this piece was buried. From the burial of this piece a corn plant sprouted. In this way, weaving symbolizes abundance which comes from the piece of the child. And this is why food crops are not only considered elements that feed and sustain men, they are part of Man himself just as the stars are part of Man and Society. Songs name those who are living in the sky and those that sing wear woven cloth to show that they are still with them even though they are distant.

Dionicia added these stars to her pattern repertoire after my visit. She wove them into a bench cover that she sells locally. Being able to include a “novel” pattern gives her a little advantage over other weavers who might also be selling their woven bench covers. 

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The star patterns above are charted in my book More Andean Pebble Weave Patterns. And, speaking of the ladies up in the highlands, Dorinda has just written a new blog post on her most recent visit now that she is back home in the States. Dorinda had been away in the USA for going on two years and I can only imagine the happy reunion when she visited in November. 

In the Bolivian highlands, stars are woven into cloth by the weavers of the community of Tinkipaya. According to Veronica Cereceda in her book which catalogs the designs on these textiles, these ch’askas, stars, are a representation of the world above known as janaq pacha.

The small band in cotton that I wove to test the pattern is pictured above with a couple of wooden tools I got in a market in Potosi, the province in which Tinkipaya is located. I was told that the tool on the left is used to push down the warps behind the heddle rod when the weaver is opening the heddle shed. I have never seen a weaver actually use one of these and I have never seen another one like it. The one I have has a red stain on it and I like to think that it might be cochineal from one day when its owner was preparing to dye. The other tool, of which you can only see the tip, is used for beating and strumming and I have seen tools like this in use in several places in Bolivia and Peru although they are more typically made from a llama leg bone.

The structure used in this piece is yet another style of complementary-warp. The warp floats that surround and fill the star motif are aligned and arranged in a certain way that distinguishes this style from others. Below you can see the same star motifs woven with my hand spun llama fiber into a band that I wear as a wrist cuff. 

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And here it appears yet again in wool on a little bag I made when one of the online groups held an “orange challenge” several years ago.

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I published the chart for this pattern in my More Adventures with Warped Faced Pick-up Patterns book and Susan Torntore, one of my new Zoom weaving friends who refreshed her Andean Pebble Weave skills via a Zoom class with me, transposed it into the Andean Pebble Weave structure and then went on to create something like fifteen beautiful variations. Here are a couple of them. She plans to use this band as a bell pull.

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The Andean Pebble Weave structure has the advantage of having two regularly repeating rows which can be produced automatically by enclosing those arrangements of threads in heddles. Some weavers choose to do that because motifs can be woven much faster this way. Others prefer not to fuss with heddles and weave the patterns using pick-up for every row. In the structure used for the traditional Tinkipaya pattern, there’s no choice. Each “row” is unique and the threads for each must be picked up manually.

Wikipedia tells me that the stars on the flag of the United States represent the fifty States in the Union. Well, I knew that. I was hoping to find out why exactly stars had been chosen as opposed to some other figure but I guess there doesn’t have to be a reason. I am sure that we could all come up with some kind of symbolic meaning for a star. I swear that some of the indigenous weavers with whom I have studied have made up things about the motifs they are using just to please or else have a bit of fun with me…I have seen the twinkle in their eyes and the way they look sideways at each other!

Gail wove this very patriotic collar for her dog on her inkle loom many years ago and I have seen this pattern and variations of it show up in the various online Inkle Loom groups many times over the years around the fourth of July. Gail was forever coming up with clever collar designs for what must have been the best-dressed dog in New York.

Speaking of flags and patriotic weaving, I assume that the next starry piece was made by someone who is proud to be Australian. I have this very cool cut-pile weaving of a representation of the design on the Australian flag…

The group of stars is the Southern Cross constellation which really is a sight to behold there in the southern sky. I am so happy to be able to see it low on the Bolivian horizon and it makes me feel somehow connected to Australia and  the people I know and love so far away. It is little wonder we so love stars and choose to use them in our cloth.

The large single star, which should only have seven points, represents the Nation’s seven states and territories. This cut pile piece on its beautiful frame is gorgeously dense and I would love to meet its creator.

It was given to my brother as compensation from the Indian owner of a furniture store who went out of business before he could supply all the chairs for my brother’s dining room setting. My brother then gave it to me. One day I will track down this furniture maker and see if I can talk to him about this weaving technique.

I don’t know if the weaver intended to continue with the design. There is so little space at this point and the tension on the warp is so high I can hardly imagine being able to do so.

There are a lot of representations of stars in Andean weaving. I took one small motif  and combined it with others to make the guitar strap below in colors reminiscent of the desert and canyons of the US southwest… a winding river, moon and stars. It took me back to clear, warm nights camping in the depths of Utah canyons with nothing between me and the stars. Moonlight bounced of red canyon walls and dozens of frogs singing away at the water’s edge. These were other precious occasions on which I could star gaze without man-made light pollution.

Combining several small motifs in this way is a nice stepping stone toward designing your own unique patterns. I teach the Andean Pebble Weave technique for those who use a standard inkle loom in my book Andean Pebble Weave on Inkle Looms which you can buy as a PDF or as a spiral-bound book from Taproot Video.

And then there are many motifs that look like stars to our eyes but which and perhaps represent something else all together. Maybe one day I will find out what exactly they mean to the weaver. There’s what I believe to be an Andean ch’aska  in Andean Pebble Weave on the left. In the center are the star-like motifs that I replicated from Central Asian yurt bands. A motif on a belt from Ecuador is on the right. Its star-like motif is woven using supplementary warp threads.

I chose a star motif for my first ever attempt at using 60/2 silk as warp on my backstrap loom. The motif did not have any symbolic significance to me. I simply needed to use something that was smooth-sided and symmetric. This was because I wanted to use a supplementary-weft technique in which the additional weft is not carried from selvedge to selvedge. I didn’t want the supplemental weft to thicken the cloth and so I used a technique in which the weft just travels back and forth from edge to edge of the motif itself. This only looks nice, in my opinion, when regular rather than irregular shapes are used. So, who knows why certain motifs ae chosen by weavers? It could be for what they symbolize or the choice could also just as easily be for purely practical reasons, as was the case in my silk piece.

There aren’t any stars on my current three-color Andean Pebble Weave piece. It’s all about flowers and hummingbirds. If you have been following me on Instagram (I go by my name: lavernewaddington there) you will have seen some of my progress. At some point I unconsciously stopped being concerned about my hand-spun wool being up to the challenge and have been simply enjoying how lovely it feels instead. But for now, I will stick with the Starry topic and wait to show you more of my three-color pebble in my next post here on this blog.

Let me finish by showing you some beautiful creations that were shared with me by another new Zoom weaving friend, Laurice Johnson. She has converted her pretty inkle-loom-woven bands into these gorgeous star ornaments by following online tutorials. There are several tutorials on Youtube for fabric stars that can be used for inkle bands. They are really stunning. My friend Jennifer Williams also has a tutorial on her blog for a different kind of star made from narrow bands.

I’ll be heading upstairs soon for another night of star gazing. See you next time.


Responses

  1. Lovely work, as always, Laverne! You are truly inspiring.

  2. Here’s a link to the history of our flag. Thought you might be interested. The stars were for a “new constellation”

    https://www.online.drexel.edu/flag-history.aspx

    Sue Anderson

    >

    • Thank you, Sue. I’ll take a look. That’s just what I have been wanting to know.

  3. Hi, I’ve been following your blog for a few years now and just want to say thank you for sharing your experiences. I love your designs, color, and commentary. I have yet to stop to seriously start to learn how to weave, but I know where to find the best resources.
    Thank you and keep staying safe!
    Michelle

    • Michelle, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to stop and leave this message for me. My stats give me an indication of the number of people visiting but it is SO nice to actually hear from people and know that what I present is meaningful to someone.

  4. Thank you for this beautiful post that I’m reading during my WFH lunch break in Melbourne, Australia. Your stories and insight illustrate exactly what I love about textiles. It’s about creation, process, materials, skills, practice, learning and also connection to culture, community, nature, history, society and life itself. I love hearing Bolivia as I visited for only a week and very much wish to return to explore further. I also visited Taquile for an afternoon – an overnight stay would be wonderful!

    • Thank you so much, Melanie. It’s nice to know that my blog is a little treat for you and a way to relax in the middle of your working day. Thanks for summing up so nicely the way I also feel about textiles. Maybe you will make it back to South America some time and I might make it back to Australia and Melbourne some time too!


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