Posted by: lavernewaddington | April 22, 2022

Backstrap Weaving – Elementary Stuff!

I don’t have any finished projects to show you in this post. That’s because I have been too busy learning new stuff. It’s not anything that most people will get excited about because it is what experienced cotton spinners, sewers and “conventional” loom weavers will consider really elementary stuff. But it’s all new to me and I am having a blast learning and using it.

First of all there’s the cotton spinning. I just finished spinning up a tiny ball of what I will call version 4 and am telling myself to stop there and weave a sample. I wove two samples with version 3 in the kind of sheer open weave that has drawn me to trying to spin and weave with my own hand-spun cotton singles.

This is what I wove with a Guatemalan spinner’s hand-spun cotton. I would like to do more of this with my own hand-spun.

I boiled version 3 to set the twist but found that it was still a bit too lively when I wove my samples. I can only assume that I am putting in way too much twist which boiling simply cannot settle. Hence, version 4.

Above, you can see version 3 woven without a reed on the left and with a reed on the right. Neither is as sheer as I would like it to be. In version 3 I experimented with different thicknesses of inlay. The thickest one wins. The finer ones virtually disappeared after washing and pressing. So, I will be trying a more open sett next time and hoping that I have less wobble in the weft shots.

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as I spun this natural brown cotton several years ago and used it as singles in a similar sheer-cloth experiment. I didn’t boil the cotton singles yet it behaved so differently when woven. Perhaps the brown cotton just has different characteristics. There’s so much to learn! I saw a post on Facebook the other day where someone had made a study to find which breed of sheep has the best wool for knitting cables. How amazing to have learned so much about the unique characteristics of all those different kinds of wool. Why should cotton be any different?

My hand-spun brown cotton,

In weaving news, I have been weaving with my finest bamboo reed which I believe has 23 dents to the inch (makes me crazy trying to count those things!). This is nothing new. I have used my bamboo reeds a few times in the past including the time that I used it for the original sheer cloth experiment with the Guatemalan spinner’s hand-spun. What was new to me was doubling threads in dents. Elementary stuff, right? But new to me!

My improvised threading hook.

I first tried a bent piece of wire as a threading hook which was very tedious and I was willing to persevere with it until online weaving friends suggested cutting a hard plastic card. Those with experience will immediately understand why a wire hook is not ideal…elementary stuff, right? I would happily buy a proper hook if only I could find one here. I can’t say that I am big fan of reed-threading. ‘Use one of those annoying shopping cards”, someone said. I don’t have a single one but managed to dig up this card from one of my visits to Australia.

I like the view through the reed and the swirl pattern optical illusion that creates. It gives me ideas for ikat patterns.

I am using doubled 20/2 cotton and, after sampling, found that it needed to be sett at 27 for tabby. That meant that I needed to double some of the doubled 20/2 cotton in some dents. Elementary stuff, but I had never done this before. I know that floor loom weavers do this all the time. Yes, I understand why and I understand that the each thread in the pair will be in a different heddle and performing a different role in the structure of the cloth. What I was never able to fully understand is how two threads that are supposed to be separated can remain so when with every beat of the reed, they are being squeezed back together again. How does that not show up in the cloth? Well, I did it and yes, of course it works. When I held the cloth up in front of the window I could make out evenly spaced stripes. I guess that is evidence of the dent sharing but I wouldn’t say that it is at all noticeable when just looking at the cloth in normal conditions.

It’s ridiculous how excited I am about this “new experience” :-).

Doubled 20/2 cotton tabby in a color called Old Gold. I lightly tacked down a doubled hem before wet-finishing.
Finnweave in 20/2 cotton

If you have read my most recent posts you will know about the bag project which grew from the fact that I had woven a strap in a 3-color reversible pebble weave structure.

This gold cloth is part of that project. Using the gold thread that I was given by my friend Betty is a stash-busting project by someone who does not typically accumulate stash. Betty gave me a large cone of luscious Old Gold and a much smaller one of black. The went together beautifully for a Finnweave cowl that I wove.

Pieces of the bag project coming together.

But now I am pretty much out of the black thread and with nothing else in my stash to combine with the gold, I decided to use it to weave the lining for the bag. Let’s get one thing straight first…I am pretty much always looking for a reason/excuse to weave. I don’t need any of this stuff. I just like to weave, especially if it gives me the opportunity to learn something new. With dwindling stash, long drawn-out projects are good value. So, I decided to weave the lining which no one will see once it’s inside the bag except me. Yet, I know that I will feel very happy every time I open the bag and that glow of gold greets me. This also gives me a chance to learn about “drop-in” linings….elementary stuff for sewers…totally new to me! Also, I have only ever cut my own dense warp-faced cloth. Cutting into this tabby will also be a new experience.

I also wove a wrist cuff in Finnweave using the gold and black 20/2 cotton. I love being able to wear and carry small samples of the structures and techniques I use this way.

And I have been able to add “fusible interfacing” to my Spanish vocabulary (entretela adhesiva) and enjoy the excuse to poke around the little hole-in-the-wall fabric shops and stalls in one of the nearby street markets. It’s always amusing getting the vague directions to the right stall from the various vendors who don’t carry the item in question…a vague wave of the arm accompanied by más allá, al frente, or a la vuelta. Finally, one gentleman, seeing the look on my face after having already received several no hay responses and a half dozen directions that had led me nowhere, told me to go to the store with the red pick-up truck parked outside. Bingo!

An intermesh strip of cloth which will be the sides of the bag. It sits on top of the Old Gold lining.

It was also interesting to learn from renowned weaver Bonnie Tarses via a Facebook post that she likes to use doubled warp and weft in tabby because it makes for cloth that is more supple. And there…I learned another “something new”(after I had already woven the cloth). Bonnie kindly gave me permission to share her photo of the beautiful tabby cloth that she has just taken off the loom in doubled 8/2 cotton warp and weft.

Bonnie Tarses

And so, it’s back to boiling my hand-spun cotton singles and hand-stitching this bag together. Both activities are a combination of online research, video classes on cotton spinning and a good ol’ dose of “make it work”.

See you next time.


  1. By definition weaving is a lifelong learning project. Whatever we start with and get good at, there are always 3 dozen new things to try just over the next ridge.
    My similar story of trying to find the woman who sold backstrap looms ( actually she sold anything functional carved from wood – like kitchen spoons) in a Guatemalan market: People told me she was across from the chicken store. I walked up and down the market looking for hanging poultry carcasses. Finally I realized she was across from the fast food fried chicken take out stand. Bought my loom.
    I hope you travel before the stash ends. Salud and saludos

    • Lol. I am glad that you persevered and got your loom! I am happy that after all these years I can still smile at the sometimes frustrating experience of finding my way around the street market looking for a new-to-me item.

  2. Lovely stuff—as always!

  3. I’m trying to learn to use a small heddle reed and it’s still confusing! I couldn’t manage anything like that bamboo reed.
    I hope you’ll talk more about three color pebble weave, I’m in love with those samples!

    • Hi Lisa. Are you weaving bands with a rigid heddle? I am sure that I will be posting more if the three-color pebble as I am about to start working on the flap for my bag project and that will have more of that kind of patterning.

  4. Hi Laverne,

    Just to say, thank you so much for all the resources that you make to teach backstrap weaving. I found your video for beginners incredibly useful and I’m now a backstrap weaver!! I absolutely love it, and it’s the way I weave now.

    I was wondering – I saw that you use reeds on your backstrap loom. When do you decide to use them and on what projects? Would you recommend buying reeds for backstrap weaving?



    • Hi Alex. Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me a message. You have no idea how happy it makes me to know that people are using the resources on my blog. As for reeds… I mostly weave warp-faced cloth. That’s when the warp threads sit right next to each other and completely cover the weft. When not using a reed, that’s what the warp threads will naturally want to do…sit right next to each other and that creates a certain kind of cloth. If I want the warp threads to be spaced so that the weft is also seen, the easiest way to do that is to use a reed. It forces the warp threads to maintain a certain spacing. That creates a very different kind of cloth. It’s the kind of cloth in various forms that is most often woven on floor looms and other kinds of looms. Whether you choose to use a reed or not depends on the kind of cloth you want to create and its end use. Finding a bamboo reed is not always straightforward. If you would like to experiment with creating that kind of cloth, you could try using a rigid heddle. These are available at weaving supply stores in different sizes. I have also used these in the past to weave cotton cloth that I use as hand towels.

  5. Es muy interesante lo que contás del peine (reed). En español a veces le decimos “peine” tanto para lo que en inglés es “rigid heddle” como para “reed”. Yo siempre pensé que nunca usaría un reed, porque también me gusta mucho tejer principalmente en faz de urdimbre con el telar de cintura. Y hasta ahora no hice intentos serios de tejer algo donde lo necesite. Sólo pruebas. Pero resulta que justo ahora, en el momento en que leo tu post, estoy lidiando con una futura tela “casi” balanceada donde quiero hacer una de las variantes de tejido con trama suplementaria que tejen en Guatemala, pero con un diseño de un tejido arqueológico de Egipto que me gustó mucho. Y me pregunto cómo voy a hacer para mantener esa distancia intermedia entre balanceado y faz de urdimbre entre las urdimbres todo el tiempo en el telar de cintura y sin peine! Acabo de sacar una foto con los hilos “más o menos” espaciados mientras trato de calcular el ancho inicial del tejido y ya me imagino que me va a costar bastante trabajo que la tela quede uniforme. Admiro a las tejedoras guatemaltecas otra vez más! Y me encanta tu tela dorada. Lástima que no se puede tocar con la mano desde la computadora! Saludos, Laverne!

    • Saludos! Tu proyecto suena muy interesante y in deasfio.
      Espero que me cuentes más cuando hayas progresado.

  6. I’m really enjoying reading your blog. I have arrived in Mexico today from the UK, and will be heading to Guatemala, hoping to spend a week or so with Trama project in Quetzaltenango, learning backstrap weaving Keep on blogging, I love your learning attitude which is what it’s all about 😊 Sarah

    • Hi Sarah. It’s nice to meet you. Keep in touch. I’d love to hear about your experience learning to weave on a backstrap loom in Guatemala. Take care.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Sarah. I wish you smooth and safe travels and a wonderful time with the weavers in Guatemala.

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