Posted by: lavernewaddington | August 12, 2022

Backstrap Weaving – Proud!

I have woven a lot of things that have made me very happy but my latest piece is something of which I am particularly proud. That might sound a little obnoxious…but I can’t help it. The little cross-body purse that I just hand-sewed has me grinning from ear to ear. I guess it’s because I remember my school days when I was convinced that I was a total klutz when it came to any kind of craft project. In the end I even stopped handing in the work all together and my report cards would say “No work presented”, “Assignment incomplete”, or “Disappointing result”. I remember having a friend’s mother take pity and rescue and do

the sewing part of an assignment for me. My mother was also convinced that she had no craft-related skills or talents and I guess I just assumed I would be the same.

One of the 60/2 silk ikat pieces that I wove last year.

Not that this latest project is any great feat of sewing. It holds together and looks like what I had in mind and that is enough to please me. There aren’t any zips or fancy pockets. I took sewing skills that I had learned in my recent shoulder bag project and got to apply and improve on them. I took the ikat skills that I had learned in all the silk projects that I had woven during the worst of the pandemic and applied them to cotton.

In my last post, I showed you my ikat warp on the loom, heddled up and ready to go.

Almost all heddled. There are 880 ends in total of 20/2 cotton.
A coil rod in place on one of my older cotton scarf warps.

I had been deciding n whether it would be worth inserting a coil rod. I did go ahead and use one. Next time I will insert the rod right at the far end of the loom and leave it there. This time I inserted it, as is my habit, within reach just beyond my shed rod which meant that I had to roll it along the warp each time I advanced the warp. The rod will pick up the tiniest looseness in tension in any particular thread, take it up, and sort of push it along and away to the far end of the warp where it remains trapped. This is all very well unless you are trying to keep your ikat threads strictly aligned. In this case, it is preferable to have any tension differences gradually even themselves out as you inch your way along the warp in such a way as not to be noticeable at all. Each time the coil rod pulled a thread out of alignment, I had to take hold of the thread and ease it back into place. Lesson learned.

It’s amazing how fast the weaving goes after all the wrapping and dyeing that had taken place before I could even get the warp on the loom. Of course, it is only a meter of cloth which was the amount I had calculated as being necessary for my purse. I did not have a pattern for the purse and made up something very simple that is not all that different from my shoulder bag shape, except for the absence of pleats.

Rapid progress on the loom. The coil rod, unfortunately, is out of shot.

All my weaving friends will understand the reluctance to take scissors to a piece of your hand woven cloth and so it won’t surprise you that I had to let this cloth just sit about for a few days. In the meantime, I had to scale down the paper pattern I had made for my shoulder bag.

The finished one meter of ikat cloth.

I sewed a dummy purse, minus flap, to see if the shape I had drawn worked. I felt that it did and was able to use that dummy piece as the drop-in lining. It’s chocolate brown and I guess I was influenced by these naturally-dyed quilting pieces from Threads of Life in Ubud, Bali when I came up with my combination of colors. I have also seen ikat work in Guatemala that combines natural indigo blues with chocolate brown.

Hand-spun, backstrap loom-woven cotton pieces from Threads of Life…swoon.

Sadly, I neglected to take in-progress shots of the sewing part of this project. I wove three bands, one of which became the sides and base of the purse. The other is the strap and the third is the tubular edging on the flap. I was pleased that the pattern on the flap lined up quite nicely with that on the body of the purse and I used a magnetic clasp for the flap.

Feeling proud…can you tell?
Finished cross-body ikat purse.

These are sloooow projects but I find the slow hand-sewing so very relaxing. I posted my cloth in an online weaving group and one member responded with something like….”That looks like so much work!” I was kind of surprised. That’s the kind of thing that non-weavers say when I do a demonstration of backstrap weaving at an event. I have always felt that weavers, on the other hand, just get it!

A benefit of slow projects like this is the value you get from a relatively small amount of yarn! It has certainly kept me out of trouble for a good while. It never fails to tickle me that the bits that you see below can be transformed into a patterned purse.

20/2 mercerized cotton thread, dye for cotton, and ikat tape.

Next up…an attempt to make a small zippered coin purse in warp-faced fabric as a way to test my hand-spun Sea Island cotton. My teachers in coastal Ecuador used hand-spun cotton singles doubled rather than plied, and not sized, for their warp-faced weaving. My singles have stood up well to a balanced structure in an early test sample. Warp-faced will be a different story all together with all that added abrasion. Why am I using singles? I guess it’s only because I want the thread to be that fine. I may be completely misguided in this but we shall see what comes out of this next small experiment. I don’t think I will be wasting too much thread while learning these lessons. If my single thread stands up to the abrasion it just might be because I have put in too much twist and perhaps robbed it of its rustic hand-spun qualities. There are so many lessons to learn!

Mariana weaving warp-faced fabric for a double-pocket saddle bag using doubled hand-spun cotton singles, coastal Ecuador.

In my next post, I’ll have photos and information that my online weaving friend Christina has shared with me on her experience studying with ikat weavers in Mexico in 2019 as well as some images by another online friend who was in Ecuador interacting with ikat weavers in the 1970s. There might be a little something to report on my cotton coin purse project. I might even get to use my cochineal and alum.

And speaking of the red color of cochineal, here’s a teaser from next week’s post as the weavers in Mexico remove an ikat wrap to reveal one tiny part of the overall pattern…just in case you have seen enough blue for today! (Note that these weavers were using synthetic dye for their large production runs of 90-meter warps but use cochineal for their single unique backstrap-loom-woven pieces).

Photo courtesy of Christina Palafox.

Until next time…


  1. Absolutely beautiful, Laverne! The ikat design worked so perfectly in your exquisite weaving and sewing of the bag. You and your bag are lovely!

  2. Oh Laverne! You never cease to amaze and astonish me! And impress me!

  3. Wow do I enjoy your emails!! Yes that purse is way over the top gorgeous!! I’m in the beginner class, so find your comments so helpfuand inspires! A big thanks

    • You’re very welcome and thank you for taking the time to leave me your lovely comment.

  4. Laverne: That purse is gloriously beautiful and your usual level of craftsmanship. I totally empathize with your childhood conviction that you were a handcrafting klutz. All those feelings came back to me this week in a tapestry workshop. You certainly have proven that you are an amazing artist and craftsperson as well as teacher. Saludos from California.

    • Thank you so much, Kate. My klutziness returned when I started spinning cotton recently. I think U am over it now! I don’t think it’s a bad thing to step back to that now and then… especially for a teacher. It’s a good way to remind yourself of how your students may be feeling when trying something completely new.

  5. Wauw, this bag is so beautifull. You are a topartist. And yes it is a lot of work but i think you like the work and the proces almost the same as the result. I always tell people that loving the work by my hands and using my skills make me happy. And it makes me happy every time I learn something new. I admire your perfect finishing with an Icord. I find it difficult to do that nice enough so that the wovenpart stays flat.

    • Thank you so much, Marianne. Yes, learning new things keeps it all exciting. For me, that’s been learning a bit about hand sewing. The tubular edging does take some practice. It all comes down to where exactly you pierce the cloth with the needle. Generally, the sweet spot is directly in line with where the weft exits the shed. Every now and then my attention might stray and l put the needle too far forward. That makes the cloth buckle. But it’s easy to catch and take out.

  6. Stunning! Well done.

  7. Absolutely wonderful Laverne. You are an inspiration.

  8. What a beautiful amazing purse, as ever I am in awe at your skill. I love your display of spindles. I also felt useless as a child, my dexterity developed when I was around 13.

    • Thank you, Ann. I love that spindle display too and just always keep one handy for my own spinning. I have managed to pick up spindles here and there in my travels but have one favorite that I always use.

  9. Laverne, this is absolutely gorgeous! I have gotten too busy lately with all my other project to weave, but this has inspired me. I love following your blog.

  10. Oh, my goodness, you should be proud! That is so gorgeous, I practically flooded my house drooling over it.Unfortunately for me, I don’t have the patience for a project like this ( not to mention the lack of skill!). Your work has always amazed, enthralled, and impressed me. Thank you.

    • It’s so kind of you to take the time to leave me such a lovely comment. Thank you so much.

  11. That is beautiful! A work of art!!!

  12. Wow! Impressive!

  13. WOW! The cloth is beautiful. But, the purse is beautiful. You can be very proud of your construction techniques. Forget, those school day lessons. Your are a very compent designer for both the dye work, weaving work and sewing work. JOB WELL DONE!

    • Thank you so much. I love the hand -sewing and construction and hope to do more. I appreciate your encouragement.

  14. Your bag is gorgeous, you should be proud as it is a wonderful work of usable art. I would be strutting carrying that bag:-)

    You keep saying this was a slow process but to me you just whipped it out. I tend to work on multiple projects at a time, so that is why it seems to take so long.

    I found the picture of Mariana weaving the cotton fascinating. Is that a circular warp? It looks really cool!

    Thanks for posting a great project, it was fun to see it all come together.

    • Thanks, Theresa. Marianna’s warp is not a continuous circle. Imagine creating a basic figure-eight warp in a straight line and then bringing the two end beams together to form a circle. That’s the form it takes except that the warp is wound that way from the get-go rather than in a straight line. So, instead of having two beams that you take and place together to complete the “circle”, there is only one beam that is common to both ends. The warp threads dovetail around this one common beam. This will be much easier to understand with a diagram except that the device I am on right now doesn’t allow uploads of images. When I am on my laptop tomorrow, I’ll upload one.

      • Thanks for the explanation. It does make sense and it is a fascinating process. I love how ingenious weavers can be, this is so well thought out, simple and complex at the same time.

  15. Your bag is beautiful! Thank you for sharing it’s creation with us! I know what your mean by time spent – if you love doing it, time doesn’t matter. You are an inspirational artist!

    • Thank you very much. And I dive straight away into another time absorbing ikat project…and love it.

  16. There is absolutely nothing obnoxious about being proud of your work Laverne! Well done 🙂

    • Thanks, Wendy. Trying to toot one’s own horn without blowing it is a delicate operation!

  17. You have every right to be proud, Laverne! You have put many of your skills to work for you to create a spectacular purse! How fortunate for you and for all of us that you did not listen to your childhood misconceptions about yourself. I wish that teacher could see you now!

    • Thanks so much, Marilyn. Actually, it wasn’t just one teacher, it was a series…I was consistently poor!

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