Posted by: lavernewaddington | October 3, 2022

Backstrap Weaving – Another Lifetime

I recently realized that I have spent almost half my life here in South America. The first five years were spent in the Chilean Patagonia at the southernmost tip of the continent…a pristine, wild, cold and windswept landscape from which I could look across the Straits of Magellan to the island of Tierra del Fuego. It was a hiker’s paradise and I had to be careful to make sure that I took advantage of the windows of calm and pleasant weather to explore as much as I could of the various national parks in both Chile and southern Argentina.

The Torres and Paine massif in the Torres del Paine National Park. The Circuit is a popular multi-day hiking trip.
The Circuit trail runs alongside Grey Glacier on the western side of the Paine massif.
Adelie penguins on Paulette Island, the first first of several species of penguins that we saw.

I hiked in the parks – the lands of the guanaco – and kayaked the fjords, explored some parts by zodiac, traveled down to Antarctica and over to the Falkland Islands but also spent a great deal of time huddled indoors.

All that indoor time is what is responsible to a large degree for my having taken up weaving and it was from there that I started traveling to spend a few months away now and then in order to learn to weave with women in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia.

Weaving a four-color Andean Pebble Weave piece in wool on my Navajo-style loom in Chile. This was in the very early days before I had the confidence to try wide and complex pieces like this on a backstrap loom.

The rest of my time in South America, when not out and about on my weaving explorations, has been spent basking in the tropical warmth of lowland Bolivia. This has become so normal to me now that I forget to stop and appreciate all that makes his place so delightful. Of course, thoughts of the eventual return to Australia are what have mostly brought this on. I lived on and off for 30 years in Australia, another 30 here….are there 30 more years left for another total change of scene? The place where I am hoping to live when I return is in the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney…a place in which I spent many a weekend in my late twenties climbing and hiking. It’s far from tropical! The Blue Mountains is a beautiful area. That’s me on an easy, yet exciting, rock climb. I think that I am still game for activities like these…probably just not physically able anymore.

I went for a stroll one afternoon last week to buy dye and ask for advice from my local yarn store. It’s just four blocks away. I took a slightly different route home through the street market and returned with this…all of this fruit plus the dye for around $5.50 total….The fruit stalls carried the strong aroma of a yellow, smooth-skinned fruit called maracuyá. It smells and tastes exactly like passionfruit but sure doesn’t look like the purple-skinned ones that I have always known. This is one of the delights that I take for granted here….living in easy walking distance of pretty much everything I could ever want or need and having it all affordable considering my low income. The fancy, expensive malls and entertainments are further away, but who needs those?

I know that the apples are not exotic for most of us but whenever my students and I would talk about our favorite fruit when I was teaching English here, they would name apples, oranges and strawberries as their favorites…not the magnificent mangoes and the luscious papayas and pineapples that I find so wonderful. In fact, people who have mango trees in their yards here consider them a nuisance. The fruit falls, rots, and attracts flies faster than they can be gathered and consumed. It’s pineapple season right now and the street corners have little carts where you can buy thick slices of fresh juicy pineapple to eat while walking around. There is no such thing as a bad pineapple. The same goes for papaya. There was a time when I ate so much of it that the palms of my hand took on an orange hue.

As for the dye that I bought, I was consulting the store owner on how best to get a certain pastel green with the available dye colors that he carries. His chart said to mix eight parts of yellow with one part black. You may remember from my last post that he had advised me to mix blue and black to get grey and that I had been skeptical. Imagine my thoughts about the yellow and black mix to get this particular green. The grey that resulted from my having followed his recommendation was quite nice and so I can only listen to him again and try a sample with the yellow and black mixture. Of course, the recommendations are not his personally…they come from the manufacturer of the Brazilian-made dyes that he sells.

The blue-grey that I created for my last ikat project.

The pastel green is one of the colors that I might want to use in my next ikat experiment. I am hoping to create a fairly narrow strip of ikat pattern using two dye colors…blue and green… and then weave it flanked by expanses of natural green cotton. This is just one of a couple of ideas that I have floating around. The fact that one of the groups on Ravelry is holding a weave-along based on colors inspired by a picture of one’s own choice, might send me off in another direction.

This painting by Paule Bernard Roussel inspired my silk paisley scarf project some years ago. I might use those various tones of blue to inspire an ikat project….perhaps a white ikat pattern on a background of various blues.
The silk paisley-patterned scarf in which I used four tones of blue to flank white.

Spinning the green cotton has been interesting. I had heard many a time that the natural green color darkens when the thread or woven item have been washed. I boiled my singles to help set the twist but was not prepared for the dramatic change in tone that resulted! Amazing.

This is the green cotton immediately after being boiled. It’s still wet and so looks darker than the color it took on when dry.
Now you can compare. The two balls lower right are the pre and post-boil colors.

Now I am wondering if I can somehow avoid boiling just a small amount of the green thread so that I can weave a piece that incorporates both versions of the green. I’ll just have to deal with the thread’s high energy. That is, after all, the point of these projects…experiment, explore the what-ifs, trial and error. I need another lifetime to fully explore the use of hand-spun thread and ikat.

Natural green alongside mahogany and white Sea island.

I have drawn a pattern that I want to use and I will fold the warp to halve its length this time. I could use this project to try folding in both directions but I think I will leave that particular challenge to a time when I am not using my handspun. My pattern is more or less a diamond but its sides curve outward ever so slightly. Let’s see if I can manage to make the curves work.

In my last post, I showed you my black, white and grey ikat piece off the loom.

Here’s a little picture summary of the process from spun thread to loom…

The warp was folded to halve its width and only half the pattern tied. The picture of the pink ikat tape, therefore, is a collage of the half pattern next to its mirror image.

I folded the finished cloth this way and that to see how best to make it into a pouch. You might remember that the pattern had been planned to be twice this length. The original idea was to fold the cloth at the half way point in the full pattern and form a pouch that way. But I had given up on that idea when I realized that my pattern tying wasn’t as precise as it needed to be and I abandoned tying at the halfway point. I modified the motif so that it could end there without, hopefully, looking too odd.

So, this is the pouch that I created in the end. It holds the surprising number of USBs that I have accumulated.

The brown thread that you see in the picture was labeled as “mahogany” in the bag of sliver that my friend Betty had given me. I found it challenging to spin with its very short fibers. Now I see that not all browns are equal. I have just started on another coil of sliver labeled ”cinnamon” and it is completely different in character. In yet another bag, I have more brown that is accompanied by a Fox Fiber card which calls it “Coyote Card Sliver organic ’89”. This color has a bit more warmth to it. The card says that the color will progressively darken the longer it is boiled so that “many shades of color unique to you can be created”. That’s pretty exciting. I shall have to experiment with that. Looking at the next picture, I am thinking that the takli’s hook could make a nice reed threader in the absence of a proper one, although I wouldn’t be able to insert it very far.

The paler cinnamon is on the spindle next to a ball of mahogany. I haven’t boiled the mahogany yet.

Spring is on its way. The weather is unsettled as hot and moist weather systems from the north east collide with cooler drier ones from the south. Sometimes they battle and it gets wild. We don’t have what you would call a classic coming of spring here as there are trees flowering all year ’round. In any case, I will acknowledge spring and show you my bands of spring flowers. I hesitate to say “celebrate” spring because the heat of coming summer (which can start as early as October) and the smoke that results from burning to clear land for the planting season are two of the few less delightful things about living here. But the mangoes will become larger and more varied and plentiful and even cheaper as the months go by…so who can complain?

Warp-faced double weave flowers in 60/2 silk.

And to finish, here are some amazing flowers that have been embroidered onto the knotted fringe of an ikat shawl from the Cuenca area of Ecuador. This shawl is one of the pieces collected by the late Dennis Penley (author of the book on jaspe shawls of Gualaceo that I showed you in my last post). The images are used with the kind permission of the current owner of the collection. Spectacular! If I had another lifetime, I would consider learning how to do this kind of fringe knotting.


  1. You mix or card together you white and green cottons to get a paler final shade of green.

    • Thanks, but what I want to do is dye white cotton to pastel green as part of the ikat process… wrap white cotton in tape and then dye green so that the pattern is white on a green background.

  2. I look at all your breadth of knowledge and experience and just wish I had just a thimble full of it so I could do lots of these various kinds of crafts. I’m sure I’ll learn some things over time but I’m truly in awe of you!

  3. Sounds a great plan!
    I misunderstood….

  4. Laverne,

    I am quite enjoying your walk through your past. Even brought back some of my own memories—Mike and I visited Torres del Paine National Park and I was in Punta Arenas and Ushuaia on the way to Antarctica with my dad. I, too, have many penguin pictures. I have also been to O’Reilly’s Resort/Lamington National Park twice. Is that in the Blue Mountains?
    I wove some pieces with the colored cotton many years ago. I had some commercially spun colors that I used as warp and handspun the weft. I, too, was amazed at the color change with washing. I should dig out some of those and send you a photo or two. I have plenty more colored fiber that I got at Maryland Sheep and Wool. I haven’t tried spinning cotton on my e-spinner.


  5. What a fascinating life you are living! You have inspired me to try 4 tones of celedon next to a cream white.

    • Hi Lois. I had to do a Google search of celedon. What a gorgeous color…very cool and calming.

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