Posted by: lavernewaddington | November 7, 2022

Backstrap Weaving – The Right Stuff

We’re standing still as we enter the sixteenth day of a city-wide strike but I have been pretty busy and entertained during this latest of the stay-at-home situations. It’s nowhere near as anxiety-ridden as the last time we did this for twenty-one days at the end of 2019.

This is what I have been up to:

SILK: soaking, scouring, squeezing, steeping, stirring

COCHINEAL: squashing, sifting, soaking, steeping, straining

DYEING: Sighing (over the dull colors), squealing (over the lovely ones), searching (for the right additives)

Dyeing experiments on silk with cochineal and alum mordant have kept me entertained during the strike.

But I don’t have the right stuff if I want to get the gorgeous reds normally associated with cochineal. Never mind, I’ll just pop out and get some. But of course everything is closed due to the strike. What I would like to have is cream of tartar and distilled water. The former is supposed to push the color towards a cherry red. Yum. My tap water is far too hard. I have read that dye molecules tend to adhere to the minerals in the water and not so much to the fiber. And that’s where the distilled water comes in.

Citric acid shifts the color to a strong orange.

The supermarkets have been allowed to open on two mornings a week from 6am to 11am. Imagine the whole city out trying to shop in those two time slots especially since the Day of the Dead fell right in the middle of it all. You would think that it would be a simple matter of getting some cream of tartar at the supermarket. I went to three and didn’t find it. I don’t have an oven and, therefore, don’t bake. I have never had a reason to look for it before. I found a place on Facebook that supplies commercial kitchens. Of course, it’s not open during the strike. I suppose I will have to buy a bagful! The distilled water will have to wait until the end of the strike too. In the meantime, I’ll just make do with what I’ve got and have fun.

This is the kind of red-ish purple that I got on my handspun llama with an alum mordant and tap water many years ago. I was really pleased with it. Many years ago, I used to have a softening attachment on my tap and I don’t remember if I still had it when I was dyeing this llama fiber. The company that supplied the cartridges for the attachment closed and that was the end of that. I know for sure that I hadn’t used cream of tartar.

In a way it’s a lot of fun making do with what you have on hand. Using coffee filters was suggested as a way to strain the bug particles out of the cochineal liquid. I don’t have any but I found that cutting two of the three layers out of one of the disposable surgical masks made a pretty good strainer. I could hang the elastic straps over two bottles to suspend the mask over a bowl. I had a little re-usable draw-string sack that can be used for tea leaves or yerba mate. That worked well for containing the crushed cochineal while the color was being extracted.

I got a few different purples…nothing terribly exciting….but adding lemon juice to the bath brought on a powerful zing of orange. Wow. Almost too powerful. I learned that I had to rinse the orange skeins in water that had a few drops of lemon juice. My first orange skein, rinsed under the tap, released a lot of orange liquid in the first rinse, a rosy quite attractive orange in the second, and then the skein magically turned purple before my eyes… and a very dark purple at that! Not a trace of orange left. How bizarre. I rinsed the others in lemon-y water after that and got some pretty colors.

Purple and orange and pink tones in silk from cochineal.

So, that’s what I have so far. I am looking forward to getting some reds when things are back to normal and I can get the right stuff. In the meantime I can start skeining and scouring and mordanting the next lot of silk. I have a new even greater appreciation for the person who prepared all these tiny sample silk skeins from natural dye experiments using all kinds of mordants and color-shifting agents.

Skeins of naturally dyed silk that were gifted to me.

I had so much fun combining those small skeins to weave book covers…

Hopefully I can get colors that work well enough together for a future ikat project.

As you can imagine, when doing this kind of thing there is a lot of time spent waiting for yarn to dry or soak or steep. I had to keep myself busy with other fiber pursuits so that I would stop impatiently poking at things in the pot. I am still spinning the brown cotton that is labeled as Cinnamon and am about to start experimenting with boiling small quantities of it for different lengths of time to see how that affects the resulting deepening of color. I first soaked one lot and allowed it to dry to see if the color changes at all from simply being thoroughly wetted. It doesn’t. Now it’s time to start boiling.

The color labeled Cinnamon is the uppermost one in this picture.

The other thing I did was weave a band in 60/2 silk to experiment with making jewelry…wrist-cuff bracelets and possibly pendants. I enjoy wearing these when I travel but am also thinking about possible income sources when I eventually return to live in Australia.

I added a hummingbird cuff bracelet to my collection of blue ones….

And then I unearthed a sample I had woven in indigo-dyed fine cotton from Guatemala. It will make a nice storage bag for the blue bracelets.

I finish my cuff bracelets in a number of ways. Sometimes I add a button to one end and a loop to the other. This involves finishing the raw edges of the band in some way. Usually the material is fine enough to turn under twice and hem. If not, I turn once and sew down after having sealed the edge with diluted PVA glue. This is not my favorite way as the dried glue can sometimes be scratchy against the skin. A more complicated but enjoyable way is to edge the perimeter with a woven tubular band. Using metal ribbon crimps and some sort of clasp takes care of the raw edges. However, cuffs with clasps like these are the hardest ones to do up. I have had lots of practice, though!

A tubular edging added to a wool band encloses and protects the edges.

Apart from enclosing and protecting the cut raw edges, ribbon crimps also allow you to wear the bracelet showing either of the two faces.

I wove my hummingbird design in warp-faced double weave. I love the smooth, solid color look of this structure. There are no floats and no spotted background. If you think that you would like to try double weave yourself, I have written a book which gives instructions via dozens of step-by-step photos, detailed explanations and video clips for those who like to weave bands on standard inkle looms. I think that it is a technique for those who have already tried and decided that they like the slower pace of weaving bands with pick-up patterns. It’s not the first-ever kind of pick-up patterning that I would recommend trying. I learned this structure in the highlands of Bolivia way back in 1997on a horizontal ground loom and have adapted the method to the inkle loom. Warp-faced Double Weave on Inkle Looms is available as a PDF or as a spiral-bound book at Taproot Video.

I made the most of every piece of this short band…

My friend Dorinda is back in the States now after visiting Maxima and all her other friends in the Bolivian highlands. Maxima runs a small grass roots weaving co-op made up of women from her town and neighboring rural communities far, far away from tourist trails. Pre pandemic, I was able to take and show examples of the ladies’ work that I own using their handspun wool and natural dyes and generate a lot of orders for them. The profits would go towards simple needs like buying supplies for their children at the start of the school year. If you were reading my blog during those years you will know that I got around a lot and there are now folks from Florida to Washington state who own some of the beautiful woven cloth. Although the ladies do sew the cloth into useful products, most of my weaving friends were interested in buying lengths of cloth that they could use in their own sewing projects.

Here are some of the youngest and newest members of the co-op who have recently graduated from the body-tensioned band loom to the leaning vertical frame loom on which they weave wider pieces. The youngest one has yet to graduate but will do so next year. Look at those lovely reds they get on the wool from cochineal. I need to get some of that good highland water!

Maxima’s sister, Narciza is one of my weaving buddies and is here showing the 4350 meters of yarn that she spun during the Spinning Week competition that Dorinda helped organize in October by seeking out funding for prizes.
Two groups of spinners competed for prizes. The first prize winners on the right are wearing their new skirts and the second prize winners received a knitted cardigan. Donated funds were used for the purchase of the skirt fabric and yarn and the skirts were sewn and cardigans machine-knitted by members of the co-op. 89, 887 meters of yarn were spun in the week! There’ll be plenty to go into the dye pots next season.

These ladies were the participants in the Spinning Week competition in the first week of October. It’s a very humble group of ladies living a simple rural existence deep within the highlands, growing vegetables for the Sunday market and raising livestock. There are no passing foreign tourists and no local interest in their woven goods in the nearest city nine hours away (it’s a spectacular bus journey!) Please do take a look at Dorinda’s blog, PAZA Bolivia, to read her fascinating stories about the lives of these women and their efforts to keep their spinning and weaving traditions alive. You might think about subscribing to automatically receive notification of her future posts. I hope that I can travel soon to promote their work and help out in my own small way as I used to. In the meantime, I’ll do my best via my blog.

I’ll leave you here with an idea for using ribbon crimps to make some tree ornaments. I show these every year! The bands don’t necessarily need to be holiday themed. I think any pattern looks good.

These are all woven using the structure that I call Andean Pebble Weave. If you would like to learn how to weave Andean Pebble Weave on an inkle loom. I have written a book that teaches just that: Andean Pebble Weave on Inkle Looms. If you use any other kind of loom to weave bands you can still learn the method that enables you to weave these kinds of double-faced bands in this book: Complementary-warp Pick-up. The advantage of the inkle loom book is that it includes instructional video clips in both its digital and physical versions.. Both these books teach the method that enables you weave all the patterns in my two follow-up pattern books.

Hopefully, the strike won’t last too much longer and there will be a peaceful end and a solution to satisfy all concerned. Until next time…..


  1. J’admire votre travail , c’est magnifique .j’aimerais savoir le faire moi aussi .je vous ai acheté deux livres mais malheureusement ce n’est pas si simple si on ne voit pas les doigts travailler ! Est-ce que vous vendez des vidéos ? Du bout du monde je vous souhaite une excellente journée .

    • My book called Andean Pebble Weave on in Inkle Looms comes with video clips. It shows three different methods for producing the same result so students can choose the one that best suits their loom and weaving style. The second method in the book is one that can be used on any loom. As you are asking about video instruction, you may like to get that book and follow Method 2 which has accompanying video clips.

  2. I am just blown away by this newsletter! So much content! I’m feeling very overwhelmed at all these various weaving by you and a those you’ve highlighted and it’s fantastic to see the young people learning and being enthused about learning to weave and the progression.
    Thanks so much for your news and one day I’ll get myself started weaving so I can join in with this wonderful craft!

    • Hi Carol. I could have sworn that I had replied to you but now I don’t see it. here goes. I really appreciate your taking the time to stop by and leave me a message. I love that you find what I have to show so interesting and that perhaps you’ll consider trying weaving yourself one day. Many thanks.

  3. Wonderful ideas about what to do with bands and how to do them! I like your dyeing experiments and inventiveness when the “right stuff” is not available. Those of us who have many interests never get bored and can always find something fun to do! I have other questions but will write an e-mail. Thanks for another great blog.

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