Posted by: lavernewaddington | November 18, 2022

Backstrap Weaving- Back to Black…..and Red

I’m going to keep this post quite short as I am house and cat-sitting at the moment without my laptop and am attempting to write this post on my phone. I am a fast two-finger typist on my laptop but a very slow single-digit writer on my phone due to lack of practice. I don’t even try the dual thumb thing that everyone seems to do.

The cat in question. This blue-eyed 19-year-old lady lived with me until I sadly had to re-home her due to the amount of travel I was doing. Now I get to keep her company while her carer is away.

We are on Day 27 of the citywide general strike with no end in sight. At least now the authorities announce the plan for the week for permitted supermarket opening hours so that we can all be better organized. Before this, it was mass panic when the stores were allowed to open with the whole city out getting supplies….only to have another shopping morning announced just two days later.

I got out on one of the mornings and managed to pick up more cochineal from the ladies that sell home remedies in the street market. The bugs only come in tiny packets as they are sold here as remedies rather than for dyeing. The last time I bought some, they were sold by the teaspoonful out of a large jar.

I also managed to find a store that sells cream of tartar to use as a color-shifting agent for my cochineal dyeing but had to buy a minimum quarter kilo.

My projects have been rather blue lately. I wanted indigo blues for my ikat experiments and have had fun using synthetic dyes for silk and cotton to create different blues. I can’t get hold of natural indigo here. Now I would like to try my hand at using a natural dye for an ikat project and cochineal is a convenient thing with which to start.

I even used blues for my recent silk hummingbird cuff bracelet but that was more about just making do with what was available in my stash of 60/2 silk.

This is what’s on the loom now and I found this red and black kind of shocking after all those cool and calming blues.

But I do need to remind myself that red and black has always been a great favorite combination of mine and something that I have used time and time again over the years and as recently as 2020 when I wove my four-part Within These Walls series.

The first ever motif I wove with my backstrap loom teachers in Peru back in 1996 was in red and black.

My latest project is a request from a friend….a woven sleeve for his quena flute. I had to scratch around in my stash for suitable yarn and decided to go with chunky Omega Sinfonia cotton. This yarn is from my workshop stash for creating warps for my beginner students. I have a lot of this standing by for the day I can teach in-person classes again. I knew that I could create something big, bold and striking with this thread.

But, as always, I wove a width sample first. My eyes just seemed to naturally go for blues for the sample. I got the information that I needed from it and I hope to make something useful from it. It’s a good size for a case for sunglasses.

The pattern request for the quena case was for something snake-like. My Guaraní weaving teacher many years ago showed me one of the motifs that she weaves using the structure that the Guaraní people call karakarapepo. I call it Andean Pebble Weave. She explained the role of the snake in Guaraní legend and added that the zig-zag pattern also represents the life-giving Parapetí River along which her community lives.

This zig-zag motif is woven in many different ways. It doesn’t seem to have a single fixed form and it has been interesting to see the various forms it takes during the years I have been here. It’s hard to find any two that are exactly the same. My zig-zag pattern is a modified and embellished version of the one that my first teacher had shown me.

I never lose the thrill I feel when seated at a new warp all heddled up and ready to go. I am using the very efficient two-heddle method that my backstrap loom teachers from Ayacucho showed me.

In this chunky yarn, the inches quickly accumulate.

I got this far and then it was time to pack up some things for the two weeks of house sitting. My plan had been to go back and forth each day but the strike has made it less than pleasant to be walking around the deserted streets alone. It wasn’t something I was going to feel safe doing twice a day. And so I faced the fact that I would have to just stay put at my friend’s place which meant packing up my weaving . Hooray for the portability of the backstrap loom.

Sticks, yarn, swords, shuttle, string and cable ties to help attach the far beam to something all went into the tote bag. After completing the first pattern repeat, I didn’t need a chart any more. But darn…I forgot to bring the backstrap…and I have at least twelve of them at home!

But guess what…the tote bag makes a pretty good backstrap in an emergency. I love the idea of a loom carry bag that doubles as a backstrap. However, I would create a thicker cushier one if I were to make something like that in the future.

You make do with what you have and this tote bag has been working just fine as a backstrap.

This weaves up so quickly! I will have to sneak back home on one of the supermarket mornings (when there are more people out and about and it feels less creepy) and put together another warp. Once off the loom, I will figure out how to put this flute sleeve together. I am weaving the two sides of the sleeve as separate bands so that each can have its own third selvedge. That will save a bit of hemming.

I found table legs that I could attach the far beam to at just the right height, piled a bunch of heavy things on top of the table, threw a cushioned chair seat on the floor, and was good to go.

I am very much used to the red and black now. How did I ever feel that it was shocking?

There was some hope that the strike would end today but it hasn’t. Today was a permitted shopping morning and so I walked home to pick up my dyeing stuff.

These are the colors I have so far on silk using cochineal, my hard tap water, and alum mordant. A bit of lemon juice produced the orange tones.

I am hoping that the cream of tartar will give me reds. This is what the pot looked like when I added the cream of tartar. Looks promising, right?

I have hung the skein to dry without having rinsed it. I am thinking that maybe the color needs time to “cure”. When I rinsed the first lemon-juice-induced orange skein in tap water (it was shockingly orange), all the orange color disappeared and I was left with purple! The only way that I found to save the color was by adding a bit of lemon juice to the rinse water. I am wondering, therefore, if I should rinse this latest skein in water that has a bit of cream of tartar in it. Well, it’s all about experimenting, isn’t it? I have yet to get hold of distilled water. That will have to wait until after the strike, I guess. It’s not a supermarket item here.

Well, I have managed to write this by pecking away at the phone keyboard while not making myself too crazy.

Hopefully the next time I write, I will be back home, we will be strike free, I’ll have beautiful red silk skeins to show, and a successfully completed quena sleeve.


  1. You write compellingly about your everyday life which is anything but everyday to me .I find it fascinating to see how you work under such restricted circumstances and yet produce high quality items. I congratulate you on your many successes and thankyou for sharing your experiences.

  2. you inspire me as usual! it is so good to hear of your life. age is becoming a factor in mine, and i am learning to welcome it. it doesn’t really detour me, or deter me, it’s a branch in the journey. thank you, laverne, for your company on exploration of the territory! best to you, kj

    • Hi Karen. Thanks so much for your message. Oh yes, age is definitely becoming a factor over here too. I can’t believe it was only three years ago that I thought nothing of swinging one of my 50-lb bags on my back to walk down three flights of stairs on my way to the airport and the next adventure. And I would have TWO of those 50-lb monsters plus a carry-on. That’s one of the good things about teaching via Zoom!

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