Posted by: lavernewaddington | November 30, 2022

Backstrap Weaving – Breathing in, Breathing out.

Some place last week, I have completely forgotten where, I heard (or read) someone say that reading is like breathing in and writing is breathing out. That really appealed to me.

Because I have been house-sitting for the last couple of weeks and don’t have all my stuff around me, on top of the fact that the whole city was on strike for 36 days (the strike ended last Saturday), I had been feeling a little as if I were standing still and unable to be as productive as I would normally like to be. However, since hearing that thought on breathing, I’ve been thinking of these weeks as a period of breathing in…time to sit back in my enforced stillness and cruise the internet, soak up inspiration, make sketches and notes in my weaving book while figuring out if the projects I have in mind are actually technically doable, and deciding if my stash will stretch far enough to make them possible…. readying myself to eventually breathe out and create.

Just a handful of the sample bands in the bucket.

But of course I haven’t been completely idle. One thing I did during the strike was go back to my home on one of the permitted shopping mornings and bring back the bucket-load of woven samples that I have accumulated over the years. Most of the pieces are bands of motifs that I wove to photograph for my pattern books and double weave book. Some were width samples as I tested a new-to me yarn for a larger project while others were just fun experiments…those funny little “what-if” things that I get a sudden urge to explore now and then. Some have stories attached to them. I have felt an urgent need to downsize lately and I’ve been procrastinating about attacking the pile of woven samples. Taking those pieces out of my home to this unfamiliar place has somehow made the task of sorting and tossing things away easier.

I managed to whittle the bucket-load down to a more acceptable amount of bands. This is one of the samples that I decided to keep. Maybe it’s the horrendously hot and dry weather we have been having lately that has made me feel a particular attachment to this watery scene with its cooling blues.

Rivers and Ocean-themed band woven for my Complementary-warp Pattern Book.

I expect that I will make something out of this band one of these days. It might end up being the strap for a bag. It wouldn’t be the first time that a strap has inspired a bag project.

The bag project that grew from a simple strap. Every part is handwoven…even the lining.

During the strike I hadn’t been able to get the distilled water that I need to continue with my cochineal dyeing experiments on silk. I finish house-sitting on Thursday and I will get that organized on my return home. In the meantime, someone on Facebook suggested using bottled water…not as a substitute for distilled, but just to see if it made any difference. I thought, why not?

Cochineal dye experiments on scoured 30/2 silk using hard tap water for some and bottled water for others.

The dusty pink upper right is the result of alum mordant on silk in bottled water with added cream of tartar. I really like it!

This is what the tap water and cream of tartar dye bath had looked like….so promising, right? However, a tap-water rinse sent it right back to purple again. Oh well. It was worth a try.

While on the topic of dye experiments, I can tell you that I just happened to come across the Long Thread Media podcasts again a couple of days ago. I have listened to these chats with fiber artists in the past but because I haven’t subscribed, I keep having to remind myself to go and check out the new episodes. I listened to the fairly recent one with natural dye expert Catherine Ellis the other day and was so happy to hear her speak about the time she had been teaching someplace in the north east and was unable to coax any red out of cochineal bugs. This was due to the hard water that they were using. She also mentioned that using distilled water had provided the solution to this problem. Hooray. It’s so nice to have this confirmed by such an authority. It squashes the thoughts I have every now and then that I am simply doing something very wrong and that it isn’t the fault of the water that I can’t produce red. And so, while I don’t have any nice dyed red silk to show you this time, hopefully in my next post there’ll be some lovely red tones to add to my collection of samples.

The other thing that I have been working on here is the case for my friend’s quena (flute). I showed you in my last post how I was weaving two bands at once in the structure that I call Andean Pebble Weave on my backstrap loom so that I could have two pieces each with a third selvedge.

The idea was to use the third selvedges at the mouth of the case and at the edge of the closure flap as you can see below….

That gave me two raw edges to take care of at the other end of the case. I joined the fringed endings of the two bands together with weft twining which sealed the raw edges. You can see that in the photo below. I’ll leave it up to my friend to decide how short he would like to cut the fringe. He does tend to like things on the wild and woolly side. All that’s left to do is add a large snap closure or a magnet closure, or even velcro tabs if that’s what he prefers. I have a tutorial on this kind of handy weft twining here on my blog.

I am so happy with the way the pattern on the flap lines up with that on the body of the case. The pattern is a modified version of one that I include in my More Andean Pebble Weave Patterns book.

I then got the idea of replacing the decorative bands on the flute itself with woven ones. The bands that are currently in place are made from colored nylon fishing line. There were three bands and I have managed to remove one of them so far. I think that woven bands in red and black would look much nicer.

So, if it’s fun to weave two bands at once on my backstrap loom….how much more fun would it be to weave three? That way I get three pieces each with its third selvedge to place around the flute. The selvedge will slightly overlap and cover the raw edge at the other end of each band. I am weaving these in much finer cotton than the thread I used for the case. This is the good ol’ Clea thread that I used to use for almost everything long before I started traveling a lot to the States to make my yarn purchases. It’s made in Brazil and I have a bin of its odds and ends from all those years ago. It’s a 2-ply crochet cotton which isn’t as highly mercerized as the crochet cottons I have come across in the States. When I eventually move back to Australia, I am sure that I will long for it. I prefer the flatness of 2-ply thread over the round-ness of 3-ply and the less polished feel of the Clea thread.

Three bands to encircle and decorate the quena in the structure that I call Andean Pebble Weave. This is just one of the hundred patterns in my Complementary-warp Pattern Book.

And when the evening comes and its time for cat-sitting cuddle duty, I brush this little old lady and spin her fur for fun.

I have two takli spindles here with me. One is occupied with the natural brown cotton labeled as “cinnamon”. By the way, I did some boil tests with the cinnamon thread to see if the darkening of the brown color intensified the longer it was boiled. I started with the two extremes, boiling one lot for 40 minutes and the other lot for only 5. The difference is disappointingly barely noticeable and so that’s the end of that experiment! It was actually the label on the brown color called “coyote” that stated that a range of tones could be obtained by boiling the thread for different lengths of time. I haven’t started spinning the coyote yet and so I will perhaps try this experiment again when I have spun a decent amount of thread.

I’ll be back home by the time I write my next post. I’ll be breathing out some kind of mixture of everything I have been breathing in these last couple of weeks. See you then.


  1. Great post as always, Laverne. Glad you are enjoying the Long Thread Media podcasts – I have learned a lot from them and even heard your name mentioned a time or two. Spinning cat fur: you rock! 😁

    • Hi Mary. I have a few more of the Long Thread Media podcasts to catch up on yet but so glad that I chose the Catherine Ellis one as it turned out to be so relevant. I had been wondering if the cat-fur spinning was a bit over the top! Thanks for the thumbs-up 🙂

  2. The cheapest distilled water is in fact water for ironing, so long as it has no fabric softener (“agua de plancha”). You can get it in supermarkets (if Bolivia is anything like Mexico).

    • Thanks. I have looked in supermarkets but haven’t found it. There is a supplier who even delivers but they weren’t operating during the strike.

  3. I really like the “breath in, breath out”. It perfectly describes what happens. I used to worry during the “breathe in” cycle. Now I know to relax, and breathe in, and wait for the breathe out.

    • Hi Cindy. I had forgotten that all the time that I used to spend away traveling was my breathing-in period. I have to remind myself to allow time for it now.

  4. I agree about breathing in and out.
    I don’t understand what you are saying about the third selvedges. I’ve seen Sarah and Rebecca 4 selvedges tapestry and it’s neat. Have you written an article about the third selvedges? I’m intrigued.

    • Hi Jane. About the third selvedge…I can lash my warp to the near beam which enables me to start weaving at the very beginning of the warp thus creating a selvedge start rather than a fringed start. I did write about that in one of my FAQ articles. I have my own quirky way of doing it rather than following the traditional way that my indigenous teachers showed me. I have included a link at the end of the article to a video clip that shows a traditional way that is used in the Bolivian highlands to lash the warp to the beam. Both ends are lashed. And the weaver can create four selvedges if they choose. Here’s the link to my FAQ…..

      • Many thanks Laverne, I see now. The reference I made was to Sarah Swett and Rebecca Mezzoff four selvedge tapestry.I haven’t included a link but it is googleable!

      • Thanks. I’ve actually done a few four-selvedged tapestries myself from the days when I was doing Navajo-style weaving. I find creating four selvedges in warp-faced structures much more difficult than in weft-faced because the warp threads are sitting so much closer together. I’ll take a look at Rebecca and Sarah’s work. Thanks again!

  5. Laverne, in your dyeing with cochineal, if you match the pH of your rinse water to that of your dyepot, you can maintain the color you saw in the dye. Because you had added Cream of Tartar to your original dye, it was acidic and you could have maintained that red-scarlet-orange color range by adding some vinegar to the rinse water. When you went back to tap water for the rinse, you changed the pH and it went back to the purple range which shows up in the neutral to basic pH range. You can still change the color of your yarn by soaking it in a vinegar water solution, but all subsequent washes and rinses will also need to be acidic. It’s very sensitive!

    • Thank you, Kris! I didn’t think of using vinegar in the rinse. I am excited about this 🙂 and now want to immediately soak that silk in vinegar…but I can’t find any in my house-sitting abode. Oh well, I’ll be back home tomorrow and can try it then. Would adding cream of tartar to the tap-water rinse have the same effect?

      • I think it may leave a powdery residue on your yarn, but that’s just a guess. I think vinegar would give the best results.

      • Thanks so much, Kris.

  6. I am preparing to weave a “sheath” for a toy wooden sword and this gives me a better idea about how to create it! Previously I had thought to do one long strip folded and was struggling with what to do with the strings, but doing two pieces looks so much better!

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