Posted by: lavernewaddington | January 20, 2023

Backstrap Weaving – A Way with Words

With most of the messiness of the strikes and the disruptions of festive season holidays behind us, I finally managed to get an appointment with my Brazilian dentist which means that I can now offer you a toothy smile to welcome the New Year!

One of my favorite things about being at the dentist is reclining in front of her very large picture window watching the hummingbirds feed on the flowers in her garden. Hummingbirds have made their way back into my weaving as I decided on a garden theme for this fabric. I am hoping to be able to sew this into a cylindrical bag for my cotton spinning tools…hence the plant-like subject matter.

The warp is seventeen inches wide and quite short….just enough to make a draw-string cylindrical bag. I had a choice of making it long and narrow or wide and short. Long and narrow would have been much faster to weave….the horizontal strips of complementary-weft patterning that you see (the light blue and teal strips) are painfully slow to weave across seventeen inches! The complementary-warp sections (the darkest blue parts) zoom by in comparison.

Warp of 1192 ends of cotton with two sets of heddles for the structure that I call Andean Pebble Weave. I later added a third set of heddles to hold groups of warp threads for the weft-faced sections.

I was at first cursing my decision to go wide, but now that the project is underway, I am pleased with the way it looks, and have found that the small sample I had woven actually has given me enough information (I’d had my doubts), I have forgotten about the slowness and am thoroughly enjoying the process.

The warp is much longer than needed but it’s more comfortable to weave with this extra length and besides, I am hoping that I can squeeze in enough to perhaps produce an additional piece of fabric large enough to be the base of the bag.

I fiddled about for quite some time before getting this on the loom because I had to dye various shades of blue for the complementary-weft sections. I haven’t been very adventurous with that. I could use any color I want but am playing it safe in this project with shades of blue. Maybe I will get a little crazier in the next one.

My recent house and cat-sitting experience may have influenced my color choices. The band on the right is one that I was using as a sample during that time. I liked the colors in the bedding and then there’s kitty’s blue eyes. The gold would have been a nice “pop” color but I decided against it in the end. I can see something in that green, gold, and blue some day, though.

So, this is pretty much where it stands right now. I am weaving the figures upside down because the selvedge that I created at the start is going to be at the mouth of the bag.

This is my view while seated at the loom…

The colors are not showing up very well here. The last strip of complementary weft (mountains and forest!) actually has bands of three different shades of blue. You can see the third set of heddles that I installed for the weft-faced sections.

And now I have decided to weave some words into the last strip of complementary-weft….”spinning cotton” and “hilando algodon”. Lettering is not something that I have been interested in doing in the structure that I call Andean Pebble Weave. Warp-faced double weave gives me much more freedom to design interesting letters. The supplementary-warp structure that my Montagnard weaving teachers showed me (tutorial here) allows very bold lettering (with the disadvantage of sometimes resulting in quite long floats on the back of the piece). That style has its place but sometimes can be a little bit too “loud” for my liking. The intermesh structure allows me to use most of the tablet-weaving charts that Linda Hendrickson created.

Lettering in intermesh. Feathering on the edges of some of the diagonals can be distracting when heavier thread is used.


Lettering in weft twining (using two of Linda Hendrickson’s charts). The fact that there aren’t any floats gave me a lot of freedom when I moved on to designing my own letters in this structure.
The style of lettering using supplementary warp threads that my Montagnard weaving teachers use. Some of the white floats on the back can be long, for example, between the longer vertical of the G and the first vertical of the following N.
Warp-faced double weave gives me a lot of freedom for both simple and complex letter design….no floats!
I designed cursive lettering in supplementary weft. There are some very minor limitations because you have to consider the length of the weft floats.

But lettering can also be done in the structure that I call Andean Pebble Weave in what I consider a fun and quite quirky style. Many years ago, my friend Ruth in Melbourne showed me lettering that she had been designing in this structure. She had woven a really cool name tag for herself. Alison Irwin in Canada has also done so and published a project with Andean Pebble Weave lettering in one of the recent issues of Little Looms (Winter 2022). I will be using those letters to weave the words along the bottom of my bag. These letters have personality! They aren’t large and blocky and overpowering. They sort of dance their way along the warp. I had liked them but hadn’t been drawn to using them when Ruth had first showed me her creations. After all, I had so many other ways at my disposal for designing letters. But now they seem just right for this project. I like that weaving them in complementary weft rather than complementary warp means that the words run across the width of the warp rather than along the length.

You’ll have to wait for my next post to see these fun letters, that is, if I stay with this idea about adding words. The fact that this is not a repetitive or symmetric pattern will make progress very slow. I am, however, very curious to see how the letters look in complementary-weft and will most likely stick it out. (If you’d like a sneak preview of this style of lettering, go take a look at the Winter 2022 issue of Little Looms. You’ll see Alison’s project on the cover).

See you next time (maybe from Australia!…first time back in four years).


  1. Always a joy to receive your new post. Your unique and beautiful work almost moves me to tears.

  2. I am constantly in awe of your work. Always so well done and incredibly beautiful.

  3. Thanks for your great blog posts. I love them 😍 The information that there is an article in “little looms” about letters in the Andean pebble weaving technique made me start looking for it right away. I’m curious if I can implement it for myself. Kind regards and have a nice time, Martina Musil

    • Hi Martina. The key fobs that you weave with the names of your friends have all been so beautiful. I hope you find Alison Irwin’s letters nice to work with too..

  4. I love your blogs and am in awe of your work. Please keep them coming. I am tempted to try letters on a project after reading this.

    • Hi Elizabeth. Thanks for leaving a comment. Let me know how you go if you try letters in your weaving.

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