Posted by: lavernewaddington | May 19, 2023

Backstrap Weaving – Where is it?

The slooooow move back to Australia is presenting some problems. One of them could have been easily solved by simply making a list of things that I have taken over there so far. That would save me from having the annoying ”Where is it?” question occupying so much of my time.

For example, I can’t find the silk that I dyed with cochineal last year. I have a certain photography spot beneath the bedroom window and I remember removing from it the little zippered bag that holds all those silk cochineal-dyed balls of thread so that I could place an item to be photographed. Now where the heck did I put that zippered bag? If I can’t find it here, surely that means that I must have taken it to Australia. But that doesn’t make sense. I wanted all of my yarn stash to be here so that I have things to work on between trips to Australia.

Anyway, something good comes from combing through plastic bags and cupboards….you find other stuff. You get to say….”Ooooh, I’d forgotten all about you” and feel all warm and fuzzy with the memories that the unexpected item triggers.

The first example of this was the band woven from my own handspun llama fiber that I uncovered in the closet. That brought back memories of a trip to Bolivia’s amazing Uyuni salt lake way back in 2002. It was on that trip that I met a farmer who sold me bags of llama fiber. I was grateful to be able to take the fiber back with me to spin in the fiber-less tropical lowlands in which I live.

I wove a long band from the mill-spun wool singles yarn that you see in the photo, cut it in two and used it to flank the llama band. I joined the three pieces with the tiniest of seams and it has become the slip case for my pin loom. What can I say?…. I love to weave and anything that is not nailed down around here will eventually get its own woven pouch.

Here’s a look at just some of the black-and-white bags, pouches and slip cases that house all manner of things around my home. They showcase a variety of techniques. Top left is a two-color ikat with a little supplementary weft patterning at the bottom. Top right is a shoulder bag patterned in the intermesh structure with a little weft substitution at the bottom. Bottom left is a three-color ikat using my own handspun cotton. Bottom right is a laptop slip case patterned in a single-faced two-color warp-float structure.

I like that I can keep learning and practicing stitched shibori techniques and use the learning pieces to line my latest creations.

I never seem to decide on the lining until I have finished sewing the bag which means that I get a lot of practice installing drop-in linings. This third stitched shibori project taught me about the effect of different spacing in the stitches and now lines the llama-band bag.

Find Number Two: This was some cotton fabric that I had picked up from a give-away box at a guild meeting I had attended years ago. I had no plans to sew it into anything. I took it because I like to use fabric as backdrops for some of my photos and no one else seemed to to want it. This find gave me the idea of trying the stitched resist technique on print fabric rather than plain white. I gave the fabric a quick wash in hot water which was obviously not enough to truly scour it and make it ready-to-dye. This was just a sample and I wasn’t willing to go to too much trouble. It was okay for a quick experiment and I think this idea is worth pursuing. Ideally, I would have the surrounding print almost totally covered by the dark dye. I don’t know if that’s even possible but I will do some research and put more effort into the scouring next time.

Flower pattern idea for stitched shibori from the website of Townhill Studio where you’ll find lots of tips and tutorials.

Find Number Three: This was a ball of indigo-dyed reeled silk that a former English teaching colleague had brought back for me from Japan. Dear Sayuri (r.i.p) had totally surprised me with this thoughtful gift. She was about the only one among my many teaching colleagues here who showed any interest in what I do but even so, I had never expected her to bring back such a treasure for me. I remember that I had been initially disappointed because my fingers had been stained blue as I was winding the thread off the skein into a ball. I wasn’t sure how that would affect my weaving with it and that might be why I set it aside all those years ago.

I decided that it was time I did something with this gift. I wound some off into skeins and washed them over and over until all the blue had been released. The difference in color as it appears in the photo is subtle but is actually quite significant. I prefer the post-wash color. This silk and some pictures that I had seen of indigo-dyed clothing worn by Chinese minority groups gave me the idea to weave something using a motif that had a kind of eastern flavor. I set about designing one to be woven with supplementary weft.

I used several strands of two colors of silk on a base of 20/2 cotton for my sampling. I love how a backstrap loom allows me to whip up these small samples without wasting too much thread. It took a couple of attempts to get something I liked. That first one was wrong! I was happy with this and was just getting down to the number-crunching part of the preparation process (I like this part because I get to write in my weaving journal with its handwoven cover) when I got distracted by Find Number Four.

Many years ago, I had bought these two ply-split straps. They were made in Colombia by Wayuu artisans who generally use them as straps for their crocheted mochila bags. In this case, they were being sold online as guitar straps but did not come with any hardware. I had become fascinated with the mochila bags and the band weaving of the Wayuu people after buying Dutch weaver Mirja Wark’s book on the subjects back in 2011. My Dutch friend, Anna, (if you are long-time follower of my blog, you might remember “bicycle Anna”) had arranged to get this book from the Netherlands to me here in Bolivia. The following year, 2012, I actually had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands and spend a day with Mirja Wark. You can see that my recent unearthing of these these two straps has also unearthed a whole string of lovely memories.

My friend Dorothy owns this Wayuu mochila bag with its ply-split strap.

I am usually pretty good at focusing on one weaving project at a time. I may take time out to spin some cotton, weave a pin-loom square or stitch some shibori cloth but once I have chosen a weaving project, I usually stick with it from start to finish. Not so this time. The “eastern” project has been set aside so that I can plan a bag around the darker of the two ply-split straps. I had the idea of using the strap as the sides and base of a plain black bag and weaving an ikat patterned outer pocket to complement the strap pattern.

Wrapping warp threads with tape to resist the first of the three dye colors.

And away we go. I planned a very simple ikat pattern to mimic the “M” shapes in the ply-split strap. I used 20/2 cotton. I have woven two ikat projects with this weight of cotton in the past. The first was the two-color drawstring bag that appeared in the photo near the start of this post. The second was this one in three colors….

These were the pieces that would help me make my calculations. In my latest project I would use four colors. I wrapped bundles of thread that were twice the size of those that I had used in the first two projects. That fact, together with the small spacing between the wrappings, meant that the dense bundles of threads emerging from the wrappings did not have much room in which to spread and evenly take up the dye all the way up to the very edges of the wraps. I spotted the problem after the first dye bath using the tan color but it was too late to fix. I didn’t want to throw it into a second tan bath because I figured it would darken the color too much. In the subsequent brown and black dye baths I worked on moving the threads (as much as I could with rubber-gloved fingers) so that the dye would penetrate all the way to the edge of the wrappings. Every project carries a lesson. I just have to make sure that I add that to my notes….don’t make the bundles too thick if the wrappings are going to be placed close together.

The completed pocket fabric. The tan areas have little fringes of white due to the problem mentioned above.

Sides and base of bag….done. Outer pocket…mostly done. I am deciding on whether it needs a zip. I am going to scrape together thread to dye black for the body of the bag (remember that I’m trying to work solely from stash and so that will mean over-dyeing some colors black). I know from past experience that I’ll most likely end up with various intensities of black color as a result but that could be interesting. As for the shape of the bag…that’s yet to be decided. I wonder if I can actually figure out the lining this time before I sew the bag.

I still haven’t found the cochineal-dyed silk. But I am sufficiently distracted now. It will no doubt turn up when and where I least expect it to. Looking for it has resulted in some beautiful memory trips, though!


  1. It was wonderful reading Your blog. Suprise findings are always a delight .it is happening more to me as I age !!

    • Thank you Erroll. I think of you every time I come across something ply-split and our meeting in Manchester all those years ago was also a memory that I enjoyed when I ran across those straps.

  2. Your work is just incredible. You have my sympathies about losing things in a move – I moved from Wales to Ireland two years ago and between the tings I had to give awayt/throw out and the stuff taht’s still in a box – I am still not sure where so many things are.

    • Thank you so much. I’ll let you in on a secret…..since writing this post, I have found the silk thread in the craziest of places! I hope you find all your missing items too.

  3. Being dreaming of going to Santa Cruz, Bolivia to learn Backstrap weaving without succes, now I hear you are going back home! 😩
    Well on your way back if you want to pass by Amsterdam let me know!👍🏾🤔😃

  4. You amaze me! Thank you for sharing

  5. Dear Laverne,

    Please can you alter the email address listing that you currently have for me – sadly I’ve had my account hacked – (you may have received a scam message purporting to be from me asking if you use Amazon) so I have had to change my account server to

    Good luck with your continued slow move back to Australia in the meanwhile.

    Regards, Stephanie Edwards

    • Hi Stephanie. I deleted your email addresses from your comment so that I could publish and reply to you. Unfortunately, I’m not able to add or alter subscriptions via WordPress. You need to subscribe again using your new address. There’s a subscription box on my Home page. If you have an old WordPress notification in the inbox of your old account, there should be something in that message that allows you to unsubscribe. I hope this helps.

  6. This was a fabulous tale. I really enjoy reading your blog and have fond memories of learning from you when I didn’t even know what a shed was!

  7. “Every project carries a lesson”. Muy buena frase! Me siento muy identificada. Gracias, Laverne.

    • You’re welcome. I’m certainly learning a lot of lessons while creating the bag with the ply-split strap!

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