Backstrap Basics Weavezine Article

BACKSTRAP BASICS   Laverne Waddington (An article originally writtten for the online magazine WeaveZine. It has been edited and extended for inclusion in this blog).

Basic, crude, primitive – these are all words that may spring to mind when one thinks of the humble backstrap loom – a description that obscures the fact that some of history’s most beautiful and complex textiles have been woven on this simple arrangement of sticks.

A simple loom, yet mysterious…the most frequent comment I hear when I pull out my backstrap rods is…“All those sticks! Where do they go and what in the world do they do?” The puzzling collection of sticks and tangle of yarn miraculously springs to life and transforms itself into a loom when the weaver herself dons the backstrap, attaches herself to the loom bar, tensions the warps and starts to weave.

Small, portable and inexpensive – the backstrap loom is ideal for those who lack the space for a table or floor loom, would like to be able to take their weaving “on the road’’ with them, or simply don’t have the means to invest in more sophisticated equipment.

I am fortunate to be currently living in a part of the world where this loom is still very much in use today. Many of its secrets have been revealed to me in the homes, hearts and hands of my weaving teachers – homes at the ends of dusty village paths on the cold, harsh, and colorless Bolivian high plains – an environment which starkly contrasts with the warmth of my teachers’ welcomes, their overwhelming generosity, and the rich, intricate and colorful designs that they weave into their cloth.

In this article, I show you the basics of backstrap weaving while teaching you to create one of the fundamental parts of the loom: the backstrap.

After many years of backstrap weaving which began back in 1996, I have found that a broad and sturdily constructed backstrap, well positioned down around the hips, (rather than the waist), allows me to comfortably weave at my loom for hours.

I based the dimensions of this project on a beautiful braided-straw backstrap that was made for me in Peru in 1997.  I use this special backstrap at home. When I travel, a strap I’ve woven rolls up beautifully and goes into my backpack along with my loom sticks.

PROJECT DETAILS

This project is woven in plain weave using a medium weight cotton yarn, and weaves up very fast. It is a simple and practical project which allows you to become familiar with the workings of your loom without having to think about complicated patterning.

I give instructions first for setting up and weaving on a narrow warp – as an introduction to backstrap weaving techniques – before moving on to the wider warp required for making the backstrap itself.

EQUIPMENT

Below is the equipment used in backstrap weaving. Yes, here is the puzzling collection of sticks and string! But bear with me….this jumble is about to turn into a loom.

Forget the fancy labels. A backstrap loom is basically two sticks between which you stretch your warp. Two more sticks strategically placed in the middle allow you to manipulate the warps to create sheds. Finally, the weft, which holds everything together, is carried and beaten into place with two additional implements. And what about that ‘’roll-up stick’’? Don’t worry, all will be revealed.

Now, what’s missing from this picture….? Oh yes, that would be you. Picture yourself there between the loom bar and the backstrap.

So it seems that a trip to the hardware store is in order – not necessarily. Take a look at some home-made options.

While you are weaving this project and making your own backstrap, an improvised one can be made from a pillow case. Broom handles make excellent loom bars – cut pieces 18-21 inches long.  A wooden ruler can be used as a beater, pencils can replace dowels as cross sticks and heddle sticks, and simple shuttles can be cut from cardboard.

WARP AND WEFT YARN

I use 8/2 crochet cotton for a lot of my projects but, in order to make a firm and sturdy fabric suitable for a backstrap, I have chosen a worsted-weight, (about 13 wraps per inch, wpi)) mercerized cotton yarn for both the warp and weft. Choose  yarn that is not loosely spun or fluffy. Mercerized cotton works best. In the USA, Plymouth Yarn Fantasy Naturale is a  mercerized cotton yarn that is ideal. You will need two skeins of it.

As I am in Bolivia, I am using a local brand and my yarn comes in balls of 219 yds (200 meters). I used almost one ball for this project.

SETT

This is a warp-faced weave. This means that your warps will be placed very close to each other and will completely cover the weft. My 13-wpi warp yarn yields approximately 1 inch of width per 20 ends. That is, 10 complete revolutions of warp will produce a one-inch-wide band.

I find that measuring like this, when my warps are on the cross sticks, is the easiest way to judge approximately how wide my piece will be.

WARPING FOR THE BACKSTRAP PROJECT

You could clamp stakes to a board to measure the warp but clamp them firmly. They must not be able to move at all while you are warping. I have wound a short warp above as an example.

Wind a  warp of 92 ends that is 1 yard long (approx 90cm). In other words, you will wind 46 complete revolutions around your warping stakes in a figure-of-eight path. Your warping stakes will be 1 yard apart. This will result in a finished backstrap 25-1/2 inches (65cm) long, including the braided ends, and approximately 4-1/2 inches (11.5cm) wide.

Have two thin dowel sticks ready to preserve the cross, with thread handy to tie them together. If you don’t have grooves in your cross sticks to hold the thread, they can be bound together with adhesive tape. Use a length of cotton to secure the end loops as shown above.

Your warp will have two sheds: one controlled by continuous string heddles, and the other by a shed rod or shed loop.

WEAVING

  1. Leave the first 6  inches (15cm) of warp unwoven for braids.
  2. Weave until there are 6 inches of warp remaining.
  3. Leave the last 6 inches unwoven for a second set of braids.

completed backstrap

The entire length of the warp will be used so there is no waste. Cords are passed through the braided ends which serve to attach the backstrap to the loom bars.

SETTING UP THE LOOM

Look at this narrow sample warp. The warp is placed on the loom bars as shown above. The loom bar that has the end of the warp with the knots (where the warp started and ended) will be attached to a fixed object.

There are several ways to do this. Experiment and find the way that is most comfortable for you.

Weavers in Guatemala have their warps angled quite steeply upwards. In Bolivia, women weave a narrow warp stretched between their waist and big toe, with the warp angled downwards. I prefer to work on a warp that is slightly angled upwards and I find the option at bottom left the most stable set-up.

The other loom bar will be attached to you by way of the backstrap. I feel most comfortable with the backstrap positioned around my hips.

Weavers come in all shapes and sizes. You can see in the photo how the strap should sit on the body. Bearing in mind that the woven area in this picture is 17-1/2 (45cm) in length, you can make the necessary adjustments to the length of your project to suit your shape and size. Measure the distance from the side of one hip, around your back to the  side of your other hip. Add 20% to this measurement for take-up. Add 12 inches (30 cm) to this measurement for the braids at the ends of the strap (6 inches, 15 cm,  at each end). However, I would like to add that I have woven eight backstraps for use in my classes. All were made with 36” warps and have been used by people of all sizes. The cords that extend from the ends of the backstrap are long enough to allow people to tie knots and therefore adjust the length for a good fit. A good fit means that your loom bar is not touching your body when placed within the backstrap straps, nor is it so far away from your body that you need to lean forward to reach your heddle stick. You should be able to sit straight- backed and have the heddles and shed rod within easy reach.

I feel comfortable with the front loom bar positioned 2-3 inches away from my body.

(Note: In the videos accompanying this article, you will see my loom bar is farther than that from my body – this is to provide an unobstructed view, and is not how I normally weave).

Remember in backstrap weaving you are part of the loom itself and there are some basic moves and techniques with which you need to become familiar:

1. Increasing and relaxing tension on the warps with your body, which allows you to efficiently open the sheds.

2. Smoothly opening a shed with string heddles so that there is not excessive abrasion and, therefore, pilling of the yarn.

3. Keeping your edges neat and straight.

PRACTICE PROJECT: WEAVING A NARROW BAND

I recommend weaving a narrow sample band of around 28 ends (14 revolutions on the stakes) to become familiar with your loom before attempting the wider piece which will be used to make your backstrap. At the end of this article, I have provided suggestions for how to use narrow bands for small gift projects.

I will be showing you, through a short video, these basic techniques on a narrow sample warp, but first, your continuous string heddles and shed loop need to be made. My weaving teachers in Bolivia use their warp yarn for heddle string and I do likewise. However, in Guatemala all the weavers I saw used nylon thread for their heddles as it is smooth and slippery and does not abrade the warps. While nylon definitely has its advantages, I personally don’t like it all as it slides around too much and doesn’t hold knots well.

MAKING CONTINUOUS STRING HEDDLES FOR A NARROW WARP

1. Pass your heddle string under the warps that are passing over the lower cross stick.

2. Anchor the string with your left thumb while pulling up more string from between the 1st and 2nd warps.

3. Draw this string up and over your hand. The first warp is now enclosed in its heddle.

4. While anchoring the string with your left thumb, pull up more string from between the 2nd and 3rd warps.

5. Once again, pass the string up and over your hand.

6. Continue like this across the warp.

7. Pass another ‘’tie up’’ piece of yarn through all the loops that were wound over your left hand and tie an overhand knot.

8. Cut your heddle string and take up the start and end tails, add them to the ‘’tie up’’ yarn and tie two more overhand knots.

9. Make your shed loop by passing a short length of yarn under the warps that are passing over the upper cross stick.

10. Tie this length of yarn in a knot. Remove the cross sticks. Your continuous string heddles and shed loop are now finished.

Now you are ready to start weaving! Is one end of your loom tied up to a sturdy fixed object? Is your backstrap around your hips and connected to the other end of the loom? Ok, let’s get started!

You can have a smooth start to your woven piece, rather than leaving warps for a fringe or braids as shown in the video, by passing a steel needle through the warp ends. The needle is then lashed very tightly to your loom bar. When your piece is finished, just withdraw the needle and pass the starting weft tail through the loops with a sewing needle and cut. You can use a length of sturdy coat hanger wire , a bicycle spoke, or cut down piano wire instead of a steel knitting needle. This, of course, is not the way that weavers in South America start their weaving. They use a header cord within a shed which is then lashed all the way across the width of the warp to the loom bar. You can see this in practice in Bolivia in the video here on the right hand side of the page.

THE BACKSTRAP PROJECT

So, you have been weaving your narrow band. Your edges were probably more than a little wobbly at the beginning but they eventually settled down to give you an even and consistent width. I would guess that your attempts to open the heddles now feel less like you are wrestling with the warp and more like a gentle coaxing. All the movements are progressively better coordinated and feel more natural.

Now you can confidently move on to the wider piece intended for the backstrap project warped with 92 ends.

The methods used to set up your loom and weave with a wider warp differ from those used for a narrow warp in the following ways –

  1. You will be winding your continuous string heddles on a stick rather than having them tied in a bunch;
  2. You will be using a shed stick/rod rather than a shed loop;
  3. You will be employing a different method for opening your heddle shed.

In the following short video, you will see how to make heddles on a stick and install the shed stick.

You will be starting your wide piece in the same way as your narrow sample; that is, by inserting a piece of cardboard into the shed. For the backstrap project, this piece of cardboard should measure 6 ‘’ (±15 cm). These unwoven 6 inches of warp will be later braided. The 92 ends will make a width of 4 ½ ‘’ (± 11.5cm). Keep a ruler handy and check the width of your piece every now and then so that tendencies to narrow or widen can be immediately corrected.

Now you can remove the cross sticks and start weaving. The next video shows how to open the sheds when working on a wide warp.

With this last piece of video you will learn about adding a new weft as well as the adjustments that need to be made as you near the end of your warp.

FINISHING THE PIECE

Here you can see two finished backstraps. I used 4 warp threads per strand to make 3-strand braids on one backstrap and 4-strand braids on another. Through the end loops I passed 3 and 4-strand braided cords made with my warp yarn. The 3-strand braid (the typical braid used on hair) makes a flat braid. The 4-strand version is a round braid. Both are attractive braids and work well in this situation. You can find instructions for the 4-strand braid here.

Picture by Gwendolyn

Picture by Gwendolyn

Above, on Gwendolyn’s backstrap, you can see 3-strand braids in progress. The warp threads end in loops where they passed around the loom bar. Remove a group of threads from the loom bar and braid them as far as you can, leaving just enough space at the end through which to pass some kind of cord. Have the cord ready to pass through the loops as soon as you stop braiding. Then braid the next group of warp threads, pass the cord through the loops and so on until you have all the warp ends braided and threaded onto the cord. This is the cord that will attach the backstrap to the loom bar.

The ends of the cords can be –

1. sewn together to make a complete circle with the join wrapped and then hidden within the end loops, or

2. secured by knotting or wrapping but not joined together. This will allow you to tie them around the loom bars and adjust their length when necessary.

Your first project has been completed and you have your own hand-woven backstrap. Now what? Keep practicing those skills! Perfect them while weaving more bands and wide pieces with this worsted weight yarn. Put your pieces together to make bags, belts and straps. Then move on to progressively finer yarns. Get creative – play with stripes. You can find instructions on how to prepare your warp with combinations of stripes and horizontal bars, as seen below here.

With these basic skills under your belt, and your collection of familiar sticks and string, you are now well prepared to learn about pick-up weaves and other patterning techniques employed by indigenous weavers around the world.

Since writing this article, I have made two short video segments showing warping and setting up the loom for a narrow band project:

Laverne Waddington has been learning to weave on simple looms with indigenous teachers in South America since 1996. In her home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, she draws on ethnic design influences from around the world to create pieces on a backstrap loom using the various techniques and structures she has studied in South America.
In 2010 she published her first book on one of her favorite warp-faced patterning techniques, Andean Pebble Weave, which was followed by More Adventures in Warp-faced Pick-up Patterns, in 2012.
She has shared her skills and experiences with many visitors to Bolivia over the years and now reaches a global audience with her weaving tutorials and travel tales on her blog. She provides online advice and support to weavers through forums such as Ravelry.com and teaches and speaks at guilds and textile conferences around the world.

Her Flickr page has a gallery of her work. Her Backstrap Weaving blog is crammed with stories of her experiences learning to weave in South America, along with tutorials, videos and project ideas.

Buy her e-book “Andean Pebble Weave” at Patternfish.com.

Buy the follow-up book to Andean Pebble Weave: “More Adventures with Warp-faced Pick-up Patterns” at Patternfish.com.

Photos and video by Laverne Waddington and Jorge Beyer.

Responses

  1. wow I have just started taking weaving lessons, and love the idea of a backstrap loom already!

  2. Hi Laverne, Thank you for your tutorials. I took 2 weaving classes last summer in Guatemala and brought back a backstrap loom and threads to practice at home. I’m following all your directions exactly, but I can’t get the heddle shed to open up no matter what I do. Could you please advise? Thank you.

    • Hi Carolyn. It’s great that you had the opportunity to take classes in Guatemala. I am guessing that you bought a loom amd threads and warped up a project for yourself at home. It is pretty hard to assess your problem without seeing it. Since you had classes in Guatemala and would have sat at a loom with your teacher and operated the sheds and woven, can guess that you would have been taught a technique for opening the heddle shed and that you would have done this successfully and repeatedly with your teacher’s supervision. So, that leads me to think that you may not have installed your heddles correctly when you did it at home on your own and that this is the cause of your problem. Are you able to clear the shed rod shed through the heddles? It could be any number of things and that is all I can tell you without seeing what you are working on. I will email you so that you can send me a picture , if you like.

  3. […] Backstrap looms […]

  4. […] Backstrap looms and ground looms These can be setup before you leave and used once you get to your destination. […]

  5. I’m a COMPLETE beginner and was directed to your site to learn about continuous string heddles, and wanted to see what else you had that I could adapt and learn from. I discovered that the loom I have here at home, from a kid’s book, actually makes sense as a backstrap loom. The instructions turn it into an upright, freestanding frame – only instead of just being a simple rectangle, the part of the backstrap is actually played by the bottom bar of the frame; then there is a second, adjustable bar that serves as your bottom “loom bar” and the top of the frame would be the top loom bar. The frame also has a slot to put the heddle stick.

    All the other sticks in your illustration are present in all the right places; pretty much the only difference structurally, that I can see, is that I have side bars and feet to hold the whole thing together. There are even tension straps to connect the bottom loom bar to the bottom of the frame – the substitute “backstrap”, you could say.

    So I’m pretty excited about adapting your instructions to my loom – I really think they could work! The only thing is, my instructions for warping this thing don’t match yours AT ALL, and the projects in my book are all weft-faced, where it looks like yours are warp-faced. So now I’m concerned as to how adaptable your techniques will really be for me.

    As I said, I’m a complete beginner; I mean we’re talking “kid at summer camp” level of skill, here.🙂 So any advice you have would be great but you’ll probably have to use small words, and type slow so I can keep up.

    Many thanks!
    Heather

    • The specail thing about the backstrap loom, Heather, is that the weaver can adjust the tension of the warps at will simply by leaning forward or back and that is what helps her open the sheds, get her hands in amongst the warps and beat well for the warp-faced weaving that is most often done on these looms.

      Your frame will hold your warp at a fixed tension. However, you could easily create warp-faced fabric on that kind of loom. I used my Navajo loom for wider pieces when I was first starting out and was unsure about how to handle wider warps on the backstrap loom. I had to travel a few times to weave with indigenous teachers before I was confident enough to go on and weave wide things on my backstrap loom. Opening the heddle shed for a warp-faced piece can be difficult if you can’t adjust tension.

      The problem I can see with fixed tension is perhaps not having enough room to get your hands in and do the pick up when you want to create patterns. If you use a stick to pick up threads, that may not be such a problem. Motifs tend to come out more elongated on looms where you can’t adjust tension at will but that’s fine. As long as all the motifs are consistent, it is not a problem.

      Operating multiple sets of string heddles when you come to more complex weaving can be difficult on a loom with fixed tension but I know that you are just starting out and are not at that point yet.

      Having said all that, many people weave warp-faced pieces on fixed tension looms. I have shown many examples on my blog, so you should just go ahead and try it. You say that your book shows weft faced projects. No problem. All you have to do is push your warps close together so that when you pass the weft it is hidden by the warps. That is what we call warp-faced weaving.

  6. Hello, where can I buy a small weaving loom. I am just ging to start learning how to make backstraps. Thanks.

    • If you really want to buy rather than put one together yourself with dowels, check the RESOURCES page on this blog where I have links to a site where you can buy Guatemalan looms. Apart from the two main loom bars that hold the warps, most of the pieces that you get with that loom are far too wide for bands. You will need to use shorter sticks for heddle rods and shed rods. You can even cut down pencils to use. You will also need something smaller then the Guatemalan loom kit supplies for a sword/beater.

  7. I wanted to thank you for the information on adapting backstrap concepts to my fixed-tension pipe loom. It was very helpful, and I did a lovely warp-faced purse strap for my kid (still need to get on the actual purse body, but by golly the strap looks good!).

    I was wondering, though, how in the WORLD to handle more than one heddle. I’m considering some simple twill weaving and I’m pretty sure that two heddles will be essential.

    Thanks again, so much for the help.

    • Heather, if you use multiple string heddles on a fixed tension set-up, it is just a matter of pulling up hard on the heddle. Having your loom somehow anchored to something will help if it is lightweight.The shed will be very small. You will need to insert a sword and turn it on its side to prop open the shed so you can pass the weft. The warps in each shed of a twill weave are spread enough so that creating a shed won’t be difficult.

  8. Thanks so much for this article. I have been intrigue with backstrap weaving (don’t ask me why!), but no nothing about it. I took an introduction to weaving last year and only weaving the basic weaving. I would love to learn to weave with backstrap loom one day. I’m going to Luang Pra Bang in Laos next year and I hope I can bring back backstrap loom to Australia. I would love to make one myself, but I have no idea how. Where do you live in Australia? Are you teaching weaving on backstrap loom? I came across your website via http://einesaite.blogspot.com.au and I’m so thrilled to find you. I will spend time and read everything. Thanks again – Nat

    • Hi Nat,
      I live in Bolivia but I am in Australia now, in Sydney. I gave a workshop a couple of weekends ago. Where in Australia are you? You can easily make a backstrap loom for yourself. Take a look at my article….
      https://backstrapweaving.wordpress.com/backstrap-basics-an-article-from-weavezine-by-laverne-waddington/

      • Thanks Laverne for your replied. I live in Melbourne and I’m a member of The Hand Weaver and Spinners Guild of Victoria. I’m taking a basic weaving workshop with Ilka White. She is an excellent teacher. I really enjoying weaving, but I’m in-loved with backstrap loom. I will read your instruction and try to make one myself. I wish you can come and teach at our guild.
        Do you live permanently in Bolivia? Your website is beautiful and informative. Thanks so much for your generosity and sharing – Hugs
        Nat

      • Hi Nat,

        I live in Bolivia but am currently in Australia (Sydney) visiting my family.I have high hopes of returning next year to teach in Sydney and Melbourne if there is enough interest in your guild. Good luck with your weaving classes and I hope that enjoy using backstrap loom.

  9. Love it Laverne – many thanks x

  10. Making my first backstrap loom this week. Wool Festival in Estes Park is coming up and I will be looking for a special beater to go with it. Though a backstrap loom would be the perfect thing to take in the RV.Thank you for the wonderful tutorials on this site. I know I will be referring to them often as I get started.

    • Thanks, Karen. I hope you find your beater. If not, my friend Terri at Magical Moons makes beauties!

  11. […] dann in Handarbeit auf einfachsten “Webstühlen” (sog. backstrap loom, siehe auch HIER) zu den komplexesten Mustern gewebt […]

  12. Laverne,
    Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned about this wonderful art. I’ve just bought your books, and I’ve seen some tutorials on this blog. I’m just starting to weave, some days ago I prepared my backstrap loom, and when putting the warp on the sticks and tried to tie one extreme to a chair and the other one at the “belt”… I cannot get the right tension in the warp. I started trying with a wide piece to make my backstrap loom, so I made the heddle with knots on a stick. Well, I noticed the tension was not right, and when I tested the heddle, the warp was completely loose and couldn’t make it work. I wonder whether you fasten the end of the warp with a suplementary bar at the end that is not close to the body… In the pictures and videos of the blog I couldn’t see this. Well, it would be wonderful if you showed in a video or pictures the process of putting on and tying the loom, and make sure the warp has the right tension.
    Any comment will be very welcomed.

    • Hi there. The picture in the article under the sub heading “Setting up the Loom” shows the two loom bars that you will need for this project. Both ends of the warp should be on bars for this kind of thing. When you say that you attached to a chair, I am hoping that it is a very heavy one that will not move the moment you apply tension to the warp. You will need to apply and relax tension as you operate the loom. Those two bars at both ends are all you need. If the warp is extremely long, the far end can be rolled using an additional bar as I show in the first picture in the article. Otherwise, you will need to have an additional bar only to roll up your weaving as you progress (which I show in one of the videos). I suggest in the article starting with a narrow band and building your skills raher than jumping straight into the wider backstrap project.

      In most cases, tension problems result from irregular tension as you are winding the warp. This can be expected. It is a new skill and you can’t be expected to get it right first go. You start off hesitantly and then gain confidence. This affects the way you are winding. I suggest wnding the warp and then unwinding it all back onto the ball of yarn. Wind it again and unwind it again. Do this many times until you feel that you are winding the warp smoothly and consistently. Also double check that what you have chosen to wond your warp around does not move as you progress with the winding. Stakes that are not sturdy or stable enough will lean in toward each other as you wind and this will affect your tension. The success of your project is dependent on starting wth a good warp. If the tension is not even, start again. And again, I suggest starting with a narrow band. With that smaller project you will learn about making heddles, operating a backstrap loom, as well as what NOT to do for the next project…and all this without wasting a large quantity of yarn.

      • Many thanks! Very helpful comments and suggestions🙂
        I’ll try it slowly and will practice winding (you’re right, it wasn’t regular)
        Thank you again.

  13. […] basic tutorial and helpful videos, I was able to learn how to weave! You can find more info on her blog. She also has a wonderful and welcoming group on Ravelry called Backstrap […]

  14. Hi there!

    Thank you so much for this tutorial – it is so helpful!

    I wonder if you could tell me if the loops on the red backstrap you wove are possible with a discontinuous warp? I’m planning on weaving a backstrap using a backstrap loom combined with tablet weaving (to get the pattern I want), and the various colors and the difficulty of warping the tablets basically mean that I won’t have those lovely little seamless loops at the end of mine.

    Love the website!

    Briana

    • Hi Briana. Thanks for your comment. No, you don’t have to have the loops. I emailed you a reply so that I could attach a picture.

  15. Dear Laverne,

    Just wanted to send a sincere thank you for all the information you make available to everyone. I have just completed my first narrow band on my homemade backstrap loom. It took me a several goes and some time to get my string heddles correct and I am just getting the flow of the hand movements, forming sheds, etc.

    I have puzzled about the short beater you use that has 2 pointed ends. I can now see, i.e. presume, that with 2 pointed ends it doesn’t matter which way it is inserted in the shed. Can you tell me Is it also beveled on both sides of each edge to complete the symmetry? I think I will try to make one for myself.

    Many thanks
    Lawrence

    • You are welcome, Lawrence. Yes, the sword is beveled on both sides. I have one side sharper than the other and tend to always beat with the sharper side. If the side that is against my hand as I beat is equally sharp, I find it a bit hard on my hands.

  16. Dear Laverne,
    Thanks for all the info you’ve provided. I need a question answered before I can continue: Can I use wool and alpaca yarn on this type of loom? I’ve followed your instructions in obtaining mercerized, worsted-weight cotton yarn for the backstrap but, was hoping to to use wool/alpaca yarn for my subsequent projects (ponchos, scarves, etc).

    -Nyah

    • Hi Nyah,

      The success of using wool will depend on the weaving structure you choose to use. The backstrap fabric you made is warp-faced, that is, all the warp threads are sitting so close together that they cover the weft. Being so close together, the warp threads rub against and abrade each other as you open the sheds. That is why I recommend a mercerized cotton as this is stronger and smoother than the unmercerized varieties. Wool straight off the skein may not be strong enough for warp-faced weaving. It will most likely break after a certain amount of abrasion and the hairs will mesh and make opening the sheds difficult. Many people re-spin wool if they want to use it for warp-faced weaving, that is, they apply more twist to make it stronger. Having said all that, you probably don’t want to make warp-faced scarves. Warp-faced fabric tends to be on the stiff side and firm. I imagine that you don’t want your scarf to feel that way. You would probably be happier doing a balanced weave where both the warp and weft are seen in amost equal amounts and I would suggest using a rigid heddle on your backstrap loom to achieve that. That will give you fabric with more drape. Using a rigid heddle will keep the warp threads spaced and you won’t have the problem of abrasion and stickiness. Try weaving a narrow warp-faced band with some wool as an experiment to see how wool behaves.

  17. The backstrap loom is everything that I need…portable, replaceable, simple and yet profound…I wish so much that I could use this loom, but as far as I can tell it seems to only produce stiff, warp-faced cloth. If it could produce soft and drapable fabrics then this would be perfect for me 😄

    • The type of cloth produced is not limited or determined by the nature of the backstrap loom but, rather, by the skill, know-how and needs of the weaver using it. Here is some cotton cloth with a very light and open structure made by a backstrap weaver in Guatemala….
      gauze

  18. Wow…that’s beautiful. I guess I was wrong lol. Have you attempted anything like that?

    • I have tried balanced weaves but nothing as open and gauze-like as this. Isn’t it amazing?!

  19. I am 78 years old and have just decided it’s time for weaving. I bought a small loom to learn the basics and am now trying the backstrap loom. I have sawed the handle off my broom! Have found I can’t get down on the floor and opted for a chair (for me) placed in front of my dresser with the end stick of the warped loom tucked into a closed drawer and the “belly” stick fastened to my belt by a cord. I bet I have re-heddled four times to be sure all the threads are coming straight off the cross-over and not twisted. Exhausting! But what fun! Thank you so much for your online tutorial.

    • Delighted to hear that you are trying and enjoying this. Everyone has that same experience the first time they make their string heddles. Sounds like you have a good set-up. I hope you enjoy the weaving and continue to visit the blog.

  20. Laura, YOU ARE AMAZING!!!! I love weaving, and hope you do as well!

    Could you please give us the secret to a long and happy life? ;p

    Amanda

  21. Hi Laverne,

    Thanks so much for all your information and wisdom in weaving! I am new to Kalinga weaving of the Northern Philippines. I am slowly making my own tools and very happy with my progress.

    I am interested in making my own backstrap, but am stuck on how to finish with braiding and cording as in Gwendolyn’s picture of this post. Your instructions seem simple enough, but for some reason I can’t wrap my head around it. How is this done for both sides?

    Thanks,
    Lauren

    • Hi Lauren,

      Once you have the backstrap that you have woven in front of you and off the loom, the finishing will be clear as a bell! Sometimes it is hard to visualize the process from just reading instructions.
      The start and finish end of the weaving will look exactly the same as in Gwendolyn’s photo. You will have 6” or so of unwoven warp-ends. You will slide these warp-ends off the loom bars when you have finished weaving (don’t cut anything!) and will see that the unwoven warps end in loops where they had passed around the loom bars. You take several of the ends and braid them as far as you can. What you will be left with at the end of the braid is the loops through which you pass a separate braided cord (the white cord you see in my pictures). Take another group of warp-ends, braid them and pass the cord through the loops.
      Would love to know more about your Kalinga weaving!

  22. Laverne, you are a lifesaver.

    I took an extended backstop weaving course from a master Guatemalan weaver, and she was very thorough, but she went so fast and without slowing down to give any explanations–for example, she did a double cross on her warping boards, as opposed to your single cross–that I finished the course with a final product, but I have little memory of how I created it.

    For the past few weeks I have been trying to initiate a new project on my own, and have purchased numerous books and instruction booklets that show the double-cross, but all the instructions show the heddle being placed adjacent to the shed rod, on the SAME SIDE OF THE of the (second) double cross. Naturally this layout does not work, and I have attempted weaving multiple times with such a set-up, but nothing has worked. And it is no wonder!

    So as soon as I saw your videos which show the heddle BELOW the cross, and the shed stick ABOVE the cross, I knew what I had done wrong.

    Question: do you know why the Guatemalns make a double-cross on their warp, as opposed to the single cross method with cardboard that you use? The single cross is much simpler!

    • I was also taught how to weave in Guatemala and they did the double cross as well. I remember it was used to hold one of the sticks at the top. Nothing too special.

  23. […] Laverne Waddington explains how Backstrap weaving works […]

  24. This is the best info on a backstrap loom I’ve ever seen! A friend brought me a small backstrap loom from a small village in Guatemala, but I was completely flummoxed by the bag of sticks and string. Most diagrams have been no help to someone like me, so this is fantastic. I have a couple of fancy table looms, but backstrap is new to me. Thanks so much for making it less mysterious.🙂

  25. Thank you SO much for the information on this pages. Just recently I found a book that explains how to make a backstrap loom, after I wanted to learn it quite a while. I liked weaving the first sample on it but it was some exercition, the loom was wobbly and so was the weaving. But now I learn so much from your pages, the movements to open the shed, and how to secure the warp and many things more. I would like to make a balanced weave in the end, but I am sure there is much more to explore here. Thank you again for making this all accessible!

  26. […] Backstrap Looms […]

  27. […] followed instructions from Laverne Waddington but managed to not remember that non-mercerized cotton was not a good yarn to start with.  I can […]


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