These are the letters that some of the Montagnard backstrap weavers with whom I studied have been weaving into bag straps using one of their traditional warp float techniques. As you can see the back of the band has long floats. The finer the yarn you use the less cumbersome will be the floats.
Here I am with my dear Montagnard weaving teachers, Ju Nie, on the left, and Ngach. Ju Nie is from the Rhade group which weaves these letters. The bag I have on my shoulder was made by Ju Nie and has phrases from the Bible woven into its strap using the lettering technique in this tutorial. Examples of these straps are shown below. You can see that the bottom edge of the skirt I am wearing has figures that were woven using this same method.
Here are a couple of the traditional Rhade figures that I wove….
The white thread forms the letters and the red the background. The little spots of black showing through are the weft. If you use red weft instead of black, you will have white letters on what will appear to be a solid red background.
The white thread needs to be about one and a half times the thickness of the red. I used number 10 crochet cotton for the red and borders and number 3 for the white.
You need to wind a warp with a cross that looks like this:
I have a plain warp faced border of black, yellow, green, black and red – traditional Rhade colors. In the design area one shed is all red and the other shed has alternating warps of white and red starting and ending with a white warp. There are fifteen white warp threads in total.
One shed will be controlled by a shed rod (which I will call shed 1) and the other by string heddles (shed 2).
Here are the two sheds….
To start your band with a small section of plain weave, pass your weft through shed 1. Then open shed 2 and drop all the white warps and pass your weft (see photo below). I recommend weaving shed 1, then shed 2 without the white warps and finally shed 1 before starting to weave the letters. Weaving a longer section of plain weave than that will give you very long white floats on the back of the band.
There are two types of letter forms in this alphabet which I call REGULAR and IRREGULAR. I will give instructions for an example of a regular letter first – the letter N. I am showing it here upright and then sideways. The pattern chart shows the letter on its side as you will be weaving it.
WEAVING REGULAR LETTERS
Step 1 shows a normal weft pass through shed 1 (all red warp threads in the pattern area).
The black heavy lines on the chart represent the WHITE warp threads. In Step 2 you will see shed 2 with 15 black heavy lines which represent all the white warp threads. The red warp threads in shed 2 are always woven but are not shown on the chart. In Step 2 open shed 2, beat and pass your weft. The photo below shows a step between Steps 2 and 3 which I will call Step 2A.
Step 2A involves saving the white warps numbered 1-9 and 13-15 on the chart on a stick at the weaving line. Warps 10, 11 and 12 will be dropped.
Open shed 1, which contains all the red warps, and add the saved whites to it. Beat and pass the weft. This is shown on the chart as Step 3 and is pictured below.
Step 4…open shed 2, beat and pass the weft.
Step 4A…save white warps numbered 10, 11 and 12 on a stick at the weaving line.
Step 5…open shed 1 and add the saved white warps to it. Beat. Pass the weft.
The photo below shows Steps 6 and 7. Step 6A does not appear in this photo but will be explained.
Step 6A…(not pictured) save the white warps numbered 7, 8 and 9 on a stick at the weaving line.
Step 7…open shed 1 and add the saved white warps to it as shown above right. Beat and pass the weft.
Steps 8, 8A and 9 are shown below…
Step 8…open shed 2 and drop the white warps numbered 1-3 and 10-15. Beat and pass the weft in this shed as shown above left.
Step 8A…save the white wefts numbered 4, 5 and 6 on a stick at the weaving line.
Step 9…open shed 1 and add the white warps to it. Beat and pass the weft.
From here on you should be able to continue on your own.
WEAVING IRREGULAR LETTERS
The letter A in this kind of lettering is what I call an irregular letter. Generally letters that have curves have an irregular step in the process.
Step 2…open shed 2 and drop the white warps numbered 13, 14 and 15. Beat and pass the weft.
Step 2A…save the warps numbered 1-7 and 9-12 on a stick at the weaving line (drop number 8). Here comes the irregular move…pick up the white warp numbered 13 (indicated by the green arrow) and also save it on the stick.
Step 3…open shed 1 and add all the saved white warps to it. Beat and pass the weft.
Apart from the word “Montagnard” shown above, I have not woven anything with this lettering technique. I would like to try it in finer yarn…say a number 20 for the base warp and weft and perhaps weave a bookmark with a word on it.
Here are all the letters that I have been able to chart from the woven bands that my weaving teacher, Ju Nie, showed me…
And here is a letter P that I saw on my last visit with the weavers which I haven’t charted yet….
My friend, Sharon, charted all the letters for us and has even included numbers and a heart!
Here is one of my teachers weaving two bag straps on her backstrap loom. The looms are very large and designed for weaving very wide panels which are sewn together to make their traditional skirts and blankets.