Sunday, November 02, 2014


Our guild has been fortunate to have Laverne Waddington come, now twice, to teach us backstrap weaving. Some people dismiss such weaving as simple, easy, or beginner level, because the equipment needed is just a few sticks, some string and your fingers (and body!). But the process, and the fabrics produced, while indeed within the reach of new weavers, is anything but simple.

The first session, last May, was basic weave structures, and mostly exercises to familiarize us with the mechanics of backstrap weaving in general, with warping, setting up heddles of different types, and a few "first-step" weave structures:

Brocade and complementary

We used yarn that was easy to see and manipulate: large, multi-stranded cottons. From the left: weft brocade sampler, the second weft brocade sampler I did because I was enamored of this technique, basic pickup sampler, plain weave, and a warp not yet woven.

The idea was to become accustomed to the tools (plain weave sampler) and then to learn to set up various ways to attach heddles and shed sticks, and then use that information to weave a few bands (basic pickup and weft brocade), and finally to set up our own warps (far right) which, sadly, I have yet to finish setting up, much less weave!

Despite my distinct lack of progress I joined the second session with Laverne in October, on pebble weave:
Pebble weave

These are the first two warps: again, big cotton yarns so we could easily see and manipulate the warps, and by easily I mean that in a relative sense. Big Fat Yarn meant our clumsy fingers could find our way more easily than finer yarns, and certainly cotton is easier to work with at this stage in our weaverly development than sticky wool yarns.

We started, again, with warps that Laverne had set up for us. Then we set up our own, and learned how to add pebble shed groups. I know. It was Greek to me too.

See those two bundles of peach colored threads? Those are the pebble sheds. There are 3 sheds on this band: the pattern shed, and two pebble sheds. On the pattern shed, we used our fingers to pick up the design. Some warps are used in both types of sheds: pattern and pebble. To do this type of patterning on a floor loom, one would need something like a draw-loom, or a jacquard loom, or a computer assisted loom: some type of equipment that allowed each warp to be manipulated independently of any other, and in more than one shed. But in this case, we are the computer. You see? Not so simple.

Pebble weave

After a couple of bands in heavier threads (including the center one, above, a single design for the whole length) we moved to finer threads: the two bands on the right and left in the photo above.

The black, white and red band on the right is woven in the finer thread, and I chose to try a plain weave border, too. By finer, I meant finer than the "rope" we started with: these are size 3 crochet cotton, as heavy a fine thread as one could find, I would think. The final, wider band, we chose the colors, warped and set up the two pebble sheds, plain weave border sheds, and the pattern shed. You can see the "saver cord" on the right:

Pebble weave

The saver cord helps with finding the next pattern shed. As one learns to read the pattern from the cloth, the next shed progresses in a, well, "pattern" so that the weaver eventually can work from the cloth, not from the graphed design. A worthy goal, and one that I reach occasionally, for a shed or so, but not all the time. I am still wedded to the graph.

Each day I came home bone tired. It is hard work, and requires concentration and dedication. My body was sore: we were encouraged to stand up every 1/2 hour but we mostly ignored that, searching for that elusive tiny and tantalizing spark of understanding that we knew was just one more shed away, one more pass of the weft, one more beat and shed change away. We mostly sat and wove on. Except at lunch! which was delicious soup provided by one of our group, or, for me, cookie break (morning and afternoon, and afternoon again).

Laverne came with many, many samples: mostly of her own work, which is prodigious and awe-inspiring, but also some from various weavers around Central and South America. While she lives in Bolivia, and has studied with weavers there, Laverne has also traveled to study with weavers in Peru and Ecuador, in Guatemala, has incorporated techniques learned from weavers from Southeast Asia and even the American Southwest. It is wonderful how she combines the knowledge of all these indigenous groups, and can pass that on to us: a shed mechanism from here, and saver cord from there, and she has added some 20th century work-arounds, like bicycle spokes!, rubber bands and pencils! to the traditional tool box of sticks and string. Read her blog, look at the videos she has posted on various techniques, and look at the work she produces. I am always impressed with teachers who bring work of their own to show: their samples give us, a very visual group of students, a tangible example of what we are trying to learn. I am amazed at Laverne's accomplishments.

To master this "simple" weaving requires focus, concentration, tenacity, a good back!, nimble fingers, the ability to use that back and those fingers for long periods of weaving, un-weaving and re-weaving, and the eventual ability to see the patterns develop as you work, to "read" the weaving, as it were, and become free of charts.

I need new glasses. Heck, I need new fingers! and a stronger back... I need to learn to focus for more than two minutes...squirrel!

This past week I beat out a 4 yard warp in about an hour:
Cotton fabric

Simple? yes. But it took me quite a few years to be competent in this, "easy" weaving, assisted by scads of equipment. I have a ways to go before I feel competent in these techniques that Laverne is presenting. But it's fun to learn, feels great when that light of understanding dawns. I want to continue this process: we are building on our skills, and I will learn more if I practice more.... I'll be back next time she comes through town.


Blogger Deanna said...

Laverne taught the basics class here before she headed north, and it was enchanting! I think we were all caught in the spell - I hope we have her back next year. And I'm glad to hear you enjoyed your workshop as much as I enjoyed ours!

1:32 PM  
Blogger Lynn said...

I took one backstrap class from Abby. None from Laverne yet. My brain can only handle so much!

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will admit to just looking at your pictures after the fourth or fifth paragraph. The pictures are very nice :)

5:26 PM  

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