On November 14th I had the opportunity to meet two weavers, Jaime an 8th generation Zapotec weaver and his partner Joey, at their home in Lathrop in the Central Valley of California. What a nice day! They are producing modern … Continue reading →
After only about 15 years I finally finished weaving this backstrap band. Some years ago at a Conference of Northern California Weavers , I took a workshop on Peruvian weaving from Ed Franquemont, an outstanding anthropologist who discovered that pre-Columbian weavers in Peru used woven goods as money and had established an amazing array of sophisticated techniques using looms we would now consider primitive. He sought to explore these techniques, and he shared them with some of us lucky enough to know him. He died several years ago at far too early and age. I have also been fortunate to recently connect with Laverne Waddington who has now continued his exploration of backstrap weaving techniques and I am revisiting some of the incomplete pieces I started earlier with Ed.
These projects are like good long books. When you first start them, you think you will never finish. When you finish, you wish they had not ended and are anxious for the next edition.
For my second backstrap project I wove a backstrap for my backstrap loom and no longer use the folded pillowcase you see in the first picture below. The final backstrap has braided cords attached that hold the front rod in place.
Another giant improvement included replacing my broomstick backstrap loom with the real thing—a genuine backstrap loom from Guatemala. Actually I received two in the mail in a surprise package from my friend Karen Piegorsch, the founder of Synergo Arts. She had purchased them in the Chichicastenango market several years ago, knew of my beginning attempts, and sent them to me. The wood is lighter weight than the broomstick wood, the beaters (swords) work better than the ruler I was using, and I feel more in tune with the whole world of wonderful weavers who use simple sticks to create items of incredible intricacy and beauty.
Two Guatemalan backstrap looms
My next project was a slightly more complex pebble weave band. Still only 16 warps wide, it presented some new challenges in picking up the pattern. And I still haven’t mastered setting up the loom with ease. Yesterday I finished yet another more complex pebble weave band. This time it is twice as wide with a more complex pattern. But there is much yet to learn. And today I will continue the trip.
I learned to weave on a table loom, and then a floor loom. But people were weaving long before there were such things. Until I went to Guatemala in 2007, I had only a sketchy idea of how they did this. There I saw women in remote villages with few modern conveniences weaving incredibly beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces with only a few sticks held together with strings—a backstrap loom!
Intrigued by their intricate designs, I have been in pursuit of the techniques that they use. I have found sources that have led me to experiment with their patterns on a floor loom. But finally I have progressed backwards and discovered the backstrap loom.
At this point I need to give credit to Laverne Waddington, currently from Bolivia, who has finally revealed the many nuances that this simple, incredible, device has to offer. She has provided a link, electronically, to the wisdom of the people—past and present—who create beauty from what they have in hand and what they have learned from the ancestors.
All of this leads up to my first backstrap project. A broken broom handle and a few dowels (along with Laverne’s excellent tutorials and ebook) helped me put together a backstrap loom. I have just made a simple band in Peruvian pebble weave. I have learned a lot. I am using an old pillowcase as my backstrap, but my next project will be to weave a backstrap to replace this make-do backstrap on, what else? My backstrap loom, of course!
I should have known better. A laudable decision to find ways to use some of my stash, led me to this. I had plenty of cotton slub two-ply left on a mill-end cone. I used some of it many years ago (as weft) to make a summer jacket that I wear frequently. I found an 6-harness huck pattern in a 1998 Handwoven that produced a lovely jacket and was seduced into deciding I could use this mill-end as warp (bad decision). Coupled with this was my first attempt to try warping front to back, a technique used by a friend who swears by it. I carefully wound 6+ yard 6-shaft warp 33 inches wide at 20 epi.
Words cannot describe how many things have gone wrong. Threading errors, sleying errors, breakage, tangles from unbalanced twist, too many warp chains because I ran short of warp, and anything else you can think of has plagued this misguided idea. I am too stubborn to give up. At last the warp is wound and I am now weaving.
My new best friend is fabric glue which I am using regularly when the slubby ply of the warp breaks behind the reed. Every few inches I stop, pull the broken ply forward through the reed and glue it firmly to the other ply. But I persevere. I will see this through!
September 20, 2011 – Dog Days
Off the loom and bathed, the dog was ready to be photographed today. It has a nice hand. We shall see what happens next.
In November there was Tinkuy de Tejedores (a gathering of weavers) in Peru. I would love to have gone, but it was not in the cards. Several people I know and/or have met from Guatemala, Bolivia, El Salvador, Chile and Peru, as well as the U.S., were going to be there. But more than that. The pre-Columbian weaving that is still being done in the highlands of Peru is incredible. No one should ever underestimate the ancestors.
Trying to learn a little about this weaving, I found an article by Doramay Keasbey in a Handwoven magazine from January/February 2000 that explained how to do Peruvian pebble weave on a floor loom (instead of the backstrap loom commonly used by Peruvian weavers). I put on a long warp and started weaving bookmarks.
I used the designs from the article and then branched out to try other possibilities. The bottom bookmark is from a Chinese lattice design. Lattices made from wood were used in window openings in China for many years and have been documented in a book I acquired some years ago. I also found a pre-Columbian Inca design, which is seen in the bookmark on the left.
Intrigued by this complex pick-up weave, I came across a recent publication by Laverne Waddington, a woman who lives in Bolivia with whom I had earlier corresponded about the ergonomic benches for backstrap weavers being developed by Synergo Arts. Laverne, who is from Australia, is a teacher of English and weaving who is doing an incredible job of learning, documenting, and teaching indigenous backstrap weaving. She has recently published an e-book through Weavezine on Andean Pebble Weave.
I think I see a backstrap loom in my future and further exploration of this and other pick up weaves. I just received the most recent Handwoven magazine (January/February 2011) with articles by both Doramay and Laverne on pick up weaves. Too much to do, too little time!
Living in the mountains, our electricity often disappears during the stormy winter months. It did today for the first time this year. A good alternative for illuminating important activities is the Bogo light, a solar powered flashlight with a bright LED bulb.
BOGO stands for Buy One, Give One. When you buy a flashlight, another one is sent to someone in the world who has no electricity.
Of course I use it only for important tasks like weaving, cooking, reading, and feeding the cat. Here it is suspended on a cord above my loom. I also have found that I can thread my raincoat sash through the loop at the top and hang it around my neck so I have light wherever I go. It has the additional advantage of being flat so it can be set on a surface and pointed in the right direction without rolling around. And an afternoon in the sunlight will charge it for a good six or seven hours worth of light. I love it.
Give Bogo lights as holiday presents. I did two Christmases ago. Here we all are with our Bogo lights.
The second of my woven women was done in honor of a talented friend who died suddenly and prematurely from leukemia at age 53. Two bags of her beautiful thrums (for non-weavers: these are the leftover warp threads when a piece is taken off the loom) were left after a sale of items from her studio. I used them for this 11×11 inch tapestry woven in 2002. It is my first attempt at doing a tapestry from my own drawing.
Follow Your Star
Follow Your Star
A book of Chinese lattice designs gave me a starting point for the design of this tapestry, my first experiment in using my own handspun, hand-dyed yarns for tapestry. It measures 12×31 inches.
Ghost Ranch Tapestry
New Mexico tapestry
The WARP (Weave a Real Peace) annual meeting in 2000 was held at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. During one afternoon and evening at this beautiful spot I wove this 3.5×5.5 inch tapestry using the back of a small notebook as a cardboard loom.
My mother and father spent their honeymoon in Arizona and New Mexico many years ago. They spent all of their money on two Navajo textiles and had only a crate of peaches to eat on the way home to Iowa. I have one of the textiles, a striped saddle blanket. The largest, a Ganado red, went to my brother. Although my rug is not as large and is not the same design as the one they bought, I made my first large Navajo piece, measuring 30×46 inches, in the Ganado style.
After following Noel Bennet’s instructions on building a loom and weaving in the Navajo style, I designed this 20×27.5 inch Navajo-style piece by looking at several catalogues of Navajo textiles.
This 14×17 inch imaginary landscape is somewhat evocative of my mountains with fog above the San Andreas Fault in the valley between our house and the next ridge. It was one of my first attempts at adding textured yarns and multiple strands in a tapestry.