Looming Large

For 25 years we have lived not in a house, but in a studio. The first thing anyone noticed when they came in either door was my beautiful 60-inch, 8 harness loom sitting prominently between both doors.

Cranbrook loom

In 1990, Convergence, a biennial national conference for handweavers, was held in San Jose at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I was in charge of facilities. Vendors came from all over the country as they set up shop for the five day event. They brought their wares, set up booths throughout the three convention halls and when it was over, they packed up what was left and took it home.

But one vendor, not wishing to pay for shipping back to Michigan for his top-of-the-line loom, a beauty, was happy to sell it to me for half price, send it to my house and set it up.  This big devil has been well used and well loved. But a time comes when one wonders where this treasure will land in the future. It is not just for anyone.

Then, as web mistress of the Glenna Harris Weavers Guild website, I received an email from Kristin who had relocated to California from the East Coast and had been weaving professionally. She had not been able to move her loom and was looking for something similar to what she had there.

The fit seemed perfect. A flurry of emails followed and today I met Kristin. Between the two of us we figured out how to disassemble and wrangle the loom into and onto her mini-van for a trip to southern California. She is looking forward to dancing with this devil

I am delighted and think she is too. I expect there may be more to this tale later.

Inkle Bookmarks

We are a diverse lot. The Glenna Harris Weavers Guild meets once a month to exchange ideas, find inspiration, and just plain gab. Some of us weave a lot, some very little. Some of us have large complex floor looms, some of us do not. So when it comes to having a program at each meeting, there are challenges.

2014 Glenna Harris guild members

This spring one of our members challenged everyone to weave something for Christmas or the holidays. To this end we are starting simply. For the last two months the challenge has been to weave something on an inkle loom. Many of us have these simple looms that weave versatile narrow bands that can be used as hat bands, belts, bookmarks (who can have too many?), guitar or bag straps, plus much else. Here are my bookmarks. Maybe I can add the work of others to this slide show in the future.


Next month we take on card (tablet) weaving, an ancient technique that dates back to at least the Vikings.

Jaime and Joey, Zapotec weavers

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 Zapotec textiles in the traditional way on looms build by Zenon Hipolito, Jaime’s father. I was invited into their home/studio. There I saw the three hand-built looms in what would otherwise be the living room of their condominium.

There was another loom in the garage that Jaime’s father was rebuilding to accommodate their current orders. Not only does he build the looms, he also makes the shuttles by hand and has built a spinning wheel which Joey uses to spin some of their rug yarn. Many of their yarns are hand-dyed.

On the front porch they carefully tend cactus pads which are home to cochineal beetles. These beetles produce an ancient natural dye that is hard to come by. Zenon, Jaime’s father, harvested the beetles and cactus pads in the Los Angeles area. The cactus pads are hung from a wooden frame that is carefully covered with plastic sheeting to keep the temperature from dropping too low in California’s inland valley. The beetles create a fluffy white covering which protects them from drying out it the dessert. When the beetles grow into a large colony under their protective fluffy coating, they are harvested, dried, and eventually ground into a powder that produces a lovely red dye.

My weaver/friend Ev went with me. We were treated not only to an amazing array of their work but also to their wonderful hospitality.

The day ended with lunch at the Ghiradelli Chocolate factory just a half a mile a way. What a trip!

Backstrand in progress

Backstrap weaving deja vu

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.

Here is a transcript of Secrets of Lost Empires: Inca, a PBS NOVA program that Ed participated in on February 11, 1997.

Pebble weave progress

Backstrap Progress

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.

Weaving the backstrap on a backstrap loom

Finished backstrap

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

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.

Simple pebble weave band

Backstrap Weaving

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!

Backstrap pebble weave in progressIntrigued 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!