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!