Adventures in backstrap weaving




I was feeling just a little bit desperate to try weaving. I wanted a loom! And I didn't want to wait. But then reason set in. Why would I need to spend a bunch of money to try weaving? Couldn't it be done in a simple way? Without a lot of fuss? When I posted a question on Ravelry, a kind weaver suggested I try backstrap weaving, so I checked out the book "Backstrap Weaving," by Barbara Taber and Marilyn Anderson. A few hours after I opened the first page of this 1975 classic, I had assembled everything I needed to weave: some dowels, twine, yarn, and a ruler. I was ready! And I was hooked!

The first picture on the left is of the warp. I decided to start by making the first project in the book, a backstrap, but I chose the worst kind of yarn possible–100%, scratchy, sticky wool. I bought it second-hand for $1 and the label said Icelandic wool. It looks nice in the pictures, doesn't it? I flipped over a footstool and did the figure eight warp which I then transferred to the dowels. Everything was going smoothly–I even attached the string heddle, which pulls up one set of the warp thread to create the shed, or the space between the bottom and top warp.

See that big hunk of wood in the third picture? That was my sad attempt to find a beater, or the piece of wood that beats the weft in place. It didn't work because it was too blocky, so I swapped to a ruler, which makes a fine beater.

I felt creative that day so I braided some hemp twine and made the strings that tie the entire backstrap loom into place–or in my case, onto the radiator. After struggling a little bit with the loom flipping over a few times, I braided another "holder." This time two separate braids that hold the sides independently. (It works great, but I still use the first one at times.)




At this point, I realized that using wool was best left to experts. Because the warp is wound rather tightly, each thread rubs against the one next to it, causing little snags. I think mine started felting! So, I reluctantly took the entire project apart before weaving one row and searched for some cotton. I found this crazy green and orange, sport-weight, mercerized cotton at Hobby Lobby. It's Sinfonia Melon. This time around, it was easier to wind the warp to get started, and I wound 50 ends. Since I had actually done a string heddle before, the second time was a breeze, especially since I used a long piece of mercerized cotton. And then came time to try to weave. I was stumped again. It just didn't seem to "work" when I tried to open the sheds. The nearest one, with the string heddle, was easy. It was the back one that confused me. How do you get the bottom strands to come up to the top? Finally, I turned to the Internet and discovered the all-time best article on backstrap weaving EVER! It's called "Backstrap Basics" by Laverne Waddington, published in the September 16, 2009 edition of the online magazine Weavezine. Here's the link:

Not only does Laverne clearly outline how to assemble and use a backstrap loom, she includes videos! When I saw how someone weaves on a little loom like mine, I knew I could do it on my own.

With my new yarn, everything was easier. It's the only advice I can pass along at this early state: use a nice, slick yarn if you can! The weft can be thicker and woolier, but I chose to stick with cotton, again Sinfonia sport weight, this time the color is Olive. After several hours of studying, thinking, attempting, and tearing apart and putting back together, it "only" took me three hours to weave the backstrap, and then another thirty minutes to braid the ends. If you look at my edges, you'll see what is the most difficult part–keeping the selvedges even, but I noticed a lot of improvement as my project neared its end. I've already started my second project which I'll post about soon. 

As for the "What is this?" post from last week–I'll share with you my very basic rigid heddle later on when I use it with the backstrap loom.

3 Replies to “Adventures in backstrap weaving”

  1. Very cool! I’ve been kicking around the idea of getting a rigid heddle loom, myself, but with my current knit/crochet obsessions, I figured my darling husband might just faint. 🙂

  2. Shelly–you can always start out like I am, by putting together a backstrap loom. Very little $$ and equipment. Plus, you can store it all rolled up in a basket or vase. No fainting necessary!

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