Spinning for backstrap weaving

5 May 2013

Andean style back-strap weaving is warp faced and very punishing on the warps. They general pack in at a density of twice the wpi ( wraps per inch). So if a yarn wraps a ruler at 30 wpi the back-strap warp will settle to about 60 epi. Rubbing against each other with each shed change abrades the surface. Little pills or fuzzies form and stop the sheds from opening.

This happens quickly with most commercially spun yarns. Our old favorite for this, perle cotton, say 5/2 or 3/2, is readily available in 25yd. skeins in a great range of color at the local craft store. This is what we used to use but now it quickly degrades and the yarn looses it lustre and pills. Crochet cotton has a high enough twist that though it may pill and fuzz I can still weave to the end of my warps. #10 comes in a range of colors. So our choice of commercially spun yarns suitable for back-strap weaving is limited.

This leads us to spin our own. So what are the charateristics of the yarn we need to weave , say complimentary warp patterns on back-strap loom? Strong and of high twist are the first thoughts. Not fuzzy is clear after you have tried a bit of tanka ch’oro.

My first two adventures with my hand-spun on a back-strap loom were both singles. I know, more guts than sense. But I did complete both pieces. Let’s call it winter entertainment.Pomegrante hand spun, back strap woven

This was a bar batt from Stringtopia in December. I spun it on a Sidekick wheel in Minneapolis over the holidays. I managed to spin one bobbin S and the other Z. I couldn’t get them to ply together. When I got home and figured out what I had done, I chose to weave the singles to together in a “false twill” , one half Z twist and the other S twist. I wove the whole thing in plain weave. I had to go to Abby an have her show me how to make self adjusting string heddles on a stick because the clumped together heddles were not working. The batt had quite a bit of silk in it so it was very strong.

Then I used some spindle spun silk/cashmere mix with 3 section S-Z-S spun singles.pink singles back-strap

I don’t remember any problems with it. The heddles look messy (1st time on a stick) but they worked.These yarns were not spun planning on using them for back-strap weaving. Abby urged me to try some wool with hi-twist in the plying. I usually work with alpaca so I asked Abby what kind of fleece she would choose to spin these kind of yarns. “Long wool” she said.
I had bought and washed a Border Leicester fleece and got that out for the a trial run. I picked and carded it and spun it with fairly high twist in the singles.
Border Leis singles

Then wound double stranded skeins for dyeing. Here is a dyed skein ready for plying
dyed plying skein

Which I then plied at very high twist.
hi plying twist
You can see the

I wove a 3 pair Tanka ch’oro band and then tried a double chhili pattern when I had enough colors. The design and color I was proud of but at about 14″ into the weaving it was just too much work to open the sheds. I showed Abby the yarn and the piece and she took the purple yarn and added more twist with the spindle lying on the counter. This is what this problematic warp looks like
not enough twist for back-strap

So I added more twist to all the yarns that I had made and make sure the new ones are similar and no more problems. I have woven a dozen or so pieces with this hand-spun. I never broke a hand spun warp thread. The only issue has been fuzz. Here is the current piece with this higher twist yarn

current weaving with higher twistthe warp.

Most noticable to me are the convolution of the warp due to the higher twist. Actually both these woven webs curl up, that usually calms down a bit after washing but it doesn’t go way completely.group of back=strap bands

The two pieces made with singles in two direction do lie flat.

More in the next post on other people’s spinning for back-strap weaving.


3 Responses to “Spinning for backstrap weaving”

  1. Devin Says:

    This is a very interesting and helpful blog post, Karren.
    Thanks for writing it up!


  2. Pathik Says:

    I just wanted to say that I love your blog and read it a little several times a week. I normally weave on a rigid heddle loom but I have a great interest in backstrap weaving because it’s everything I want: simple, rustic, easy to make, easily replaceable, and very portable. I’ve wanted to weave cloth for clothing for a while and I have everything planned out…my only concern is that the resulting fabric will be stiff. Please tell me how to achieve a soft drapable fabric like that brocade you made? I don’t want to use a rigid heddle or anything, just the loom as it is used traditionally. Can you tell me how to set the loom up for balanced weaves and soft fabrics?


  3. How stiff the cloth is depends on the yarn and the sett. High twist wool and warped faced cloth makes for a stiff but durable cloth. Most backstrap weavers work with fine yarn to counter act the stiffness. The most recent backstrap weaving with commercially spun cotton and a balanced weave makes for a light weight more supple cloth, see https://wordpress.com/post/23473314/1018/.


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