Many Ways to Weave

27 March 2017

When I have started people weaving on a backstrap looms, I start them with a narrow warp that doesn’t require any sticks. Once they can do plain weave, warp-faced, I show them how to make a pick-up design with  paired floats. Laverne Waddington has a good description of this process on her blog.  Mostly we use our fingers and maybe a popsicle stick to beat the weft in place. There is just a shed loop and heddles and the pick up is done either with fingers or a large needle.   Here  in Oaxaca a large needle is a common tool for pick up.

Here in Oaxaca de Juárez, the capital of Oaxaca state, a group meets weekly to weave.  This year every one has been working on narrow warps and either plain weave or paired float designs.

This technique is used here in Oaxaca by the indigenous people who live on the northern coast of Oaxaca.  Here I have not seen many narrow bands woven in this technique but  wider cloths with multiple design bands are common.

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photo by Karen Elwell. I think these are natural dyes.

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photo by Karen Elwell

We went to the Museo Textil de Oaxaca on Saturday to register for a backstrap weaving brocade class in April given by a woman coming up from Carranza, Chiapas.   Bonfilia Bautista Tapia from Pinotepa de Don Luis, was finishing a workshop on  this paired float technique and she and her students were weaving away.  Here is a picture of her loom:

It is very interesting that she has a second set of heddles and a second shed rod behind the usual ones used to do plain weave. Both of these extra shedding devices deal only with the red warps in the design band; the shed rod has all of the odd numbered pairs over it  and the second set of heddles raises the even numbered pairs. Here is a close up so that you can see the pairs of red warps going over the second shed rod and the sparse green string heddles are around the other pairs of red warps within the design band.  One usually uses a second weaving sword   when using the second set of heddles/rod, but I don’t see one in the photo maybe because she doing plain weave at this moment.

Here on this student loom  you can see the second smaller sword. It is right behind the plain weave string heddles.  It looks like it still has the warp pairs he picked up to make the bar design he just wove.

two sets of heddles/shed rods and two swords are visible here

All of these lovely woven critters are made on 25 pairs.  Here is some more student work with enough detail that you could make the same designs.

And one more photo of a fragment of an interesting critter woven in this technique, the brown is hand spun brown cotton, coyuche,  that has been grown here since pre-hispanic times.

And yes, there are 5 pick floats in the bars between designs.

So there you have another way to weave paired float designs  using pattern heddles and shed rod.  Might be especially useful when doing multiples of the same design.

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Feathered Thread

22 October 2016

fullsizeoutput_5d5There are many ways to weave with feathers and but study of this 300 year old textile fragment, tlámachtentli de Madeline,  at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca(MTO) revealed that it was woven with a thread spun with down feathers.  Sorry about the quality of the picture, it is from a slide.  The white feathered yarn jumps out at you but there is also red, yellow and blue feathered areas.

Research at the MTO suggests that this is bottom of a panel from a huipil backstrap woven on a striped warp  They found only 6 pieces, all old, all made in Mexico that were woven with this this feathered thread and no one now was doing it. About 10 years ago MTO initiated a project to recover  how to make and weave with this kind of yarn.  The results are now in a current exhibition at the MTO,  Hilar el Viento: Los Tejidos  Mexicanos de Pluma ( To Spin the Wind: Mexican Feathered Cloths).

Current artists have developed 3 kinds of feathered yarn.  All use down feathers from geese or ducks because down feathers are the only feathers pliable enough to twist into a yarn.  Groupo Khadi cards the down into the cotton and then spins it on a driven spindle wheel.

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carding down with cotton

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spinning the down cotton yarn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another artist , Román Gutiérrez,  adds the feathers when plying.  He starts with two strands of cotton thread, singles, and as he plies them he catches the down between the two strands.  Lots of twists is added to secure the down.  This yarn is fluffier than the carded yarn.  All done on a medium sized great wheel with two chairs working as a lazy kate.

I did a pre-conference workshop, on dyeing and spinning with down feathers, with Román in Teotilan del Valle and here is my piece of purple feather yarn,

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that I did on my drop spindle because I had it with me and access to one wheel was limited.

Others ply this feathered yarn together to get a thicker fluffy yarn, 4-ply cabled yarn, that I saw couched down on the surface of textiles.

Here are a couple of piece from the MTO exhibit just to give you and idea of the impact of feathered yarn.

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Portion of a textile woven by Noé Pinzón with down feathers. Noé was my teacher in backstrap weaving in the spring.

I have returned to Oaxaca just in time for TEXTIM, a conference on Mesoamerican Textiles.  A friend had signed me up for a workshop and conference and we stopped by the museum, Museo Textil de Oaxaca, today to check out the details.  The workshops are all on using feathers.  There was an exhibit  with feathers that we got to look at briefly.  My workshop starts on Wednsday and the conference goes through Sunday.  More to come….

 

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started in the mid-90’s, finished today

This is my first ever backstrap weaving.  I took a backstrap weaving workshop with Ed Franquemont in the middle 90’s and this is the first warp.  It is Andean Style weaving, complimentary warp.  He gave us the prepared warps with heddles and shed loop made and the first bit woven in the design.

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first bit

 

I now know that first bit  contains all the info required to weave the design, but I sure didn’t get that at the time.  Besides I had all I could do to get the sheds open and not drop all the little swords.  I did manage to weave about half of the warp but I did not focus on this design.

 

 

novice's work

novice’s work

I just couldn’t figure out how it worked, it wasn’t like any other design system I knew in weaving.  We did another warp in the workshop with a different design, not the X&O of this one.

 

 

 

 

 

The warps got put away because my business was growing,  so no time to indulge in weaving until I retired.  Currently I have been working with  some Antioch College students, last fall we were spinning together.  They came over to see what I brought back from Oaxaca last month and expressed an interest in backstrap weaving.

 

 

 

 

 

They started with narrow warps, made with crochet cotton.  The first warps were colored combs: learning to warp, make string heddles, and weave on the backstrap loom.  They are working on their second warp,  weaving a Latin American Paired Float pick up design.

 

When they were here the last time one on them asked me how close to the end could you weave. I thought I knew the answer but as I was looking at old samples I found this half woven warp and thought it would work to test how close to the end one can weave.  So out came this old warp; with heddles and shed loop intact, ready to weave.  I tied it up and started with the pattern.

 

current weaving

current weaving

 

 

 

 

The design was effortless, the width steady and much narrower. Hard to believe same warp, same weaver… looks so different.

 

So what had happened in the years since I started this warp?

 

In 2011 I took another workshop in backstrap weaving, this time with Abby Franquemont and have been doing some backstrap weaving since then interspersed with spinning and other fiber arts.    I have made several bands with this design.

 

crochet cotton with beads, hand spun, hand dyed wool and linen

crochet cotton with beads, hand spun, hand dyed wool and linen

One thing I did learn from is that the perle cotton yarn used for the first warp is too soft and it fuzzes.  The fuzz makes lumps on the heddles that makes opening the shed more difficult.  It also eats away at the warps and you can see that a yellow warp broke close to the end, and then a red one broke.  Time to finish.

 

 

Learning backstrap weaving at an advanced age has not been easy.    Starting with Andean style weaving was daunting; much practice on narrow bands just to learn the vocabulary, difficulty finding suitable high twist yarns  lead me off in to the world of spinning.  The second workshop I took was shortly after major back surgery. Weaving in isolation; no one else in this village of 4000 is interested in backstrap weaving.  I had managed to work up to about 4″ wide warp-faced weaving when I went to Oaxaca.

In Oaxaca I learned to weave balanced weave on the backstrap loom.  Even at 8-10″ wide it was so so easy after doing the warp-faced  weaving.  Of course there were some new challenges.  But I have been doing a fair amount to backstrap weaving recently.

 

So the difference between the beginning and end of this warp is experience.  When I started I had never seen in person any Andean weaving— if you have never seen it how do you know what it is supposed to look or feel like. I have now seen some, and made some. Yet it is hard to explain what it is that experience changes.

Why is it so easy to focus and do all the weaving in the design now?

Oh, and you can weave up to about an inch from the end with out too much trouble.   It takes a little more effort to weave to the very end.

new and the old

new and the old

 

 

 

I’m at an age when I can walk less than I could 20 years ago, I have fewer teeth, I hear less, having something I can do better  than  I did  20 or even 5 years ago is uplifting.

 

I have been looking for a hand woven huipil to buy since I’ve arrived in Oaxaca de Juarez in December 2014.  I finally found one! 

black cotton three panel huipil with coyuche and purpura pansa brocade

  
 
I found it at the Festval of Artisans that the state organized just above the Santo Domingo Church for Holy Week. 

I do have my criteria:

  • Back strap woven
  • Good craftsmanship 
  • Three panels
  • A colorway that I would wear
  • A size that I feel comfortable in. 

The size has been the stumbling block. Most are made for Señoritas, I need twice as wide to feel comfortable.  I did a turn of the whole festival and came back to an Amuzgo booth. She had many beautiful, well woven huipiles. Mostly on a natural or off- white ground, which looks lovely with their black hair but I don’t much like with my all white hair, too monochromatic.   She did have a pale pink one that looked a little greyed and a Mexican Rose one with black brocade. I love Mexican Rose but the craftsmanship  of this one wasn’t top quality, particularly in the construction. She had an elegant black on black  huipil, sized for a small señorita. 😟

She hung up a very beautiful  huipil in a cinnamon brown with natural colored brocade.   It was very fine brocade and the colors were spectacular, the brocade almost looked golden. Very elegant and special. When she got it down so I could see it closer I recognized the color as that from nanche, a tree that has an edible fruit and the bark can be used for dyeing. Unfortunately the nanche color had already stained parts of the natural colored threads that were used for brocade and construction. Yes, it was natural dye but it was not well dyed. 

Reluctantly I left that booth and went to a booth that had some lovely small utility cloths with brocade style I associate with San Juan Colorado, but wasn’t from San Juan. There were several styles of brocade in the booth, which I think was a coop. Some pieces had women’s names on them, which I thought was the maker’s name. She began showing me huipiles too and some were lovely but small. She finally showed me a “large” three panel black huipil with brocade in coyuche, that is always hand spun, and purpura pansa, the seashell violet. Excellent workmanship.  Price I could afford. Perfect except it was too small. She thought it was big enough, but I insisted that it was only as wide as the top I had on and the top had slits from the waist down. The black huipil was ankle length and I had to convince her that it was going to catch on my hips so I wouldn’t wear it.  As I was ready to walk away she said she had a very large one.  I said let me see it, she had to root around a bit to find it and when I saw it it was perfect. Big enough, well made, black ground with Leno and coyuche and purpura pansa brocade.  It is now mine!

 

detail with purpura pansa dyed yarn used for brocade and construction


The ground cloth is 16/2 black cotton in plain weave and leno. The cloth is light weight and drapes well. Not hot because of the open work, leno. Each panel has a few warps of purpura at each side selvage. The panels are joined by hand with a faggoting stitch in the same purpura.  The neck edge is carefully made and decorated with the same purpura dyed yarn. 

The purpura dyed yarn is commercially spun yarn that is taken to the seaside. The wet yarn is held in the hand and the sea snails are pried from the rocks and their excretions rubbed on the yarn. The snails are returned to their rock. The secretions slowly change color, in the sun and air , until the yarn is a pale red- violet color. 
The coyuche is a brown cotton that grows here. It is short staple and thus hand spun.  Both colors are from prehispanic times. 

The brocade technique is discontinuous inlay. This inlay is done with the weft turns on the top making tiny scalloped edges around each motif. 

  • detail of the brocade with coyuche and purpura

 
This brocade style has a neat backside that is only slightly different from the front. 

 

here is the fourth selvage carachteristic of back strap weaving and the neat backside of the brocade


 Blessing on the weaver that made my cherished huipil!

I decided to work with a black warp which made my teacher roll her eyes.   So hard to see. So I decided to make a sample first to see if I could see the black warp to make the brocade. 

I started with the Zapotec delicate inlay that I studied last year.  

last years first attempt

  
So I made a black warp, same size yarn, 16/2, same number of threads,  same width. I tried four colors of inlay- white, pale pink, light grey and Mexican Rose

my favorite.  
The grey and pale pink are hard to tell apart. The Mexican Rose and white show a little better.  I went from 2 strand to 3 for the brocade weft.   Last year I used a thinner ground weft, 16/1, behind the brocade to  make it more visible, but this year I didn’t have any thinner yarn in black,unfortunately. 

Technically this is discontinuous inlay. I don’t think this is working. 

The traditional stripe pattern in the Rose is lovely. 

Then I decided to try a different technique that  has the supplemental weft on top of the ground cloth then it goes back into the shed. The design should be much bolder. It is a continuous supplemary weft that is either on top of the shed or in it.  It is called tejido Huave or Huave weave where Huave is the name of the ethnic group that uses this structure extensively.  

photo by Karen Elwell

 

I was working with this structure last summer and one of the trickey parts is the contrast between the ground and brocade weft.   I want the inlay part to almost disappear. Best try the Mexican Rose to see how it works. 


 The color works well but I was just making up designs and changing the scale. 

Then I took a class at Museo Textil de Oaxaca with Noe Pinzon Paradox , backstrap weaving  Huave style.   

Noe with his loom warped with 60/2 cotton. This is the wrong side that you see.


Noe is a gifted weaver, he has been weaving for 18 years, since he was 4.Obviously part of a weaving family.

He is also an excellent and patient teacher.  

one orange and three blue designs done in class

So using what I learned in class I returned to my black warp.  Repeating the best of the 3 blue designs done in class in grey:

 
 The doubled grey brocading warp, same as I used in class, is too bulky for this warp and looks irregular. So I reduced the brocading weft to a single strand of embroidery floss ( all six threads, just like it comes in the package). 

a smaller Huave design

 

Then I tried  an acrylic yarn that was lying around.   

 The new design is hard to see. 

the edges are getting better

 
Best design in my favorite color. This bolder brocade works much better on this black warp.  

The black and white haunts  me.  May have to do some classic black and white. 

The Huave style brocade produces much heavier and stiffer cloth than the Zapotec inlay. That is because Huave uses all six strands of the embroidery floss and it goes from selvage to selvage.  Zapotec inlay only uses 3 strands and only where there is a design. 

If I want the Zapotec inlay to show more, and I work without a finer ground thread, I may have to space out the warps more. 

Much learned and ready for the next warp. 

 

Rebozo weaver

16 March 2016

Yesterday the Museo Textil de Oaxaca had a midday celebration to honor a 90 year old rebozo weaver from near Mexico City, Evaristo Borboa.  

  

Señor Evaristo was weaving in the interior courtyard of the museum, a beautiful space with natural light and many pillars. 

He weaves jaspe or ikat rebozos in cotton. 

  He weaves standing. As you can see the warp is wider than he is, 28-30″ would be my guess.   It must take a lot of upper body strength to open the sheds and standing allows him more leverage.  

These rebozos are large, 28-30″ wide by  90+ ” long by our standards but because they are light and drapey they are just the right size to wrap yourself  up. 

The resist dyed design is in the warp and to show it off the cloth is warp- faced.  The warp threads are ultra- fine mercerized cotton; the final cloth feels and drapes like silk. I can’t even guess at how many threads there are in this warp. Each one has been dyed and placed in order to create the design. 
  
Here you can see both the woven cloth and the unwoven warp.   If you have trouble finding the fell line look for the bottom edge of the sword or machete. Farther from the fell line the pattern on the warp is less visible, all you see are tiny spots.  This is just plain weave folks, but there is nothing plain about this. 

  
 If you are observant you can see that his loom is set up to weave four selvages. The final rebozos all have long elonorate fringes. 

  
My conclusion is that the fringe is added after weaving. This maybe the reason that other ikat rebozos have incongruent colors in the fringe. 

Here is a video of Señor Evaristo weaving.   Interesting to me is how he uses his sword to open the heddled shed.   I first noticed the hump in the warp threads when he took out the sword to open the heddled shed, then I watched it form. 

Señor Evaristo has been weaving for 83 years. That is longer than most of us have been talking, weaving must be as second nature for him as talking is for us. 

On Friday I did a quick walk through of the new exhibit of Rebozos at the museum, El rebozo, don de la Llorona.  I just picked out one to share with you, #41 in the exhibit.

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As you can see this rebozo has very dramatic fringes.  This is not uncommon in Mexican weaving.  This rebozo is hung in the exhibit so that you can see both the front and the back of the fringe section.  The fluffy areas are added little tassels as you can see in the row acrossed the top.image.jpeg

The top row of tassels are in the body of the shawl and I could not touch it to see if there was woven cloth under the fluffy part.  So I looked up the description in the gallery notes:image

It says that this rebozo was made in the middle of the 20th century in an area of Purépecha people in the town of Ahuiran, state of Michoacán.

Both the warp and weft are made of industrially spun cotton singles, Z spun and possibly dyed with natural indigo.The warp has stripes of royal blue rayon, 2 ply, z twist.  The cloth is warp faced plain weave.  The warp ends  are flat braided to form the fringe, and the braiding is diagonal and forms holes  in the network.  Tassels made of rayon floss ( floss has no twist) are tied on at the little holes.

The tassels make a multi-colored diamond design.  Then they discuss a bit about if this is the style of the village where it was made or not.  Even though this is a wide cloth, even today these rebozos are made on backstrap looms.   Some of this style rebozos from the 19th century , the tassels added to the fringe form little animals or other figures.

Here is the back of the fringe:

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More Huave Style weaving

18 October 2015

This was a short warp, 3 yds. but I’m getting a lot of practice on it.    Someone asked where I got my patterns.

I didn’t manage to bring any Huave textiles home with me but I did handle some  while I was there.  Because I have been working on brocade for the past two years I recognized the cloth, not the huipiles, are continuous inlay/overlay the same as  the Thunderbolt Towels I made before I went to Oaxaca.  The only difference is that the Huave cloths are warp dominate.  Once I had a sett for the warp dominate cloth, 8/2 cotton at 20epi,  I searched for photographs for the patterns.

Huave geometric cloth, Photo: Karen Elwell

Huave geometric cloth, Photo: Karen Elwell

My first Huave Style cloth with geometric design

My first Huave Style cloth with geometric design

 

Pillow tops with Huave insert

Pillow tops with Huave insert

My second Huave Style design

Second Huave Style design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The newest design is inspired by some photographs in the book, Mexican Textiles

Huave textile top left:fretted zigzags alternate with star motifs.

Huave textile top left:fretted zigzags alternate with star motifs.

My zigzag with star motifs still on the loom

My zigzag with star motifs still on the loom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still have warp left on the loom.  The most common Huave cloths are ones have animalitos in rows across the cloth.  I personally prefer geometric designs but I must try the animalitos such as these:

Huave cloth with creatures of the sea Photo: Karen Elwell

Huave cloth with creatures of the sea Photo: Karen Elwell

 

The Huave live near the sea and this charming cloth has crabs, fish, shrimp, seahorses and a mermaid and merman.  For my first try I’ll stick with rows of figures more along these lines:

Huave cloth. San Diego Museum of Man. The brown brocading weft is natural brown cotton, coyuche.

Huave cloth. San Diego Museum of Man. The brown brocading weft is natural brown cotton, coyuche.

Second Huave Style design

Second Huave Style design

I started another continuous brocade piece on the same warp that I used for the yellow piece.

First Huave Style cloth with geometric design

First Huave Style cloth with geometric design

This time in addition to a new design and brocade color I added a stretcher to keep the width of the cloth constant.  The biggest problem I had with the first piece I made with this technique, is that the cloth got narrower as I wove.

The commercial stretcher that I have are too big for this 14″ wide cloth so I used one made to fit this cloth.  It is simply a piece of hollow bamboo cut to size and two little nails.  I learned this from my backstrap weaving teacher, Doña Euforsina, last winter in Oaxaca.  I grow lots of bamboo but it is not straight and has bumps where the leaves emerge. So after some cutting and sanding and I had a tube that I thought would work.

The stretcher goes on the back of the fabric, thus not obscuring the pattern.  You place the bamboo under the web and insert the nail through the selvage into the hollow of the bamboo tube.  Do one side then the other, the second side takes a little tugging but you want the web taut.

Bamboo stretcher in place on the underside of the web

Bamboo stretcher in place on the underside of the web

 

the hollow bamboo and two nail for stretcher

the hollow bamboo and two nail for stretcher

Here are the pieces used to stretch the web, a piece of bamboo and two nails.

The other picture shows how the nail in the selvage holds the bamboo in place.

Nail attaching the web to bamboo stretcher

Nail attaching the web to bamboo stretcher

 

I finished this piece and after some separators started on another  and I pleased to see that as the cloth rolls on the cloth beam it is all exactly the same width.

A solution without buying a thing!