We have a small community of backstrap weavers here in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico that get together once a week to weave, share and learn. After the isolation and depletion of our ranks by the pandemic we needed an invigorating project. We selected this type of huipil and invited a young, very accomplished weaver from San Mateo del Mar, Noé Pinzón Palafox, to mentor us.

A huipil from San Mateo del Mar recently woven by Jazmín Azucena Pinzón Palafox

Noé comes from a family of masterful weavers . He learned to weave in his family starting at age five. His younger sister, Jazmín Azucena Pinzón Palafox, wove the huipil in the picture above. His mother, Francisca Palafox, is credited with reviving the techniques for weaving this huipil. The weaving of this huipil had all but disappeared by the end of the last century. His 8 year old nephew is already winning national prizes for his weaving. That is how one learns to weave here in Oaxaca.

San Mateo del Mar is an Ikoots (sometime called Huave) community in the hot costal lands of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is located on a narrow peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and a lagoon (https://goo.gl/maps/G3mpSZWFBnbYDBxC8). It is all about the sea.

The huipil itself is made of cotton, now a days commercially spun. The cool sheer cloth is nearly a balanced weave sometimes with heavier weft stripes, woven brocade designs and several warp stripes. The brocade designs feature marine and coastal imagery or geometric patterns. A curious feature is a tassel at the end of the center front warp stripe. The huipil is woven in one or three panels, each piece with four selvages. The neck opening is a woven slit.

Here is some background information on these huipils :

Traditionally the huipils are made with natural colored cotton with colored warp stripes and colored brocade. Local natural colored cotton can be either off-white or brown (coyuche). Both were hand spun on a supported spindle. Preparing and spinning the locally grown cotton is very time consuming and has been largely abandoned now. Off-white cotton is now available commercially spun. The color grown cotton must still be hand spun because of its short staple length.

The natural dyes available locally were sea snail purple (caracol purpura), indigo and cochineal. The sea snail is now extinct in this area. A small sanctuary for the sea snail exists farther west on the Oaxacan coast, harvesting the dye is limited to a few authorized individuals. Indigo is grown inland nearby in Santiago Niltepec. A few people still cultivate indigo plants, but the production of the dye can be effected by earthquakes which destroy the tanks used for extracting the dye and by drought. Cochineal, a highly prized red insect dye is native to Oaxaca. The insect grows on prickly pear cactus. It is not particularly good dye for cotton, it is hard to get the bright red known on wool, giving instead a pale or purplish color. The cotton must be meticulously prepared and mordanted to have a stable cochineal color on cotton.

Todays huipils have evolved and updated and are woven in all sorts of colors. The huipil is woven in 3 panels a center one and two side panels. The center panel has designs created with supplementary weft, i.e. brocade. The weave structure is nearly a balanced plain weave, the openness of this structure allows space for the supplemental weft. The supplementary weft can be continuous or discontinuous but the design is formed when the brocade weft is placed in the shed. The panels are sewn together in the stripes. If the huipil is narrow enough and the weaver and loom are up to the task, it can be woven in one piece thus eliminating the seams. Each panel is woven with 4 selvages. Four selvage weaving is demanding and time consuming but highly regarded, giving a special spirit to the cloth. The neck opening is woven as a slit. The huipil made from four selvage panels is finished by sewing it together, no cutting involved.

A unique feature of these huipils is the center warp stripe, that is called the umbilical cord. It is woven into the cloth for most of the length of the panel, then it is not. The unwoven ends of these warps hang free looking like a tassel. Weaving this is a bit a a challenge to us but also why we chose this style of huipil and why we have a mentor.

Noé suggested we weave a mini-huipil to learn all the techniques. He brought an example he had previously woven.

The back of Noé’s mini-huipil.

This mini-huipil is about 30cm long and 40cm wide. The cloth is sheer enough that you can vaguely see the designs and stripes on the front. He demonstrated making the warp using 16/2 natural cotton and a softly spun merino wool silk yarn in a midnight blue. Then we made our warps, we chose different colors. You will see various warps in this post. Care must be taken with the center colored stripe when lashing on to the loom bars, as it is not woven at the beginning.

Preparing the mini-huipil warp.

Here you can see the loom being set up. The heddles have been made. The far end has been lashed-on to the loom bar and a bit was woven before the loom was turned around. Note that the center colored warps have not been woven but pushed down to right side. The warps must be carefully distributed on the loom bar to weave a sheer cloth.

This end has been lashed-on and the 3rd beam is ready to be removed.

The distribution of the warps on the second beam must match that of the upper beam before lashing-on. The final distribution of the warps is done with the first wefts. The colored center warps are not woven initially but pushed down to the right side ( the cloth is woven with the wrong side facing the weaver).

Initiating the front body of the huipil.

The weaving continues for a bit until it is time to incorporate the colored warps in the center. These warps are raised and now woven with the rest of the cloth.

Bottom front woven without the center stripe.

Obviously the warps near the center will have to curve around the newly incorporated warps.

Center front with ground warps bending around the center stripe.

Once the center stripe is incorporated the brocade designs can begin.

Plan for weaving the mini-huipil.
Adding brocade birds with discontinuous supplementary weft.

At the right height the neck slit is begun and woven using two wefts. Also two more stretcher bars, temples, are added to keep the cloth from pulling in at the slit.

The start of the neck slit, with 3 stretcher bars in place.

The design may continue along side the slit. The slit in the back is shorter than the front slit.

Finishing the brocade birds and weaving the neck slit. You a looking at the wrong side that faces the weaver.
Loom protection.
Araceli’s hens from the right side..

Weaving continues with two wefts until the end of the slit in the back. The back may or may not have additional brocaded designs. Eventually the center stripe is dropped again. Finally one reaches the tedious weaving of closing the gap, or terminal area, that is part of four-selvage weaving. This requires smaller tools and finally a needle. But finally the entire cloth is woven.

When closing the gap, the final few passes of the weft are done with a needle.

The gap has been woven.
The wrong side,the side that faces the weaver, of the completed cloth still on the loom.

And the right side.

The cloth is removed from the loom, washed and finished. The under arm selvages are butted and sewn by hand. Nothing has been cut.

One completed mini-huipil.

There are no holes where the center stripe has NOT been woven.

Cloth under the front tassel.

Three of the five participants have completed their mini-huipils so far, different colors, different designs- Noé’s birds (not charted, done free hand), Karren’s dragonflies and diamonds, and Araceli’s triangles and hens. Two more participants are working on theirs.

Finished mini-huipils made by Noé (left), Karren and Araceli (right).

Now that we know the techniques we can tackle larger huipils.


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!

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. 

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.

I’m testing the loom set up, threads and other variables for Huave( also called Ikoots) style weaving.  This is an indigenous group in Oaxaca that live in the Istmo region to the south of the city and at sea level near the coast.  I have only seen their textiles in Oaxaca city, and the huipiles look very similar to the Zapotec huipiles that my teacher makes.  I’m the bigger one in the pic.

We both wear huipils, she made hers, it is beloved and authentic Zapotec.

We both wear huipils, she made hers, it is beloved and authentic Zapotec.


Here is a detail of one of the common motifs she taught me.  This is my first Zapotec style weaving done on a back strap loom.  Technically it is discontinuous inlay.

The Huave huipiles are very similar in technique, all cotton, inlay  and share some of the same motifs.

Part of a Huave huipil

Part of a Huave huipil

Huave huipil

Huave huipil on display at MTO.

At the bottom you can see a similar motif.  The other horizontal bands are very original, obviously beach scenes with coconut palms, pelicans, turtles, etc.  Another distinctive features of the Huave huipils is a center stripe.  At first I thought they were 4 panels but no, the stripe in the center does not hide a seam and at the bottom both front and back it comes out of the cloth to become a tassel. So I think it is a supplementary warp. The neck opening is also a woven-in split, occurring with in this stripe.   The Zapotec huipil is woven whole and the neck opening is cut and stitched.  This huipil does have a very low contrast inlay design that does not show in the poor quality photo but you can see the stripe become a tassel at the bottom.

Both style of huipiles are fairly sheer plain weave cotton woven on backstrap loom, embellished with heavier opaque stripes and discontinuous inlay.

Huave cloth, geometric and figurative -2-

Huave cloth. Photo by Karen Elwell

The Huave also make textiles that are not sheer and made as cloths to keep tortillas warm (bread cloth?), napkins, table decoration etc.  These interesting textiles have a continuous brocade weft, that is the supplementary weft goes from selvage to selvage.  When the brocading weft is not on top, making the design, it is buried in the regular shed and only slightly visible.  If you compare the plain weave at the end with the background of the butterflies  you can see the difference.

Brocade P I.5

My continuous brocade, inlay/overlay, woven on RH loom.

I have made things with this very technique, continuous inlay/overlay that look quite different, the brocade weft being much more visible in the back ground.   This is plain weave done on a rigid heddle loom.  The Huave work looks to be more warp dominate  and thus hide the pattern weft in the inlay areas. Could also be the proportion between the size of the warp and weft yarns.


Huave backstrap loom weaving a round cloth. Technique: continuous brocade, inlay/overlay. All cotton.

Here you can see the Huave work on the loom and the pattern weft looks fat, made up of three strands of singles.  And the weft looks fine.

Notice that the tie-downs in the overlay help to  define the riders on the back of the horses.

So how can I get this effect? What size yarn for the warp? sett? what to use for pattern weft?  I have been doing inlay/overlay on rigid heddle looms (RH) with 8/2 cotton doubled in a 10 dent heddle. I was flipping through a recently acquired book, Tejido Huave and Beyond by Erica de Ruiter,  and she suggests 8/2 cotton sett at 20 epi.  So that’s what I’m trying. You can get 20 epi on a RH loom by using two 10 dent heddles .


Here is my set-up: I had a Leclerc Bergere loom empty with a 10 dent heddle and found another 10 dent heddle from a narrower Ashford loom.  I held the two heddles up to the light and the eyes seemed to line up.  So this is mint green 8/2 cotton warp sett at 20 epi.   Since both heddles move together, I don’t need a second castle, I used cable zip ties to fasten them together and they move as one unit.  The sheds don’t open as cleanly as when I use 2 Leclerc heddles( the eyes aren’t the same size) so I put a dowel under the warps in the slots and pushed it to the back beam.  I can use it to help clear the shed. The dowel does have a security tie on it since it travelled to a workshop and back.

Then to see what pattern weft would work, from my previous work with inlay/overlay I know that two strands of embroidery floss will cover the surface of the 8/2 cotton  in the overlay areas.   I tried a soft beige and white and then the yellow and the yellow worked. I’m quite pleased with how little of the pattern weft is visible in the inlay areas.

The challenge of making this pattern work is the beat.  For the bottom of the diamonds I wasn’t beating hard enough and the diamond is elongated.  I got out my sword from my back strap loom and started beating hard with that. Even so I have to brace the little table I have the loom clamped to, with my legs and tummy and beat after I change the shed.   But you can see the top part of the diamonds is more compact.  I expect it to contract even more when off the loom and washed.

So now I’m ready for a project.  Maybe something like this.

Huave geometric cloth

Beautiful Huave cloth with geometric design. Photo: Karen Elwell

Thunderbolt Towels made on a rigid heddle loom

Thunderbolt Towels made on a rigid heddle loom

I am mesmerized looking at Mesoamerican brocaded textiles such as huipiles or quechquemitls. These glorious cloths are usually woven on backstrap looms by masterful weavers. They weave traditional clothing; sometimes it is a riot of color or other times the height of subdued sophistication such as sheer white gauze with opaque white brocade. These weavers may have started weaving about the age start we to read, which gives them years and years of experience.

I have designed a brocade that can be made on a rigid heddle loom by a weaver who can weave a balanced plain weave. The master weavers working on backstrap loom use fine threads and closer setts than we typically use on rigid heddle looms. This design is adapted for a balanced plain weave with sett achievable with one common rigid heddle, a 10 dent to be exact. I made a sample on another warp, then refined it for this project. I still used finer threads to keep the hand of the cloth supple.

Inlay/overlay design on a beige with white stripes background. When the navy pattern thread is inserted into the shed you see dots of navy creating half-tone areas. When the pattern weft floats on top of the ground cloth you have solid navy areas.

Inlay/overlay design on a beige with white stripes background. When the navy pattern thread is inserted into the shed you see dots of navy creating half-tone areas. When the pattern weft floats on top of the ground cloth you have solid navy areas. Woven with 8/2 cotton at 10 epi.

I worked with 16/2 cotton but you can also use 8/2 cotton. Using four 16/2 strands instead of two 8/2 strands produces a thinner more pliant cloth because the strands lay side by side. This could be called a basket weave but I am calling it a plain weave where each end is composed of multiple strands. You have a choice of making the towels with  un-mercerized cotton 8/2 doubled or 16/2  quadrupled. The quadrupled 16/2 gives a thiner more supple cloth but is a bit more challenging to work with. If this is your first time working with multi-stranded ends, stick with the 8/2 cotton.

Inlay is the simplest of the innumerable brocade techniques especially if the supplementary weft goes from selvage to selvage just like the ground weft. For inlay the ground weft is followed by a pattern weft in the same shed. Since you keep the shed open to insert the supplementary weft you can easily tell which shed is next. Inlay alone produces a dotted line; you see the color of the brocading weft as it goes over every other warp. Just inlay , selvage to selvage, does not have a lot of design possibilities. To extend the design potential inlay can be combined with floats over the surface of the ground cloth, this is called called overlay. In inlay/overlay designs have dotted or half-tone areas and the floats or solid colored areas . The limit of the length of the floats is determined by the function of the cloth. The design challenge is to have a strong visual impact of the overlay area without having the floats too long for the intended use of the cloth.

Since the brocading thread is either in the shed on on top of it the back side of the fabric is smooth and has no floats. You can see an echo of the pattern on the back, when the brocading weft floats over on the front. So the front side has dots and solid areas, the back has dots and no dot areas, both are finished and presentable for uses where you see both sides of the cloth such as towels or scarves.

Front side of brocaded design showing both inlay and overlay.

Front side of brocaded design showing both inlay and overlay.

Back side of the pattern.

Back side of the pattern.

The sections where the brocading weft floats over the ground, the overlay, are selected by the weaver with a pick-up stick. After throwing the ground weft the shed is kept open and a pick up stick is inserted in the same shed pulling down some warps that are in the raised position. The pick-up of one warp end makes a big visual impact producing a float 3 ends long. Because you pull down warp ends from the raised shed with the pick-up stick, maybe this technique should be called pick-down instead of pick-up.

These designs can be graphed on appropriate paper and the location of the ends to be picked out of the shed can be counted out. This might be effective if all you want to do is one project but if you want to develop speed, mastery in brocading one can learn to work visually, as the Meso- American master weavers do. Once you have established the pattern by counting you can look at the previous row and know that this pick-up is the end say to the right of the one below. This eliminates the fastidious counting and keeps one from propagating a counting error across the whole row. When one does the pick-up visually you might be off in one motif and yet all the other motifs in that row are correct. One isolated thread out of place is barely noticeable, a whole row shifted one end to the right is visually jarring. An all pick-up patterns have errors; there are little isolate errors that one must hunt for and there are disruptive errors that interfere with the perception of the overall pattern. Of course, it takes time and experience to see which thread is beside the one in the previous row, I started weaving just triangles to train my eye.

This project of continuous (pattern weft goes from selvage to selvage) inlay/overlay on a few towels woven on a rigid heddle loom is designed to be simple to execute yet be visually impactful; suitable for a first attempt at pick-up brocade. The ground cloth is a balanced plain weave, sett at 10 epi, and the design has the same pattern of floats in every row , they just shift one thread to the right or left. The warp has stripes, these act much like heavier lines on graph paper keeping you from getting lost in a sea of sameness when you are counting ends. It also lends it self to improvisation , you can decide as you weave where and how many times to reverse the direction.

The most challenging aspect of this project may be thread handling. It can be woven with double 8/2 cotton or quadrupled 16/2 cotton. I worked with the 16/2 quadrupled but have done many projects with 8/2 doubled. The 16/2 cotton produces a thinner more supple cloth, both have 10 ends per inch, in one case one end is two 8/2 threads and in the other it is four 2/16 threads.


Weave structure: balanced plain weave with a supplementary weft band


Loom: rigid heddle

Weaving width:16”

Rigid heddle: 10 dents per inch

Shuttles:one for the ground weft, boat or stick, and for the supplementary weft several smaller stick shuttles

Pick-up sticks: two at least 18” long and wide enough to form a shed for your shuttle, 1.5-2” is usually wide enough

Measuring: a cloth or paper tape about 36” long that you can write on

Hemming: hand sewing supplies,sewing machine and 1/4” seam tape OR a serger


From Maurice Brassard Fils Inc. They have the same colors available in both sizes.

8/2 cotton comes on ½ lb. tubes of 1680 yd., 16/2 cotton comes on ½ lb. tubes of 3360 yd.

  • Orange, Orange foncé #1315

  • Grey, Gris foncé #271

  • Green, Vert nil #1934

For 8/2 cotton towel warp you will need

  • Grey, 830 yards

  • Orange, 110 yards

  • Green, 100 yards

Weft will use 850 yards of grey.

Total yardage of grey for warp and weft: 1680 or one ½ lb. tube.


For 16/2 cotton towel warp you will need

  • Grey, 1650 yards

  • Orange, 210 yards

  • Green, 190 yards

Weft will use 1700 yards of grey.

Total yardage of grey for warp and weft: 3360 or one ½ lb. tube

Supplementary weft from your local yarn shop: DMC six strand embroidery floss, 8.7 yd. skeins.

The Brocading weft is thick, made of two strands of the embroidery floss.

Towel with orange brocade: 3 skeins bright orange #947

Towel with green brocade: 3 skeins bright green # 166

Towel with graded colored brocade: 1 skeins each of red #666, orange #971, gold #972 and yellow #725.


Warp length: 116” = 20”loom waste and 3 towels at 32” each

Warp width: 158 ends or 15.8” at the rigid heddle

NOTE THAT EACH END IS MULTIPLE STRANDS, either two 8/2 or four 16/2.

The warp has stripes; 8 ends of grey then 2 of a bright color, ending with 8 grey. The two narrow stripes alternate colors, orange then green. You will have 15 narrow colored stripes, 8 orange and 7 green, and 16 wide grey stripes.

Warp color sequence:

(8 ends grey, 2 orange, 8 grey, 2 green) repeat 7 times total then end 8 grey, 2 orange, 8 grey.

Wind your ground shuttle with multiple strands also, same number as your warp. Ground picks per inch on loom: 9.

Each woven towel on the loom was 14.25′ wide and 29” long, off loom 14.24” wide by 28” long before hemming. The hemmed and machine washed towel is 13.5” wide and 24” long.


You will be working with multiple strands as an end, two strands of 8/2 cotton equals one end or four strands of 16/2 cotton equals one end. I will describe the process for 8/2 cotton and put in changes for the 16/2. The most important thing about working with multiple strand is to pull them from the same kind of package, and by package I mean cone, tube, spool or bobbin. If you wind your weft shuttle from one cone and one bobbin they will be at different tensions and give you trouble as you weave, where if you pull from two cones or two bobbins the tension will be similar and you will not have as many problems. This may mean a little more yarn handling than usual, winding extra bobbins or spools, but it will reduce the aggravation of working with multi-stranded ends.

To direct warp your rigid heddle loom set it up as normal with the peg placed for a 116” warp length. Place the yarn packages at the back of the loom. You will only need one of 8/2 cotton package for this doubled warp because you can pull a loop, which is composed of two strands through each slot AND each hole. Note the difference here from normal direct warping when you pull loops only through the slots. You will walk twice as far but no further threading will be required. If you are working with 16/2 cotton you will need two identical packages, for all three colors, behind the loom and you will pull a double loop through every hole and slot. Do 8 ends grey, then 2 orange, 8 grey, 2 green, repeat this sequence 7 times total, ending 8 grey, 2 orange and 8 grey. You will have 15 narrow colored stripes, 8 orange and 7 green, and 16 wide grey stripes. Wind onto the warp beam, paying close attention to the selvage warps which tend to drift off the warp bundle. Tie on and spread your warp and you are ready to weave.

This is the stripe pattern you are creating, 8 ends grey, 2 bright color.

This is the stripe pattern you are creating, 8 ends grey, 2 bright color.

Measuring tape for towels with hems and pattern.

Measuring tape for towels with hems and pattern.Prepare a measuring tape for a towel by marking a starting line a few inches up from the end of the tape, then make a line 2” above for the end of the hem, then 3.5” from that line for the start of the brocade design. The distance from the end of one hem to the start of the next is 25” and then 2” more for the last hem. You can pin this to the web on the loom as you weave to know where to weave the hems and the brocade design. I use the same measuring tape for all three towels so that they are the same size with the design in the same place.

Prepare a measuring tape for a towel by marking a starting line a few inches up from the end of the tape, then make a line 2” above for the end of the hem, then 3.5” from that line for the start of the brocade design. The distance from the end of one hem to the start of the next is 25” and then 2” more for the last hem. You can pin this to the web on the loom as you weave to know where to weave the hems and the brocade design. I use the same measuring tape for all three towels so that they are the same size with the design in the same place.

Weave the hems, the first 2” and last 2”, with a thinner weft than you use in the body of the towel to reduce the bulk of the hem. The hem is two and some places 3 layers of cloth and I don’t like it when it looks padded. So for the 8/2 hem weft I use a single strand of the grey and for 16/2 a double strand. I weave for 2” with the thinner weft then change to the heavier weft for the body of the towel. As you weave the body of the towel before the design, count the picks per inch. You should be getting around 9 ppi for a balanced plain weave. You want your beat to be steady before you get to the brocade band where you will be adding more weft into the shed. Ideally you should beat to have 9 ground ppi in the brocade area also.

The standard operating procedure for this brocade:

  1. open shed

  2. throw ground weft and beat

  3. keep same shed open

  4. pick out design by removing (place them under the pick-up stick) ends from the threads that are up

  5. turn pick-up stick on its side to make a pattern shed

  6. throw the supplementary colored weft in the pattern shed

  7. beat the pattern weft on top of the ground weft

  8. change sheds and repeat from 2.

This is is for a continuous (the supplementary weft goes from selvage to selvage), inlay/ overlay brocade. The pick-up ( pick-down is a better description) is done on an open shed meaning that only half of all warps are eligible for pick-up each time.

Here is a graph of the brocade design: it is based on 10epi and 9ppi and your design should come out very close in size to the actual graph.

Graph for South of the Border Thunderbolts. Ends with black horizontal bars are removed from the raised shed by placing them under the pick-up stick. Ends in white are left raised.

Graph for South of the Border Thunderbolts. Ends with black horizontal bars are removed from the raised shed by placing them under the pick-up stick. Ends in white are left raised.


Because we are working on an open shed, each row of the graph shows only the ends in the shed that are raised, so only half the warp ends show in each row of the graph. You can think of the white rectangles as the ends that are raised and the black lines as the ends that are down. In each row we only manipulate the raised ends. Each row in the graph has the rectangular blocks offset because the ends in the two sheds are offset; an end in the slot shed sets beside, not exactly above, an end in the hole shed. So this brick graph paper has 5 ends per inch in each row and 9 rows per inch for the picks. ( You can down load this type of paper from the internet from a graph paper generator on the web.) When you are doing your pick-up on an open shed, and it is not possible to get straight vertical line because of the offset position of the threads in the two sheds, you get a wiggly line instead of a straight one. But you can get very nice diagonal lines by moving over one end each row.

Removing one end from the raised shed will result in a float over 3 ends; this may not be obvious at first glance but the two end beside the one that you push down are already down, as they are part of the down shed. Try it and you will understand better. So removing 2 adjacent ends produces a five end float and 3 ends removed, a 7 end float. Now a 7 end float in a 10 epi cloth is 0.7” long, as long as I think we want to go with the floats on these towel. So the longest float in this design is where 3 ends are removed from the raised shed.

Weave a one color brocade bands first. Prepare your brocade weft shuttle by winding it with double strand of embroidery floss, by double stand I mean two 6-stranded threads; you need this large amount of floss to cover the ground. If you have only one skein, find both ends and wind double from both ends with your hand in the center of the skein to prevent tangling. The first row of the brocade pattern will determine the placement of the entire pattern. This first row needs to be counted and checked, counted again and checked. The basic pattern overlay areas ( the part that says repeat 4 times total in the graph) is, from right to left , leave 8, remove 1 end, leave 1, remove 2 ends, leave 2, remove 3. This pattern is repeated 4 times in the center of the warp, the right side starts with a partial pattern and the left side finishes with a partial pattern .

To begin open a shed and throw the ground weft beat , keep the SAME shed open (this can be the hardest step) insert the pick-up stick into the shed from the right side, at this point all the raised ends are on top of the pick-up stick, now with the point of the stick leave the first 2 ends of the right selvage up, then put 3 ends under the stick, skip 8, put 1 ends under the stick then skip 1, pick 2 down, skip 2, pick 3 down– this completes the partial pattern on the right and the first full repeat. Do 3 more full repeats and the left partial following the graph. Be carful not to separate the strands in each end with the pick-up stick, this is a new hazard caused by working with multiple strands for each end. Now bring the pick-up stick down to the fell line and check the gaps you have created in the shed. The gaps will be the floats in the brocade weft.

Checking the pick up on the stick before throwing the shuttle.  Pattern show is pick one down, leave 8, repeat.

Checking the pick up on the stick before throwing the shuttle. Pattern shown is pick one down, leave 8, repeat.

Check again, see their position relative to the stripes is good. When you are convinced that the pick-up is correct then throw the colored weft, beat and change sheds. Throw the ground weft in the new shed, now pause and look carefully for any mistakes in the last pick-up. The best time to see errors in the pick-up is now after you have changed sheds and placed the next ground weft. When you are convinced that it is correct you can proceed to the next pick-up row. This row is the same pattern of floats as the first row, just moved one thread to the left and now should be much quicker to pick-up because you have visual landmarks. This 29 row pattern moves to the left through row 7 then moves to the right through row 25 then it moves to the left again. Watch carefully that you move only one end each time and that you get all the strands of each end.

The colored threads of the brocade may look sparse as you are weaving but off the loom the ground warp will shorten and bring them closer together and un-plied floss will spread out, this is what embroidery floss is designed to do, and cover the ground, when it is washed and pressed.

Overlay looks sparse on the loom but will be fine when finished.

Overlay looks sparse on the loom but will be fine when finished.


the same towel after washing and pressing.

the same towel after washing and pressing.

Catching the brocade weft at the selvages requires extra attention, if a row of brocade ends in a float there is nothing to automatically catch the brocading weft at the selvage but you can use the ground weft to lock it in place as shown in the photograph below.

Using the ground weft to catch the brocading weft at the selvage.

Using the ground weft to catch the brocading weft at the selvage.

 To secure the cut end of the brocading weft turn it back into the same shed after catching it on a selvage thread. After you finish the pattern,  weave the plain body of the towel following your prepared measuring tape, changing to the thinner weft for the hem. At the end of the hem weave two picks of scrap yarn to mark the end of one towel and the start of the next.

To do the Thunderbolts in the graded colorway, wind 4 shuttles with a doubled strand embroidery floss with each of the 4 colors; red #66, orange #971, gold #972 and yellow #725. The pattern has 29 rows or picks; do 4 in red, 4 in orange, 4 in gold, 5 in yellow, 4 gold, 4 orange and 4 red. Be sure to tuck in all the ends back in the same shed as you weave.

If you are have trouble with your pick-up and nothing seems to make sense or be in the right place, check to see if you are in the right shed, that is the same one that has the last tabby ground weft. The most common error is to change sheds after beating in the ground weft, it is a habit and it takes concentration to override this normally useful habit. So if you are doing the pick-up and you can’t figure out which is the end beside the one below, or if it just looks wonky, check your shed. When you get the right shed open the pick-up will go more smoothly.

You will make mistakes in your pick-up, and the real question is when will you catch them; the sooner you catch them the easier they are to fix. Ideally you will catch them when you check the pick-up on the stick. Look at the gaps, how do the look compared to the floats in the row below. If you see an error, it is easy to fix using the second pick-up stick. The idea here is to keep all the correct pick-up on the first stick by transferring it to the second stick up to the mistake then pick-up the correct ends with the second stick, and then transfer the rest of the correct pick-up to the second stick. The goal in not to make the whole pick-up again, just fix the mistake.

For example, if I have removed 4 ends from the raised shed instead of 3 at the end of the first full pattern repeat, I would keep the first pick-up stick in place, slide the second in the pattern shed up, from the right, up to the error, now slide the first stick out to the left just enough to let the mistaken ends fall off , use the tip of the second stick to pick-up the correct ends and then push the second stick into the rest of the pattern shed made by the first stick. Once the second stick has the correct ends for the pattern shed you can remove the first stick. Having two pick-up sticks saves you from having to make the whole pick-up over.

Once you change sheds and throw the next ground weft and beat, errors in the previous row can jump out at you. It is still fairly easy to correct at this stage. Take out the ground weft and open the shed that has the error. To take out the brocade weft you must re-establish the erroneous pattern shed. This is fairly easy if you use the brocade weft itself; grab both ends of the weft- the loop from one selvage and the long tail from the other side- in one hand underneath the warp and pull down, then use the other hand to insert a pick-up stick in this shed. Turn the stick on its side and take out that weft.

Mistakes found later are a pain. You have to decide if they are grave enough to warrant the energy and frustration to unweave that much. So go slow and check often; errors found on the pick-up stick are painless to correct, ones found before you do the next pick-up are fairly easy, so keep checking.

These towel are designed with hems. Once off the loom remove the waste yarn and cut the towels apart. Now the ends of the warp must be secured; you can serge the cut edges or you can machine sew the edges to 1/4” seam tape of an appropriate color. I quickly hand baste the edge to the tape then machine stitch it. Watch that you don’t stretch out the edges. Once the edges are secure , turn the edge up and baste in place; make sure the width of the edge is the same as the width of the body of the hem. Steam press to flatten. Then you can machine edge stitch this in place , the extra machine stitching re-secures the warp ends but it also shows on the back side of the towels so some prefer not to machine stitch, your choice. Then fold up the hem to the pick where you started with the heavier weft. You can pin baste this in place making sure that the green and orange stripes line up. Steam press. Then hand sew the hem in place with matching sewing thread, take big bites with the needle into the hem, go below the serged or taped edge, to avoid putting stress on the ends of the warps. Take little bites into the body of the towel so that it doesn’t show on the right side. Also do not pull the sewing thread too tight, it will form dimples on the right side. Check the right side after the first few stitches to see if it looks good, you can still adjust your tension. A nice hem comes straight down from the towel; it is not wider than or narrower than the towel itself and only slightly thicker because of the thinner weft in the hem area.

The hemmed towel can now be washed in the machine and dried as you would dry it in normal use. Steam press for a final finish.

Here is a similar design I found in a shop in Oaxaca, Mexico this year.

A similar brocade motif on a Oaxacan textile 1/15. Here each motif has its own pattern thread and there are spaces between motifs without patterning (discontinuous pattern weft).

A similar brocade motif on a Oaxacan textile 1/15. Here each motif has its own pattern thread and there are spaces between motifs without patterning (discontinuous pattern weft).  The little loops formed where each brocading weft turns are a new feature.



Technique: Shuttle Craft Guild Monograph Twenty-two 1967, BROCADE by Harriet Tidball

LATIN AMERICAN BROCADES; Explorations in Supplementary Weft Techniques with Special weaving Instructions for Rigid Heddle Frame Loom, Backstrap and Floor Loom by Suzanne Baizerman & Karen Searle,1976


So yesterday I wove as far as I could with the tools that I have. As the unwoven warp gets smaller it is harder and harder to open the sheds. I changed the shed rod, about 1″ diameter for a 1/4′ dowel, and started using my pick up stick instead of the sword and went as far as I could. At Eufrosina’s studio they brought out a skinny little sword for weaving in tight spaces. and we wove a bit more. This loom was set up with loops around the end rods so it has fringe. But if you look carefully the fringe is loops not cut ends, as sure sign that it was woven on a backstrap loom. Next step, washing.
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Finding a Weaving Teacher

25 December 2014

At the beginning of this weaving study adventure, I saw that the Museo Textile de Oaxaca, MTO, was having two workshops on brocade weaving on backstrap looms. Wow, just what I want to study, but they were both in November, ugh! I searched through their calendar to see what they might have while I was going to be in Oaxaca late December and January, and nothing was listed. So I decided to email them and ask, saying that I really wanted brocade backstrap weaving. I wrote in Spanish, it has been 30 years since I wrote in Spanish, took some dusting up. They nicely replied and said that the classes for Jan. weren’t finalized yet, but if I wanted they would put me on the email list and let me know as soon as they were finalized.

So just before Thanksgiving I got word that the class in Jan . was going to be backstrap weaving with warp pick-up taught by Abigail Mendoza. This is not brocade, and warp pick-up can be many things, and I have done many of them, but sure, backstrap weaving-I’m sure I’ll learn plenty. In the meantime I keep looking for contacts and teachers. I found a book, Stories of Hope-Oaxaca:Weavers of Southern Mexico on blurb.com. The preview chapter was about a farm near Oaxaca City where they raise silk worms and hand spin silk from the degummed cocoons. Some of you may know that I raised a small crop of silk worms this summer, so I ordered the book. It didn’t arrive until after Thanksgiving and it had contact information for the silk worm farm and a whole chapter on my teacher for the Jan. workshop, Abigail Mendoza Antonio and pictures of her amazing pebble weave. Pebble weave is one technique I haven’t tried yet. Her family and village use rigid heddles on their backstrap looms. They make the rigid heddles from bamboo. They also work with sewing thread as warp! I don’t think we will in the workshop.

This is all well and good but I am interested in brocade, and I am going to the land of brocaded everything, I’m going to study brocade so I need to find a teacher. I wrote to MTO in hopes of finding some one and the first day I visited them I paid for the Jan. workshop, got incorporated into the on-going class on seam treatments, and asked again about a brocade teacher. The young woman that was helping me said I could take classes with her Mother. We talked about the following Mon., 22 Dec. She gave me a telephone number to call. We tried to call but my phone wasn’t working here in Mexico yet. So I got the phone part working and called on Fri. and set the class for 4 PM Mon.

Mon. I walked a few blocks here in the old center of the city with many colonial buildings to a school that teaches English and has an adventure tourism office. As I walked to the back of the old building I could see that it was built on a classic Roman building plan; atrium, then a central patio surrounded by rooms with a columned walkway around it. No question of where to attach backstrap looms. I paid for my 2 hour class and the materials fee which included a loom ready to weave on. My teacher, Eufrosina, showed up at 4 and first unpacked a bunch of her weavings.




This last picture show the back side of the one that has silk brocade.

This is one of the quieter types of brocade found here, a traditional Zapotec style. The ground cloth is a balanced plain weave in light weight cotton, 16/2 is a common weight for warp and weft. The brocade weft can be cotton or silk, hand spun local silk. The technique is discontinuous inlay on an open shed. She had made a loom for me and it was ready to weave, it had a warp about a half a yard long and 10″ wide. Now the widest I woven on Andean style backstrap loom is about 4″ and wider the harder it is to open the sheds, much to my surprise it was very easy to open the sheds on this loom. So I wove a bit of ground and then she asked me which design I wanted to try for the brocade. I picked the one I thought would be the easiest for me, a double zigzag. You can see it at the bottom of the 1st pic. She gave me embroidery floss cut into 6″ lengths and separated into 3 strands to use for the brocade.

As I wove slowly there was conversation, I wanted to learn how to set up the loom like this , all my backstrap weaving has been warp faced and getting the warp separated for balanced weave was new to me. She said we could do that the next day but she would like to do that at her studio since she had the warp set up there. Her husband or son would come and pick me up in the car and take me out to her home. She asked if we could do it earlier when there was better light. She remarked on how well I could see, and I explained that it was new lenses.

I left the class with a loom and materials to weave, a basic understanding of how she wove brocade. She made a color photocopy of two designs and I has pictures of more . I bought a sword ( they call it a machete here which I find amusing) from her. She said that her husband makes the swords and the beams for the looms. And we left with arrangements for me to go out to her Studio at 10AM the next day. She said that in 3 hours we could make a loom from scratch, but that she preferred to do it there where she has sticks she could put in the ground.

Fruitful day. I came home an wove a bit on the loom clamped to the table where I’m staying, it was dark when I got home. But the table danced around when I tried to beat hard. The designed was very elongated too. But the loom was easy to weave on.

After weaving a bit, I looked at my book on Weavers of Southern Mexico and there was Eufrosina Vásquez López, my teacher with a whole chapter of her own!

Note: If you would like to see more Zapotec brocade weaving here are a few links:

Huipil at MTO

Huipil from San Bartolo Yautepec

A recent huipil from Yautepec

Another one piece huipil

Outlined inlay brocade

20 March 2014

As I was looking at huipils from Mexico, this skirt from Mexico caught my attention, http://www.flickr.com/photos/citlali/5592409551/in/photostream/lightbox. 

If you look closely the bands of brocade are not made in the same way.

two kinds of diamonds

In the top band the center of the diamonds is white and each color occurs in sort of a square area.  In the second band the lower half of the diamond is colored and the color is sort of aligned diagonally.  Obvious in both bands the turns are on the top and they are the focus of the design forming a series of X’s.

So to see if what I think is happening really works I wove this sample:

outlined diamonds two ways

The top row has the empty diamonds and the bottom row the color in the bottom of the diamonds.  I did this using a single strand of embroidery floss for the brocading weft, and put it through in both direction  to completely outline the figure. There are 2 tabby picks for each brocade pick.  (This is the 3rd method in the last post.)

The difference in the fineness of the ground is quite dramatic with the Mexican piece  being so much finer. I can’t see enough detail to see the structure of the ground cloth in the Mexican skirt, I assume it is plain weave. The fact that I can see the inlaid color at all, suggest to me that it is NOT warp faced, it may be warp dominate or more balanced.

The color palette is also different:

  • Mexican-white and bold, crayon colors
  • mine- dark ground with quiet, complex colors.

Still I think that I understand how the skirt was made.

There are no turns on the back of the piece, as expected, and the design is subtle. But it is finshed looking so the design is  two-faced.

outlined diamonds two ways-back

The different color palettes  give each piece a very different feel; the Mixtec skirt is joyous and assertive , my piece has a modern, more austere feel.

Yesterday the post was about my spinning for backstrap weaving, today is about my teacher’s work and others I admire; work that I use to model my spinning and weaving.

Here is a piece of Abby Franquemont’s

Spun in Peru. I don’t know if she spun it or a compadre did. The amount of twist in the yarn causes the warp to twist and turn when not under tension. Notice that the heddles are made of the same yarn, hand spun, as the warps. This makes sense to me as a way to reduce the abrasion. In sewing I was taught to sew silk with silk, cotton with cotton thread. If you sew cotton with silk, the stronger silk will wear through the cotton. Using the same material for threads that rub on each other gives the least abrasion. Not a fan of polyester sewing thread .

Back to the topic at hand, this piece does NOT lay flat:

Abby's curl sm

I have a few pieces well made in the Andes–a bag from CTTC (The Center for Traditional Textiles Cuzco). It is hard to see the individual threads in the bag but here is one that where you can see the angle of twist
CCTT bap yran

Here is a piece that I bought in Cuzco market in 1999
Cuzco hair tie

More akin to the narrow bands we are weaving. It twists and turns. This piece is really neat, it has intersecting woven bands! In Nilda’s book, Textile Traditions of Chinchero: A Living Heritage there are very few pictures of warps not under tension but the heddles and skeins are kinky.

At Stringtopia this loom is hanging on the wall:
loom on wall

The weight of the bar at the other end has the warps under light tension yet there are still kinks and loops. Next to it is a wonderful finished piece with kinky fringe
finished piece
This piece looks like the cloth or corners would curl if not pinned to the wall.

This finished pieces does not twist or curl
flat piece

Flatness achieved by smart use of both S and Z twist yarns.

Abby explains that one of the effects of adding an edging, ˜nawi awapa,is that the cloth lies flatter.

I assume that all these textiles come from the Chinchero region of the Andes.

As non-traditional weavers, we are each free to decide how our weaving should be. I want my rugs to lie very flat, otherwise I trip over them. Other textiles , I’m learning don’t have to be flat off the loom. Or if I want flat off the loom, I have more options than just reducing the amount of twist in the yarn. I can be smart and combine the right amount of S and Z twist yarns. My first pieces this year, with both S and Z singles do lie flat– beginners luck. Getting smart about it has yet to come. For now I like the convolutions of my bands, it means I had enough twist in the yarn to weave and I could focus on learning my weaving vocabulary.

Combining S and Z twist in woven cloth, a whole new topic to explore.