Backstrap weaving troubleshooting 101

While online backstrap weaving classes have made learning and practicing this heritage art form accessible around the world, we’re aware of the unique challenges online learning can pose, especially for beginners. That’s why when I received these questions from a new weaver recently, I thought so many more beginners could benefit.

Take a look below at some of the common beginner questions when it comes to backstrap weaving:

  1. First pic is of my progress. It is very slow especially when I have backtrack because of a mistake. I try to check after each line of weaving but somehow the mistakes showed up afterwards.
  • It looks great! It looks like you are progressing really well. Good on you for also fixing mistakes, I know that can be frustrating. I like to think of beginner looms/panels are practice pieces, that you can hopefully look back on later and see the improvement in your practice and technique from beginning to end. Likely, you will notice that you are making less mistakes as you progress.

2. This next pic shows the back. After weaving a little I noticed a warp thread that was not incorporated. It’s connected to the top and bottom wood pieces but was not included in the the initial weaving at the top or bottom on the loom. Should I just leave it dangling? Or try to include it somehow?

  • It’s not uncommon for loose warp threads to appear on the back, especially when they’re the first or last of that color bordering another color. This is not a problem. I would recommend weaving just like you have been, basically ignoring the loose warp. And when you’re done weaving, you can simply cut it off and tie the top end securely. The bottom loose end shouldn’t really move anymore if the rest of the warp has been woven.

3. Last photo is a close up of the wood dowel that is connected to the bottom warp threads. I really have a hard time bringing the bottom threads up to weave and I noticed there is a lot of fibers stuck on the little threads. Am I doing something wrong? Should I remove these thread fibers or just leave them?  It seems like the more I weave the more there are.  If I need to remove them, what is the best way to do so?

  • I see the fuzz on the string heddle. This is a common situation for beginner; it still happens to me, too. It happens when the weaver moves the string heddle more than “necessary” — advanced weavers are used to making little movements so that the fuzz doesn’t collect. I would recommend trying to get the fuzz off (without damaging the string heddle). I have used tiny scissors carefully in the past, or a pair of tweezers – I wonder if that might also work for you? I’ve found these fuzz balls are hard to yank off. This also happens because the weavers in San Juan la Laguna who dyed the warp and prepped the loom prefer to work with unmercerized cotton. Communities have different preferences, and in many other areas this problem is avoided (somewhat) by using mercerized cotton. It might be that the unmercerized cotton takes natural dyes better.

4. Not that I’m close to worrying about this … But what happens when I don’t have space to continue. There’s the narrow rod at the very top, the thick rod and the rod with the heddle strings. All the rods and heddles take space plus the sword too. 

  • Good questions, again, on how to “finish” the panel. The loom you’re working on was developed as a “practice loom” with the idea of it turning into a wall-hanging as-is with all the tools attached. That would be my recommendation for your very first loom, but of course whenever you feel finished, you can also release the rope going around both ends of the warp, on the warp bars — and this would allow you to take off the panel. While it is possible on a backstrap loom to have a clean four-selvage weave, I don’t recommend this for your first work because it’s super detailed and incredibly laborious. 
  • If/when you’d like another loom, we’d be happy to make you one, perhaps with a longer warp so that you can make a functional item (Scarf? Table runner?). We could make space for fringes on the ends of the warp. If you feel ready, it would also be possible then to incorporate brocade designs into your next weaving. We produced professional videos to help with that process in high-def.

Do you have other questions? Join the supportive Backstrap Weavers group on Facebook; we’re there to help each other!

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