How to Backstrap Weave

Updated July 20, 2017

The backstrap loom can be easily assembled by a beginning weaver, just from some sticks and string. It makes an ideal first loom for somebody who is not sure she is ready to purchase a floor loom. It is also highly portable, and it can be folded up and stored while not in use. The backstrap loom, while simple, is still a sophisticated tool in the hands of the Andean weavers who have been its most innovative users. Once you've made a simple piece with this loom, you can go on to create more complex pickup patterns.

Wind a 3-yard-long warp on your warping board. The warp threads are the threads that run lengthwise through your weaving --- the ones that will show. The weft, or crosswise threads, will be covered by the warp threads in this weaving. You will need a total of 82 warp ends. Make a figure-eight cross at one end of the warp. Tie a string through this cross. Tie off the warp at 1-yard intervals and remove it from the warping board.

Put a stick through the loops at each end of the warp. Attach a rope to one stick end and wrap this rope around a stationary object, such as a post. Tie the backstrap to the other end of the warp and put it around your hips. Put a ball of string used to make the heddles with a pair of scissors to your right.

Look at the cross in the warp in front of you, which has a tie through it to hold the cross. Put the batten in the shed closest to you. Turn it on its side to hold the shed open. Make the string heddles for the pull shed by holding the end of a ball of string and taking it through the open shed from right to left. Tie it to a dowel with a slip knot. Hold the dowel in your left hand. With the right hand, pull the string up between the first and second upper warp threads and loop it around the dowel. Continue across the warp in this way, looping the string around all the threads on top of the batten. Cut the string and tie the end to the heddle stick.

Put a stick in the other shed on the other side of the cross. This shed will be called the "stick shed." When you pull the heddle stick toward you, that other shed is referred to as the "pull shed." Practice with these two sheds. Insert the batten in the stick shed in front of the heddles and turn the batten on its side to create the stick shed. Make the pull shed by pushing the shed stick and batten away from you with your right hand, while pulling on the heddle stick with your left hand. When the threads have separated, insert the batten and turn it on its side while you insert the weft.

Tear some rags into 1-inch strips. Open the stick shed by inserting the batten in front of the heddles and turning it on its side. Pass the rag weft through. Make the pull shed as indicated in Step 4 and put some rag weft in that shed also. Weave in this manner for about 6 inches with rag weft.

Wind a belt shuttle with the weft yarn. Begin weaving with the weft yarn, leaving a 6-inch tail to the side on the first pick. Alternate between the stick shed and the pull shed, being careful to keep the edges even. Beat the previous pick in with the edge of the batten after you change the shed. Weave until you can no longer reach the fell (the edge of the weaving).

Take the backstrap off the front loom bar. Place an extra stick on top of the front loom bar and roll the two sticks and the fabric up together until they are about 2 inches from the fell. Attach the backstrap again to one of these sticks. The other stick will act as a brake and prevent the fabric from unrolling.

Continue weaving until you use almost all of the warp. Leave another 6 inches at the end for fringe. Cut the warp off the end loom bar. Unroll the weaving and cut the front warp threads. Take out the rags. Braid the fringe at each end, incorporating the weft tail into the fringe.

Things You'll Need

  • Warping board
  • Backstrap loom: 4 dowels, a batten, and a backstrap
  • Belt shuttle
  • String
  • Comb
  • Yarn
  • Scissors
  • String
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About the Author

Shannon Stoney holds a B.A. in English and comparative literature from Princeton University, as well as an M.F.A. in visual art from the Maine College of Art. She has been a fiber artist since 1985 and a fine artist since 1998. Stoney is also a writer and editor, with work published in magazines such as "Cite," "Spin-Off" and "Permaculture Activist."