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The Backstrap Loom

Updated on February 25, 2011

The Andean Back-Strap Loom

Hello there,

This is a lens all about the back-strap loom. The weavers that Threads of Peru buys from all use this type of loom to make their products. It's a very simple tool that has been around for a very long time. The back-strap loom is literally built from sticks and bones! We hope this lens will give you some insight into how traditional Andean woven textiles are made. The hand-weaving process doesn't get any more natural than this!

The Backstrap Loom

Is an elegant tool in its simplicity, effectiveness, and portability. The loom is made up of nine core parts, with a certain amount of variation in the make-up of the loom, depending on region and the needs of the specific project.

First, a rope (A), is attached to both ends of the warp bar (B), which is simply a heavy piece of wood. The rope is secured to a post or other stationary object. The warp, or vertical threads are wound along the length of the loom between two such bars (B and H); one at each end. The shed string (C) helps to keep the threads of the loom from tangling when this portable loom is set up or taken down, and hangs loosely on the upper part of the warp, and does not play a role in the weaving. The fact that the warp threads are wrapped around and around the upper and lower warp bars, creates 'top threads', and 'bottom threads'. Space is created between the top and bottom threads, and this space is called a shed. The shed is created using the shed stick (D) and the heddle stick (E). The heddle stick is wound with string loops (heddles) that reach down, through the top threads and loop around each of the bottom threads of the warp.

When the weaver lifts up on the heddle stick, the bottom threads are pulled up above the top threads, creating a shed. The weaver then passes the shuttle or bobbin (G), which carries threads horizontally, creating what's called the weft. Once the shuttle has passed through, the batten (F) is used the push the horizontal weft thread into place and the the beater (J) (often made of a bone), is used to beat the thread tightly into place. Then the shed stick is grabbed on each end and pulled back toward the weaver, pushing the bottom threads which are attached to the heddles, back down below the top threads, thus creating a new shed, allowing a space for the shuttle to pass through again.

The weft thread is battened down and beaten, and the process is repeated over and over as the weaving progresses. The warp bar closest to the weaver (H) is used to roll the completed portion of the weaving onto, keeping it out of the way. The backstrap (I) is fastened to that warp bar and passes around of the back of the weaver, who usually kneels on the ground to weave. Using her body weight, she can control the tension of the warp between herself and the stationary object which the rope at the other end is fastened to.

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