From Warp to Weft: The Complexities of Traditional Weaving

By Rachel Snack, Resident Designer for Awamaki

Weaving has always been a complex process, but with the recent innovations brought about by modern technology, it’s become a more accessible craft. Here, in rural Peru weaving is a practiced, traditional, process and has hardly evolved past the traditional back-strap loom. As a weaver going in to the Weaving Immersion Workshop in Patacancha, I was confident in my skills and ability to translate my knowledge of weaving on a floor loom to the back-strap loom. Setting up the loom was quite a breezy task, but it turned out that weaving with the back-strap loom was not so simple.

Here’s what happens – The women create a warp by winding strings between two poles, and then tie one pole to a tree (or strong structure) and the other to their bodies. The loom is primitive and simple. Unlike on a floor loom the cross is used throughout the entire process. Heddles are created by picking up warp strings and using a supplemental yarn to create loops attached to a stick. Pulling up on the cross one way and then pulling down on the cross the other way creates a tabby (basic, plain weave) weave structure. Since the loom is tied to the body the tension is created solely by the amount of pressure placed on the warp by leaning away from the loom.

The textiles woven on back-strap looms in this region focus on pallay designs, which in Quechua translates to pick-up. The pallay are used to tell a story and often woven in stripes centered in the cloth. Not only must the warp strings be manipulated each time the weft is thrown, but the pallay designs must also be picked up. Weaving on a back-strap loom is so different from any other loom I have used because there is no rhythm. It is constantly stop and go. It takes painstaking self-awareness: balancing between tensioning the warp with the body, pressing up or down on the cross, picking up the pallay and keeping the shed open to throw the shuttle.

All of the textiles used in Awamaki’s products are woven on back-strap looms by woWemen living in remote Andean communities. The same women that teach the Weaving Immersion Workshop also weave the majority of our textiles. They are special and one-of-a-kind. They are all hand-dyed, hand-spun, and hand-woven. Taking part in this workshop opened my eyes to the commitment and strength that these women have to their families and their craft. To see examples of these textiles and our products you can visit our online store.

Brush Up on Your Weaving Vocabulary

Cross: An “x” made in the warp when winding off a warp on a warping board. It can be made on one end or both, and it helps prevent tangles by maintaining the order of the threads.

Heddles: Heddles pick up warp strings in order to make a shed so that the warp can be passed through. Each heddle has an eye, and a single warp thread passes through it. They can be made from flat metal, wire, nylon braid, or string.

Shed: The opening between the upper and lower warp threads. The shuttle and weft threads pass through the shed.

Shuttle: The tool that holds the weft. Some types of shuttles include stick shuttles, boat shuttles, and end feed shuttles.

Warp: The vertical strings that are thread onto the loom (“dressing a loom” means putting warp threads onto the loom).

Weft: The threads that pass through the shed from selvedge to selvedge. Weft threads align horizontally and are perpendicular to the warp. Weft threads are wound on to a shuttle.

Rachel Snack is a volunteer and Resident Designer for Awamaki. She is from New York and studied Fiber and Material Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a textile conservator and a studio artist who specializes in weaving and dyeing.

About Awamaki

Awamaki is a nonprofit fair trade social enterprise dedicated to connecting Andean artisan weavers with global markets. We collaborate with women artisans to support their efforts towards educational and financial independence by co-creating beautifully handcrafted knit and woven accessories using hertiage techniques.