Tablet Weaving on a Backstrap Loom? Why, Yes!

A close-up of the finished practice band – wonky, but shows promise

I like tablet weaving. I usually weave bands on a mid-size Beka inkle loom with fairly fine threads – 10/2 cotton is common for me – but when we were planning our winter in Oaxaca, I knew I didn’t want to bring along a lot of extra gear. I limited my weaving self to a backstrap loom set up with 12″ bars, my collection of Sinfonia yarns (about 8 or 9 colors, 1 ball each), and a single pack of tablet weaving cards. And a pair of quick-release clamps with long bars.

I was determined to not only learn the rudiments of backstrap weaving, but also figure out how to weave bands with tablets on a backstrap loom.

Step 1: plan the design. I wanted to use a simple Ladoga motif in three contrasting colors as my “practice piece”. I drew out the design on graph paper using colored pencils, using Elewys of Finchingefeld‘s Ladoga pattern as a model. I wanted my band wider than her design, so I doubled the design motif and separated the two pattern areas with three cards of the background color. The re-imagined pattern is shown below.

Step 2: Measure the warp and thread the tablets. I wanted a short warp to begin with, so I fastened my Irwin clamps about a yard apart on my ironing board. I figured that this would be out of the way and fairly easy to manage, not to mention being at a good work height. I warped each tablet, measuring and cutting each warp yarn for a given tablet until I had the four that I needed, checked the warp table on the pattern for yarn positioning and threading direction, then tied on the warp. I worked through the warp table from left to right, building up the warp between the clamps, with the clamp bars holding the warped yarns and their tablets.

Step 3: Warp the loom. This is where the fun part begins. I eased the warp off the clamp bars, one side at a time, and slipped a loom warp bar into the end on each side of the loop of warp yarns. Working on one side at a time, I wrapped thick cotton cording around one end of the warp bar, strung it under the warp yarns, and around the other end of the warp bar, wrapping the cording around the bar as I went so that the cording would hold the warp yarns snugly against the warp bar. At each side of the bundle of warp yarns, I secured the cording by tieing a half hitch knot close to the warp yarns to keep them from spreading out across the warp bar.

On the opposite end of the warp, when I tied on the warp bar, I did the same thing, but also looped the cording back through and around the warp bar, wrapping it around between each set of tablet warp yarns to hold them separate and snug to the warp bar. I did this so that the tension of the warp yarns would be easier to manage.

One note: when you begin setting up the warp bars, you might want to ensure that the tablets are on the front face of the warp and that the knots in each set of warp yarns (one for each tablet) are on the back face of the warp, close to the warp bar you will attach your backstrap to. This will give you the maximum length of warp to weave with.

Step 4: Weave a header. I wound a butterfly of soft cotton cording and wove several picks of plain weave to spread the warp yarns and ensure that my threading was correct. I wove a total of eight forward turns, the same thing that I would do on an inkle loom tablet weaving project.

Step 5: Wind an inkle bobbin and start weaving. From here on out, weaving on the backstrap is very much a known quotient for any tablet weaver – the actions are the same as on an inkle or band loom, just with the added element of using your own body to provide the tension on the warp yarns.

There are techniques to begin and end a band so that the ends don’t fray. There are numerous videos online that cover these techniques, so I won’t bother here.

My end result? I feel like I’m ready to do more interesting tablet weaving work on the backstrap loom and won’t hesitate to make a more complicated project with yarns that I actually like and want to use in a finished project. I’m also wanting to warp the loom with a finer yarn with a lovely hand and do some simpler weaves – I have a small pile of handspun here that will no doubt find its way to the loom sometime this winter.

Finished playing & learning – on to some Real Weaving!

2 thoughts on “Tablet Weaving on a Backstrap Loom? Why, Yes!

  1. Very wonderful! I love that you give us all the details. {:> You take on some amazing projects. Not being a weaver I had never heard of a backstrap loom. How handy for travel and tight spaces. Have a wonderful Christmas down there. Surely there will be some amazing musical things going on. {:>


  2. Thank you! Backstrap looms have a very long history, especially in Mexico and South America. They are also common in Asian countries. Simple devices, but amazing weave structures can be created on them by skilled weavers (which I am not!).

    Yes, much music to be had here: just Saturday we went to a benefit concert for the Oaxaca Lending Library – two local bands played & it was very fun. There are concerts every Sunday in the Zocala (town center) which are free, as well as symphony and chamber orchestra events. Some free, some very low cost. My cup of tea. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s