Frida Chanel bag

The Frida Chanel field belt bag. Photo by Dan Waltin

A project that I have been working on for a long time is finally finished – the Frida Chanel bag. The bag is woven on a backstrap loom from outercoat yarn spun on a suspended spindle. Frida and Chanel are the two ewes that gave me the wool.

The Frida Chanel bag project has gone slowly but steadily through winter, spring and summer. It has lived through office meetings, sheep festivals and the corona crisis. So many experiences fit in the resulting field belt bag. In this post I walk you through the process from fluff to stuff.

The Frida Chanel bag is comfortable to war across my hip, either to the front or to the back. Photo by Dan Waltin
The Frida Chanel bag is comfortable to war across my hip, either to the front or to the back. Photo by Dan Waltin

The sheep

The wool in the yarn comes from the outercoat from two fleece championships contestants – one Åsen/Härjedal crossbred lamb and one Klövsjö ewe. They are both perfect warp candidates with long, strong and shiny outercoat fibers.

Chanel

I got Chanel on the 2017 Swedish spinning championships. She got a gold medal and rightfully so. It wasn’t for sale, though. The shepherdess didn’t want to part with it. She isn’t a spinner herself, though, and she realized that no spinning mill would do the colour variations justice. I talked to her and she decided to sell it to me.

Chanel's fleece divided into colour piles.
Chanel’s fleece divided into colour piles.

I divided the fleece into colour piles and spun each of the lovely colours separately. After some trial and error I landed in separating undercoat from outercoat and spin the fiber types separately. This way I was able to make both wool and colours justice.

Frida

If found Frida’s fleece at the 2019 Swedish fleece championships. She didn’t win any medals, but she was still so beautiful and I really needed to take her home with me. She has the most incredible shine!

The Klövsjö ewe Frida's beautiful fleece.
The Klövsjö ewe Frida’s beautiful fleece.

The yarns

With Chanel’s outercoat I ended up with five colours of brown, from solid chocolate, through dark and light coffee swirls to a frappuccino.

Five colours of the Åsen/Härjedal lamb Chanel's outer coat.
Five colours of the Åsen/Härjedal lamb Chanel’s outer coat.

I have been spinning Chanel’s combed outercoat tops on a suspended spindle on coffee breaks and meetings at work. Through the soft feeling of the fibers I have been able to filter the coffee break chatter and focus on the content of the office meetings.

I treated Frida’s fleece the same way I had treated Chanel’s – I separated outercoat from undercoat and spun them separately. When I got to spin Frida’s combed top it was already March and the government urged everybody who could to work from home, so I have spun Frida’s outercoat yarn at digital meetings and coffee breaks from my home.

The Klövsjö ewe Frida's outercoat spindle spun into a strong and shiny warp yarn.
The Klövsjö ewe Frida’s outercoat spindle spun into a strong and shiny warp yarn.

I decided to dye the Frida outercoat yarn in two shades of blue. I used the same dye base as the yarn for my weaving bag, but for some reason it turned out green instead. They are still lovely collars and I did get the difference in shade I was after.

Finished yarns from Chanel (brown shades) and Frida (dyed green). Spindle spun and hand wound with love. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Finished yarns from Chanel (brown shades) and Frida (dyed green). Spindle spun and hand wound with love. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Colour play

When all the yarns were finished I had a wonderful weaving yarn treasure to play with. I wanted the stripes to be in different widths and I wanted to pair dark colours with light. In the end I decided on using two gradients – one brown and one green (if you can call two colours a gradient) – going in different directions. I added a section with horizontal stripes in the middle. I messed up with the calculations here, though. The horizontal stripes should have been twice as wide but my head obviously wasn’t with me all the way in the warping.

Being able to build my weave and my loom is such a wonderful feeling of empowerment. I made that pattern from my own yarn. I set up that loom (that is mostly my own carving) to fit my yarns.

A sticky business

Weaving with this. yarn has been a very sticky business. The warp threads have been tremendously clingy and in the beginning I was wondering if I would ever see this weave finished. But the beauty of weaving with your handspun yarns is that it simply has to work out. I need to find ways to make it work. I have invested too much love in this project for it to go down the drain.

To come around the clinging warp threads I tried different sizing methods. My friend Cecilia made herself my guinea pig and tried brushing the warp with gelatine, which worked to some extent for her test warp. I brushed mine with flax seed infusion and later hair spray to make the warp threads stiffer and more protected against the frequent abrasion of a warp-faced weave.

I think the sizing helped to some extent, but the warp was still very sticky. After a while I decided to develop a more mechanical solution – instead of opening up the shed as one movement I declung the warp section by section for each new shed. This way it took me about five minutes to weave two rows and it wasn’t that mindful process that continuous weaving is. But it worked. And once I had accepted the fact that this was the way I was going to weave this project I did find some sort of mindfulness in that too.

In the lime-tree alley

When I worked with the weaving bag and Dan’s camera strap I set up my loom under a spare lime-tree in the lime-tree alley that leads to our house. It is perfectly backstrap loom sized and has a nice view of the park. It has been lovely to weave in this spot and see the spring unfold into summer. My weaves have grown with the grass and the leaves. These past few weeks with this weave the grass has been waist-high and the branches heavy with fully developed leaves.

The last part of June was really hot – around 30 degrees Celsius. My crankiness limit is at 25 degrees so it was way too hot for me. But standing under that lime-tree weaving was such a perfect activity in the heat. I got the shade I needed and some wind. And when the sun broke through the leves I could just move a few steps around the tree to get into the shadow again.

Come to think of it, the colours of the weave reflects the colours of the lime-tree. The browns are the trunk, the dark green the leaves and the light green the sweet flowers. This weave was meant to be woven together with a lime-tree!

A field belt

Sometimes I obsess about things. One of my latest obsessions is the sewing patterns from Merchant & Mills. They have lovely clothes patterns and some bags. I was particularly attached to the Field belt bag. I had finally decided to buy the kit and put it in my shopping cart when it dawned on me: I wasn’t going to buy the kit – I was going to weave the fabric myself! I’m not sure when in the process I got this idea, but probably around March when I started spinning Frida’s outercoat.

Sewing and assembling

The pattern I used for the Frida Chanel bag is simple. A lined pouch with a folded top. A belt goes through a channel at the back for wearing the belt around your hips.

I had to make some adjustments for my handwoven fabric, but mostly the sewing was quite straightforward. I didn’t use a seam allowance for the side seams. Instead I sewed the selvedges together with a figure-8 stitch. That way I lost no width on the sides. And the figure-8 seam is really pretty.

A simple figure-8 stitch closes the selvedges at the side seam. No extra fabric was wasted here. Photo by Dan Waltin
A simple figure-8 stitch closes the selvedges at the side seam. No extra fabric was wasted here. Photo by Dan Waltin

The rivets were tricky, though. I didn’t want to punch the rivets through the woven fabric. I was afraid the warp threads would sneak their way out of the weave. Again I consulted my friend Cecilia. She suggested reinforcing the weave with wood glue (fancy that!) and put extra leather on each side of the weave for the rivets to hold on to. I did this, and managed to push the rivets between the warp threads so that none of them broke.

The leather belt goes through a channel at the back of the bag. Underneath the leather strap for the closing you can see one of the extra pieces of leather I used to reinforce the holes for the rivets and protect the woven fabric. Photo by Dan Waltin.
The leather belt goes through a channel at the back of the bag. Underneath the leather strap for the closing you can see one of the extra pieces of leather I used to reinforce the holes for the rivets and protect the woven fabric. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Lining

Another obsession this spring has been vintage fabrics. I use them to line things. When you open a bag or a spindle case I think it is only fair that you find a scrumtious and decadent lining, don’t you? I chose a flowery upholstery fabric that gave me that tingling feeling I was looking for. I added a nifty bellows pocket in the lining for easy access to important things.

Every bag needs a scrumptious lining! In this case a vintage upholstery fabric I got from Swedish e-Bay. Photo by Dan Waltin.
Every bag needs a scrumptious lining! In this case a vintage upholstery fabric I got from Swedish e-Bay. Photo by Dan Waltin.

Frida Chanel bag

So, this week I finally finished the bag. I love the freedom of wearing it around my waist and the safe feeling of wool at my hip. When I wear it I have the company of the sweet wool providers Frida and Chanel. The shine of the fabric is luscious.

A working period of five months is over. The bag may be small but it contains two sheep, three seasons, a pandemic, work, pleasure and trees. That is a lot to carry for a small bag. But it was made with love and somehow fits it all.


I just started a six week vacation. I will post, but shorter pieces. There will be a lot of crafting during my vacation that I can write about in the fall!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Camera strap

During a few weeks this spring I have been secretly weaving a camera strap for my husband Dan. He takes all the photos for my magazine articles and a lot of photos for my blog. His birthday was this week and I was finally able to give it to him.

Dan is test shooting with nis new camera strap.
Dan is test shooting with his new camera strap.

For his birthday last year I wanted to get him a camera strap from Textiles Cusco, a cooperative of Peruvian weavers that I support. In the end it didn’t work out since I didn’t have the credit card type they accepted. Little did I know then that I would fall into the backstrap weaving rabbit hole before his birthday this year!

The yarns

In the online course in backstrap weaving I took this spring I totally failed the pebble weave pick-up pattern module. My yarn was way too loosely spun and in colours with too little contrast. I wanted to make up for my questionable decisions and weave a strap in a pick-up pattern.

For this project I chose the white and blue yarns I used for the weaving bag I had just finished. I did run the yarns through the spinning wheel again, though, to give them some more twist. In the balanced weave they had been a bit fuzzy and a higher twist would make them stronger, especially considering they would be in a tight warp-faced project.

The participating hand spun yarns in the camera strap.

For the kind of pick-up technique I chose it is a good idea to use three colours – two with high contrast for the pick-up pattern and a third for the edges. The black yarn I chose for the edges comes from a sample bag of a Gotland/finull cross that I got from a shepherdess recently. I tried to prepare and spin it in the same way I had spun the white and blue yarns – hand combed and worsted spun on a spinning wheel and 2-plied with some extra twist. The black yarn turned out a little less elastic though.

The weaving

The strap was only 65 cm long and 4 cm wide, so even if pick-up patterns take time it would still be doable before his birthday. I bought an ebook for a different kind of two-faced pick-up pattern by Laverne Waddington. I wanted the pattern I loved the most and not necessarily the one that was the easiest. In the end I chose one with heart shapes over 16 warp pairs and 32 rows. A lot to keep track of, but I pinned the pattern onto the warp for easy access.

A lovely heart-shaped pattern over the stretch of the camera strap.

Pick-up pattern

In this kind of pick-up pattern you work with warp pairs with one thread of each colour in every pair. When warping for the pick-up part you warp with one colour in the top and one in the bottom. This is to keep track of the colours and pairs. In the pattern you pick up one thread for each pair every row. This results in a pattern that is inverted on the “wrong” side.

Picking up the warp threads for the pick-up pattern. I need to pick up each individual warp thread in a new combination every row for the 32 row repeat. The heddle yarn in the top of the picture is my handspun and cable plied in Gute lamb’s wool.

I use a stick to pick up my warp threads with. In the picture above the blue warp threads are on top. Picking up the blue threads is no problem. When I need to pick up a white thread I need to pick up this from the bottom (white) layer and make sure I don’t pick up the blue thread in that pair.

The camera strap takes shape in the Stockholm spring sun. In the picture I have picked up all the warp threads for the row and inserted the batten in the new shed, ready to beat.

When I have finished picking up the row I place my batten in the picked-up shed and beat. Next row I pick up a new set of warp threads for a new shed. When I have picked up all the rows in the 32 row pattern I start from the beginning again.

I really loved this technique and I will do it again. It doesn’t take much yarn, but the result is so lovely and the fact that I made it makes me all giddy.

Narrow strap

The strap with the pick-up pattern is the part that goes over the shoulder of the photographer. I also needed to make a narrower strap to fasten to the camera. This was just a plain 1 cm wide warp-faced band. I used a band lock instead of the front beam and I didn’t bother with a stick for the heddles. Instead I used a piece of string to hold the heddles. To change the shed I simply lifted the heddles in the string loop.

I used a band lock for the narrow band instead of the wider front loom bar. Also I used a piece of string to hold the heddles instead of a stick. The band lock is made in juniper wood and smells oh so lovely.

The camera strap

Assembling the camera strap was a bit more of a challenge than I had expected. The original strap joined the wide and the narrow straps with a fake leather patch on both sides. I did the same, only with real leather. I used two waxed linen threads simultaneously for a double running stitch. The first strap join was really difficult and fiddly to make. I broke two needles and had sore fingers for a few days afterwards. The leather join looked really crooked and sad. For the other leather join I pre-punched the needle holes which made sewing a lot easier.

All assembled and ready to shoot!
All assembled and ready to shoot!

I decided to pick up the first join and make it better, which was a good decision. I would have been annoyed with the crooked join if I hadn’t. The second time I could use the old needle holes and the sewing went much smoother.

The camera strap sits nicely over the shoulder.
The camera strap sits nicely over the shoulder.

The black edges of the strap are a bit wavy because the black yarn has less elasticity than the blue yarn. But it isn’t a problem, it just adds to the hand made feeling.

Test shooting some grass in the evening light.
Test shooting some grass in the evening light.

I really loved making these straps. The pattern took a long time but the result is so lovely. And making the narrower strap felt surprisingly good. I enjoyed having the knowledge to weave the band so narrow. The yarns worked very well in the project, especially since I had added extra twist.

Dan loves his new camera strap. Last night he went out for a photo shoot – grass in backlight – and it went so much better than with the original camera strap. Fancy that!

Happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

The knowledge of the hand

“I have a Norwegian crossbred whole-year fleece of excellent quality. Do you want one or two kilos?” The phone call came a year ago from Kia, a wool classifier and the person who has taught me the most about wool. “Well, I really have no room for more wool, but I may be able to squeeze in one kilo” I answered. “Do you want one or two kilos?”, Kia persisted. I realized that she really wanted me to make this fleece justice. What Kia considers a high quality fleece is a high quality fleece, so I replied that I would love two kilos. “Great, I’ll send it straight away!”.

From grease to yes please

So I have two kilos of extra beautiful Norwegian crossbred wool. The staples are around 12 cm and creamy white. More than wavy, less than crimpy.

Raw fleece with greasy and almost solidified tips.
Raw fleece with greasy and almost solidified tips.

When I got the fleece the tips were solidified by greasy lanolin. I imagined the sheep having skipped about in a Norwegian mountain, coastal climate rain pushing the lanolin out into the tips, creating a concentrated paste of grease.

Clean fleece
Clean fleece after a fermented suint bath.

After having admired my new bundle of fluff I soaked it in a fermented suint bath. The grease in the tips disappeared like magic. Apart from the tips the fleece was actually quite clean from the beginning, just the odd seed or piece of grass. I saw no hay or straw so don’t think the sheep had been stabled over the winter.

Two staples of wool, the leftmost white and clean, the rightmost yellow and dirty.
Raw fleece to the right, soaked in fermented suint bath to the left.

The knowledge of the hand

I decided to make this wool a long time spinning project. I got the fleece around the time I started my fascination of Andean spinning and weaving, and I realized the fleece would be perfect for hand teasing and spinning on Andean pushkas. The technique is slow and gives me the opportunity to grasp the knowledge of the hand.

A minimum of tools

All through this project I use a minimum of tools. I tease the wool by hand and spin with a simple hand carved Andean pushka. The method is slow, at least the way I do it.

When I tease the wool I get to know it. I get to know how to tease it to its best advantage, the direction and angle of pulling the fibers apart. I feel the structure of the staples and the individual fibers. When I tease I feel how the fibers stick together and how they separate. I can spot every nepp, tangle and weak fiber. During the teasing phase I get a feeling of how how the wool drafts. My hands learn the length of the fibers and its bounce.

A handful of unprocessed wool, a hand teased top and spindle spun singles.
Three stages – a handful of unprocessed wool, a hand teased top and spindle spun singles.

Time is knowledge

In a project like this the wool goes through my hands many times. One handful of fiber takes between 20 and 30 minutes to hand tease into a top. This is 20 to 30 minutes of opportunity to get to know the fiber, in the preparation phase alone. I open up each staple, arrange the teased wool into a top, draft through the top, double it, draft again and so on until I have a top with decently aligned and fully separated fibers.

Every time my hands interact with the fiber they learn something new about it. The knowledge of the hand is one of my most important tools when I spin.

A suspended spindle with the sea in the background.
With a simple tool you have the opportunity to learn more – through your body and through time. The knowledge of the hand is my most important tool.

You can move lots of mechanics from your body to the tools – processing, speed, tension and twisting of the fiber. In a way it saves you time. But it also takes away time spent with the wool. Time is actually of the essence here – time spent with the wool in all its stages.

A bedtime story

Most of the time I spin this project in bed before I go to sleep. It is a lovely way to end the day. I either tease or spin, let my thoughts come and go and find balance at the end of the day.

A two kilo pile of wool is a lot. To avoid strain from spinning I spin half of it clockwise and half counterclockwise. That way both my hands will learn and get to know the wool and the spinning as spinning hand and as fiber hand.

I spin this wool with a very low twist. The simple reason for this is that that is how I have learned from watching the Andean spinning workshop. The singles for weaving yarns are spun very loosely and given a high ply twist. I haven’t figured out why yet. One reason can be that it is easier to handle the singles when they have a low twist (that is my experience and quite painful lesson).

Spinning with such a low twist requires a slow tool and a slow technique. I don’t think I would have been able to spin with such a low twist on a spinning wheel, or a faster spindle for that matter. And when I spin the low twist singles on the pushka I have time to test the yarn for strength for every stretch of yarn I spin.

A spindle full of plied yarn on a chopping block.
Around 50 grams of plied yarn on a 20 gram spindle

I feel lucky to be able to spend all this time with this wool. There are so many aspects in these evening moments that I am so grateful for. Practicing, learning and finding a peace of mind. When I am done for the night I shake the tiny bits of vegetable matter out of the duvet and go to sleep in balance and at peace. During the night my brain processes what my hands have learned.

Learning by doing

Someone can tell me the dos and don’ts of a craft. I can understand it intellectually. But I won’t truly get it until I feel it – the knowledge of the hand key here.

A recent example is when I took a course in backstrap weaving. The teacher said it was important to use a yarn that wouldn’t stick, preferably cotton. I wanted to learn backstrap weaving to weave with my handspun yarns. I knew some of the yarns I had chosen would be too sticky. But what did too sticky mean? How would it feel? What would too sticky lead to? Where was my stickiness limit?

I tried different yarns in different degrees of stickiness. I learned when it would be too much trouble to manually separate the warp threads for each shed. In some cases I learned that sticky wool would pull fibers out of the yarn, leading to thinning warp threads and eventually breakage. I understood this before, intellectually. But it wasn’t until my hands felt and experienced the effect that I truly understood. The knowledge of the hand teaches me so much more than understanding something I read or hear from someone. My hands need to feel experience and understand the cause and effect.

A skein of creamy white yarn on a flat stone surface.
Slow is my favourite way to quality.

The funny thing is that I can take this knowledge back to my brain again – by writing about this process I can verbalize it and understand it in more depth. So thank you dear readers for encouraging me to write!

Textile plans

I am spinning this yarn into a weaving yarn, half of the skeins z-plied and half s-plied. I plan to dye the skeins in a variety of colours and use in backstrap weaving projects.

One of my first projects will be a case for all the backstrap loom sticks I have carved lately. I suddenly got an urge to carve sticks and couldn’t stop. I carve in maple which is lovely to work with this time of year. The bark comes of and the knife moves through the wood like butter.

Hand carved sticks of different sizes on a pile of wood chips.
Some of the backstrap loom sticks I have been carving lately. Of course they need a backstrap woven case!

It will take a while before I get to that stage, though. I have spun six skeins thus far, around 250 grams. There is a lot of wool left. I will have many hours to deepen the knowledge of the hand.

Five skeins of white yarn and a spindle full of plied yarn.
Six skeins spun, plenty left to learn from.

In the end I did manage to squeeze the two kilo fleece into my fleece storage. I already knew there would be room in my heart for it. A big thank you goes from my heart and my hands to you Kia!


Next weekend I’m going on my annual wool journey with my wool traveling club. A bit more distanced than we are used to, though. I may not find the time to blog, but there will be a new blog post in two weeks, hopefully telling you about the wool journey (which I’ll be getting to by bike this year!).

Stay safe and happy spinning!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

Weaving bag

Last week I wrote about my adventures with backstrap weaving and the online course in backstrap weaving I have been taking this spring. In this post I present the final assignment in the course – a woven bag.

Weaving a weaving bag

The assignment for the fifth and last module in the course was to weave a bag made of a warp-faced strap and a balance weave cloth to fold into the body and flap of the bag.

A smiling woman wearing a shoulder bag across her torso. The bag is blue and has fringes.
I’m very happy with my finished weaving bag. Dan was equally happy with the evening light. Photo by Dan Waltin.

The yarn I used was a 2-plied worsted yarn from combed tops of a Norwegian crossbred, NKS. I spun the yarn a few years ago and it has been waiting for a project ever since. Before I warped I dyed three skeins of the six I had.

A weaving bag to fit all the necessary weaving equipment.

Strap

Weaving the strap for the weaving bag went well. The yarn was sleek and didn’t stick, only a bit towards the end of the weave. If I had spun this yarn today and with weaving in mind I would probably have spun it with higher twist.

A backstrap loom outdoors. The project is a blue strap.
The strap is warp-faced.

Body

The instructions for the body of the weaving bag was to weave it balanced. I had done this in a previous project, but that was only 10 cm wide. This one was 23 cm wide, the widest I have woven on a backstrap loom. But I was determined to get it right and proper and after having lashed on I was very happy with the set-up.

A Backstrap Loom outdoors. The project is a wide balance weave in three sections – the edges in blue and the middle in white.
A mid section in white by necessity turned out pretty nicely.

Dyed and undyed

As I was calculating the meterage and the warping I quickly realized that I would need more yarn than I had dyed. Given the fact that dyeing is not my best skill, I didn’t dare to dye the three remaining skeins. Chances were that I would end up with a completely different colour.

One could argue that I should have dyed all six skeins at once, which I obviously hadn’t. The reason for this was that the skeins were a bit different and I picked the tree that looked most alike. And had I dyed all six skeins at once they would have been too bulky for the dyeing pot and the dye would have turned out uneven. So my solution was to add an undyed section in the mid third of the body of the bag.

Having the three sections actually helped me keep track of the warp threads and the spacing between them. The job of lashing on all the 99 warp pairs got a bit easier when I thought of them as 3×33 instead.

Heddles

I used my handspun Värmland outercoat yarn for the heddles for the strap. This was part of my contribution to the advanced category in the 2019 Swedish spinning championships.

A skein of yarn. 2-plied in natural white, grey and brown. The yarn is sleek and silky.
2-plied Värmland outercoat for heddles for the strap.

The yarn worked quite well, but there was a little warp fuzz. It could be because I had reused the yarn several times for heddles. I am new at heddle making as well, so I try to analyze and learn every time.

I didn’t have enough of the Värmland heddle yarn for the width of the body of the bag. Instead I used my contribution to the intermediate category of the same championships – a cable spun yarn from Gute lamb. Very strong, round and sleek.

A light grey silky yarn.
Cable-plied Gute lamb’s wool for heddles for the body of the bag.

The cable-plied yarn worked wonderfully as heddle yarn. It was originally spun as a sock yarn – combed, worsted spun, cable plied and with high twist. These properties worked very well for a heddle yarn.

A warp on a backstrap loom.
A long row of Gute heddles for my balanced weave.

I actually like making the heddles! Holding the heddle yarn, making lots heddles of equal size, watching the individual loops add to the long row of heddles, it really sings to me. It is a feeling of empowerment – I can make sticks and loops turn into a working loom together with myself and a tree!

Fringe

I am not a fringe fan on clothing and accessories. It is a bit too late -70’s/early -80’s for me. Remember the T-shirts with beaded sleeve fringe? I was about ten back then and I’m not particularly keen on going back. But weaving all the way to the end of the warp is an advanced and time-consuming technique that I may learn in time.

A woman wearing a woven shoulder bag.
The weaving bag fringe! Photo by Dan Waltin

Meanwhile, I have to choose between hemming and fringing. This project said fringe and so I fringed. I chose to twist my fringe to protect the yarn from wear.

Assembling

The assembling of the weaving bag is quite easy. The strap has a double function as sides of the bag. The body is folded to make out the front, bottom, back and flap.

Seams

I sewed the strap onto the body with a figure-8 seam that worked very well. The technique doesn’t require any seam allowance and is perfect for stitching selvedges together. The seam is sturdy but still discrete.

Close-up of a woven bag. The fabric is seamed together with a subtle seam.
A figure-8 seam to assemble the bag. The technique is simple – sew up through the left piece, over the edge and up through the right piece in a tight figure-8 pattern.

A decorative seam

I am very fascinated by the Andean spinning and weaving culture. To honor the textiles Andean weavers typically spend at least as much time decorating the woven textiles as they do weaving them. I wanted to do this too and decided to add a decorative seam on the bag opening.

This was the part where I had lashed on, the first few rows I wove on the body part or the third selvedge. When I looked at this selvedge it looked wavy and sloppy. I usually tell my students that your mistakes are a map of what you have learned. In this case, my map told me that I hadn’t beaten the first few rows closely enough to the loom bar.

Close-up of the opening of a bag. The edge is decorated with a seam in blue and white yarn.
My first try on a single-row Kumpay stitch to decorate and protect the bag opening.

In my vanity I thought that a decorative seam would cover the sloppiness of the edge, but of course it didn’t. But it is still a pretty seam that also protects the edge of the bag. I chose what I believe is a single-row Kumpay stitch with two colours.

Decadent rose lining

When I planned the project I suspected that the weaving bag would be somewhat sloppy without lining. Lately I have bought lots of small pieces of vintage fabrics from the Swedish e-bay for this very purpose. I seem to have fallen for bold 70’s motifs and, to my own surprise, roses. I do not like rose patterns. It is too Laura Ashley for my taste (back in the -80’s again). But I firmly believe that the hidden innards of a bag should be allowed to be a bit decadent, don’t you?

Sewing the lining with decadent roses.

I chose a study rosy rose fabric in cotton and linen from my e-bayed stash that worked well with the blue in the bag. I added two pockets in the lining – one on the side to fit emergency sticks and one in the center for pencils. There is plenty of room for other necessities like band locks, yarn, a backstrap and a bottle of water.

The inside of a bag. The bag is lined with a rosy woven fabric and contains weaving sticks and other weaving supplies.
The hidden innards of the bag is lined with decadent pink roses.

Before I stitched the lining onto the bag I added a piece of wool needle punch felt at the bottom of the lining to make the bottom of the bag a bit more stable and defined.

Happy beginner

When I started the bag project I felt confident – I knew what to do when and why. I know what parts I need to build the loom and I know how to operate the loom with my body movements. I know how to fix things when they go wrong. This has given me a lot of weaving confidence, in backstrap weaving as well as my rigid heddle loom.

I love being able to build my loom for every new project. I love being part of the loom. It helps me understand what I can do with it and how.

I am definitely an early beginner, but an independent one. After my first few projects I have the knowledge, skills and tools to realize a baby idea and create a textile at my level. I own my weaving.


Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, Peru

Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco is a non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of weavers through revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. I support these talented textile artists. Please consider supporting them too. In these uncertain times they need financial support more than ever as they depend largely on tourism.

Happy weaving!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
  • I support Centro de textiles tradicionales del Cusco, a group of talented textile artists in Cusco, Peru who dedicate their work to the empowerment of weavers through the revitalization and sustainable practice of Peruvian ancestral textiles in the Cusco region. Please consider supporting their work by donating to their causes.

If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!

Backstrap weaving

For a long time I have been fascinated by the rich textural culture of the Andes. The simplicity of the tools together with the complex textiles you can make and the ubiquitous presence and history of textile making all warm my heart. In this post I share my learning process, my thoughts and my woven projects in the online course in backstrap weaving that I’m taking.

Backstrap weaving

Backstrap weaving is an ancient technique where the warp is attached in one end to a weaver and in the other to a solid object like a tree or a post. The weaver builds the loom for every new project.

Close-up of a backstrap loom. Wooden sticks and rods attached between blue warp threads. A hand is pulling a piece of yarn through the shed.
The building of a Backstrap Loom: On the far ends (which you can’t see) are the near and far loom bars. The near loom bar is attached to the backstrap around the weaver’s hips and the far loom bar around a tree or post. The two bars attached together with silicone bands are the rolling bars. These keep the cross in place and helps the weaver find both sheds. The heddle rod holds the heddles that lift the lower threads in the shed. The beater/sword/machete is used to beat the weft. The thin stick at the top with red silicone bands is a dovetail stick. I’m weaving a circular warp and the dovetail stick keeps the beginning and the end of the warp together.

The technique can be used with tablets, a rigid heddle or with string heddles and is still practiced in many parts of the world. In the Andes most backstrap weaving is done warp-faced.

A person weaving on a backstrap loom. In the picture you see the backstrap around the weaver's hips and the loom bar the backstrap is attached to in front of the weaver. Wooden sticks are stored in the side pockets of the weaver's trousers.
The weaver ties her- or himself into the loom between the near loom bar and the backstrap.

Simple and complex

A year ago I started spinning as close as I could to Andean spinning on Peruvian Pushkas. The fleece I started with was around 2 kilos and there is lots left of it. I still spin every night on my Pushkas before I go to sleep. I have many nights left of spinning before I’m out of fleece.

The Andean way of spinning and weaving fascinates me, as is the rich textile history and culture in the Andes. At first I didn’t plan to learn backstrap weaving, but when I saw that there were online courses available I realized that I really needed to learn this beautiful technique. The courses I have found are made and taught by Kimberly Hamill and Laverne Waddington. I chose Kimberly Hamill’s course and I will also try one of Laverne Waddington’s for some extra techniques. I bought a loom from Kimberly Hamill. She also has instructions on how to make your own backstrap loom.

Backstrap weaving with handspun

One important part of learning backstrap weaving was to use my handspun yarns and find out how to spin suitable yarns for weaving in general and backstrap weaving in particular. By trying different yarns I would be able to learn what works and what doesn’t work for a weaving technique where there is a lot of tension and abrasion on the warp threads.

A natural brown woven strap
My first finished project woven with my backstrap loom. I used a handspun 3-ply from a Härjedal/Åsen crossbred. The yarn was quite sticky and I didn’t have the flow I expect I would have had with less sticky yarn.

Earlier this year I had a band weaving period and there I realized how different levels of fuzz influence the weaving process. In weaving with my handspun yarns I could find what level of fuzziness I could tolerate. So learning backstrap weaving will essentially also teach me how to spin for weaving.

Happy heddles

When I got the loom in the mail I found all the things I needed – an array of sticks of different sizes, warping pegs, c-clamps and balls of string for different purposes. One of the balls of strings was truly hideous. And I’m not talking about the bright pink colour, flown in directly from the -80’s. No, I’m talking about the material: Nylon. The reason for the nylon material was that it was smooth and wouldn’t catch the warp yarn which would be good for a beginner like me. I accepted that and used the nylon for my heddles.

A person weaving on a Backstrap Loom. The warp yarn is natural brown. The heddle yarn is bright pink.
My first backstrap weaving project with the hideous nylon heddles.

Equal heddle and warp

Marie Ekstedt Bjersing is a weaving teacher at Sätergläntan center for craft education. She saw pictures of my first weaving project politely asked me if I had chosen the heddle yarn myself. I said no and asked if she had any thoughts about the heddle yarn. She encouraged me to use my own handspun, which I would never have thought of myself. Her advice was to use a 3-plied yarn with long fibers and high twist. The best yarn for the heddles would be slightly thinner than the warp yarn.

Marie also advised me to use the same material for the heddles as for the warp – wool heddles for wool yarn etc. She has a theory about using equal fibers, or at least fibers with equal properties, in heddles and warp. The strongest material will win and with abrasion the weakest will break. She works with floor looms and often the nylon string have made ugly marks in the beams of the looms – the nylon string is stronger than the wood in the beams. But the heddles are far easier to change than the loom beams. A heddle yarn that is thicker than the warp yarn may cause breakage in the warp threads. Warp and heddle yarns with different properties may cause abrasion in one of the yarns. A balance between the warp yarn and the heddle yarn will be an important part of the balance in the whole weaving process.

Thank you Marie for your wise thoughts!

Handspun heddles

Just as I needed to find out for myself what level of fuzziness I could tolerate in the warp, I needed to find out how I could use my handspun yarn for the heddles. So far it is working out and I take mental notes of how the heddles interact with the warp. I have not yet woven with warp or heddle yarn that I have spun specifically for weaving but I will eventually. This is only the beginning.

I’m surprised that I enjoyed the making the heddles as much as I did! Perhaps just because I used my handspun yarn for the heddles. When I build the heddles that control the warp threads I feel like I can do anything.

A backstrap loom hanging in a staircase.
My Backstrap Loom safely and neatly stored under the staircase. Warp, weft and heddles are my handspun yarn. The backstrap is woven on my backstrap loom.

Backstrap weaving a backstrap

While the first project in the course was a plain strap, the second project was all about backstrap weaving a backstrap. I was thrilled with the idea.

Close-up of a tight warp-faced weaving in natural and turquoise flax yarn.
Backstrap weaving with flax yarn. Second backstrap project.

For this project I chose a commercial flax yarn, though. I figured that I would weave outdoors in the summer and I imagined a linen backstrap would be lovely to weave with.

Close-up of a tight warp-faced weaving in natural and turquoise flax yarn. Heddles in flax yarn. The sun shines through the heddles and leaves shadows on the warp.
Weaving a backstrap with my backstrap loom. Warp, weft and heddles in flax yarn from Växbo lin.

You know when you do something quite seldom, and when you do it again you remember why you don’t do it more often? That is the case for me and weaving with flax yarn. I love flax, but as soon as I weave with it I remember why I don’t do it very much. Flax yarn is not forgiving like wool and it takes lots of patience and focus to work with. I had this realization when I had finished warping. But this time it actually worked like a charm! The weave was a bit crooked in the beginning, but after a while I got a really nice and even looking fabric.

A finished backstrap on the ground. The end is braided.

I now love weaving with my backstrap woven linen backstrap. It fits perfectly and I burst with pride everytime I wrap myself in it.

Problems with pebbles

The third project was quite a challenge. We were weaving a band with pebble weave. The technique involves pick-up patterns. The first assignment was to design the pattern, which proved to be surprisingly difficult. After a while I came up with a wavy sort of pattern that I liked.

For this project I definitely chose the wrong handspun yarn. It was too loosely spun and too fuzzy. Several warp threads thinned out and broke. Also, the colours were too close to each other in hue. I actually didn’t finish the project, but it was still a valuable lesson in the most important qualities in a yarn.

Close-up of a person manipulating warp threads on a backstrap loom.
The third project was pebble weaving. Very thin, too loosely spun yarn in colours in hues too close to each other. The fiber comes from a merino/silk commercially combed top I had received as a gift. I spun the yarn on a supported spindle. If you squint you can see a vague wave pattern. Heddle yarn in Värmland outercoat wool.

I will get back to this technique with more suitable yarn and colours.

Balanced weave

While most backstrap weaving, at least in the Andes is done warp-faced, the fourth project was all about balanced weave. It was quite a challenge to find the right tension to weave loose enough.

A backstrap loom with a balanced weave in greens.
Balanced weave on a backstrap loom.

The yarn I chose was not one of my proudest moments. A while ago I received beautiful commercially combed and blended tops as a gift. I am not keen on spinning these. I don’t really know how to and I find neither flow nor mindfulness in the process. But I figured the yarn would be good for something and why not weaving. So I spun them quick and dirty and had myself some weaving yarn.

A green scarf hanging on a clothes line.
The fourth project was dedicated to balanced weave.

The assignment was to weave a scarf, but I did some miscalculation on the amount of warp threads and ended up with a 10 cm wide scarf instead of 20 cm. So I’m not really sure how to use this scarf. But it was still lovely weaving!

A bag to dye for

The final project of the course was to weave a bag with most of the components from previous projects. I had a lovely yarn that would be perfect for the bag, but I didn’t think the natural white would be very suitable for a bag. So I decided to dye it. I am not a very good dyer, but for some reason I did things right this time and ended up with exactly the colour I wanted. It was even even!

A ball of blue yarn on a tree trunk.
My proudest dyeing moment. The yarn is my handspun from a Norwegian whole-year NKS crossbred spun worsted and 2-plied.

I started weaving a warp faced strap for the bag. This was the first time I really felt I had control of all the aspects of the weaving. I knew what to do, but first and foremost I understood why I did it and how I could fix things that went wrong.

Last night I warped and lashed on for the bag part of the bag, which will be in balanced weave. You may see the finished bag in a future blog post.

A weaving sample over a book. A sheep's head on the cover of the book.
I’m doing sett tests for balanced weave on a book.

A bag with a purpose

Most pictures and videos I have seen of backstrap weaving have been with sitting weavers. I like to stand and so I stand when I backstrap weave. While starting out sitting I have realized that I have a better control of the tension when I stand. I also feel that I can get a stronger tension if I need to. The problem with standing, though, arises when I drop things – usually the sword. During this process I have become a master of picking things up with my toes!

At first I didn’t really know what to use the bag for, but when I realized that I would keep my weaving supplies in it when weaving instead of dropping them I could start weaving the bag with a purpose.

Weaving with the trees

The course started in March when it was way too cold to weave outdoors. But at the fifth module it had started to get warm enough to weave outdoors. I almost cried when I attached my loom to a young linden tree in the pale afternoon sun.

A person weaving outdoors on a backstrap loom. The loom is attached at the far end to a tree. An old house in the background.
Outdoor weaving at last.

Standing there, weaving on a loom that I had built myself (although I haven’t made the loom parts) and actually understood, and with warp, weft and heddles that I had spun myself was truly a magic feeling. Last year’s leaves were rustling under my feet and the spring birds were singing. I could feel the wind in my face. The trunk before me felt strong and safe as I worked with it to control the warp between us. We were both essential parts of the loom. I was finally weaving with the trees.

A Backstrap Loom attached to a tree.
I’m finally weaving with the trees.

Happy weaving!


You can follow me in several social media:

  • This blog is my main channel. This is where I write posts about spinning, but also where I explain a bit more about videos I release. Sometimes I make videos that are on the blog only. Subscribe or make an rss feed to be sure not to miss any posts.
  • My youtube channel is where I release a lot of my videos. Subscribe to be sure not to miss anything!
  • I have a facebook page where I link to all my blog posts, you are welcome to follow me there.
  • I run an online spinning school, welcome to join a course! You can also check out my course page for courses in Sweden.
  • On Patreon you can get early access to new videos and other Patreon only benefits. The contributions from my patrons is an important way to cover the costs, time and energy I put into the videos and blog posts I create. Shooting and editing a 3 minute video takes about 5 hours. Writing a blog post around 3. You can read more about my Patreon page here.
  • Follow me on Instagram.  I announce new blog posts, share images from behind the scenes and post lots of woolliness.
  • In all the social media I offer, you are more than welcome to contact me. Interacting with you helps me make better content. My private Facebook page, however, will remain private.
    If you like what I do, please tell all your fiber friends and share these links!