Back-Strap Loom Weaving

The Mayan women in the rural area of Guatemala still weave the same way their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers have done for hundreds of years. ( Buy a real backstrap weaving loom in our online store) Woman in San Jorge

Most generally they use a back-strap loom (lienso) and weave cloth that is typically 12” – 24” wide. The backstrap loom, portable and easily moved, is tied to a post or tree at one end and has a strap at the other end that is placed around the woman’s waist as she sits on the ground or small stool and weaves. The 5 sticks or wood pieces that make up the loom are made out of durable wood such as cedar so they will last many years.

Weaving on a back strap loom is tedious work and individual pieces, depending upon complexity, may take several weeks or months with the weaver working a few hours everyday among her other household chores. Young girls start learning to weave from their mothers at about age seven.Weaving

Many women still dye the cotton yarns with dye made from natural plants. They may use carrots for an orange color, coconut shells for a beige shade, the chilca plant for green, or cochinia for pinks. Depending on the type of project, women also purchase yarns already dyed in the desired color.  This link shows weavings done with natural dyes.

Weaving is done to make a variety of cloths for the household as well as making the Mayan traditional dress (the traje). Their weavings will be used as tablecloths, kitchen cloths or tortilla cloths, shawls, bed covers, table runners, belts, cloths to keep the baby warm or to tie the baby onto their backs among many others.

Probably one of the most intricate weavings and one done with special care is when the woman weaves her huipil – the traditional blouse worn by Mayan women. Women typically still wear the traditional style of clothes worn for generations of Mayans and the huipil (pronounced wee-peel) is a very significant item of clothing for her. The huipil’s overall design not only showcases the talents of the weaver but it also identifies the village of the wearer.san-jorge-dress.jpg Many huipils will last 15-20 years or more and be a source of pride for the weaver. Weaving their special huipil is a way for the Mayan woman to maintain cultural ties thru the generations, to maintain their Mayan identity.

An excellent book on backstrap weaving is Backstrap Weaving by Barbara Taber and Marilyn Anderson. There are detailed instructions on making the parts of a loom and also on learning to weave with this type of loom.

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16 Responses to “Back-Strap Loom Weaving”

  1. Linda Says:

    Greetings. My name is Linda Coghlin and I have a charity – Loving Arms Charitable Corporation. I take teams of volunteers to Guatemala and just 2 weeks ago was my 6th trip to Guatemala. I am now researching the possibility of purchasing some backstrap looms for some of the women I work with that have the skill but no money to purchase the looms or thrread.
    I work in several villages not far from Antigua. If you are aware of where I could get the looms in this area, I would be grateful to you.
    Many Blessings
    Linda

  2. educationandmore Says:

    Linda,
    Most backstrap looms I believe are made by the women themselves or by family members but those that don’t are purchased at the local markets. I have seen them at many markets throughout Guatemala. You might check the ‘locals’ market in Antigua which is just a few blocks from the main square. Most of the time they can be purchased for about $2-$5. Of course there are different size depending on the width of the textile being woven.

    Email me anytime if you have more questions!

  3. Shirley Sherrod Says:

    Hi Linda,

    I have just returned from Guatemala where, in one of the places that I visited San Antonio Aquas Clientes quite near Antigua, I purchsed small and medium sized backstrap loom wooden apparatus. The straps and backstrap were not on them so you have to put them on. Also I am going to sand them better as there are catches. If you still haven’t found them and are still looking, wrtie and I will draw a map for you, scan it, and send as an attachment.
    I also saw them at the local market at Chichicastanango as well as other big markets in various places. I did not find them in the market in Antigua, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.
    Good luck.

  4. educationandmore Says:

    Thanks Shirley,

    Most of the local markets seem to have them and the women probably know where to buy them. I forgot to add that many of the women I know just have their husbands or someone make them.

    I have seen them in Chi Chi and many of the other bigger markets.

    We do have some small ones on our website which have been fixed to use as a wall hanging — but they are actual backstrap looms minus the ‘espada.’
    The looms are shown on our home weavings page:

    http://www.educationandmore.org/weavings%20home.html

  5. Diane Wile-Brumm Says:

    Hi Linda,

    My husband and I have met your son, Dennis. He told us about your charity, and we’d like to know more about it. Could you please let me know how to find out more? (website?)

    Thank you, and best of luck with your upcoming trip.

    Diane Wile-Brumm (Nova Scotia)

  6. rizzo Says:

    how is the warp laid on the backstrap loom? i found it interesting and i want to use it for my project. thank you.

    • educationandmore Says:

      The warp yarns are first wound onto a urdido or warping board and then put on the palitos of the backstrap loom. It might be best for you to find a book on the backstrap loom to see the actual steps. Not complicated but takes time to learn to do it correctly. Thanks for your interest!

  7. Sally Garratt Says:

    Dear Reader,

    Twenty years ago I was living in Guatemala and was taught weaving by the women of San Antonio Aguas Caliente. I would like to start weaving again and I’m looking for a backstrap loom – a large one. I haven’t had any luck finding one on the internet and wondered if you could suggest where I could find one – used or new.

    Thankk you.
    Sally

    • educationandmore Says:

      We do not have any large ones available but only the smaller ones that we have in our World of Good listings. We soon will have them also on our website. You can see them here.
      http://worldofgood.ebay.com/Fair-Trade-Backstrap-Loom-handmade-wall-decoration/220474701488/item

      Have you thought of making your own? Our artisans typically make their all their own rods and other needed parts out of limbs, pieces of wood, and even pvc pipe at times. One of our artisans used a piece of broken glass to smooth the batten she had made because she didn’t have any sandpaper.
      Good luck!
      Karen
      Education And More
      http://www.educationandmore.org

      • Sally Garratt Says:

        Hi Karen,

        Thank you for the information and the idea of making my own loom . I found a website called weavezine.com. There is an article called “backstrop Basics” that is quite helpful. I’ll also check your website for available large looms. Thanks again.

        Sally

  8. Donna Ranieri Says:

    Hi..

    was wondering if you can tell me who took the images of the weaver in the first image. Would like to license for use in a textbook.
    more info to follow

  9. angelika Says:

    Hi..
    My name is angelika

    I want to now who discoverd this Back-strap Loom?

    • educationandmore Says:

      We do not know who invented the backstrap loom. Some believe it pre-dates history but we do know that it has been used for thousands of years by many groups around the world.

  10. Eloisa Fe M. Vigonte Says:

    Hi..
    Im eloisa
    can I ask who is the photographer of the picture above?

  11. Assignment 2 Research Point | Tiger C Textiles Says:

    […] The table runner could have been made by either loom but certainly fits the dimensions of a Backstrap loom which were limited in their width.  If made on a Backstrap loom it would be a plain weave with single faced supplementary weft patterning (Guatemalan Textiles Today).  The image below is of weaving being done on a Backstrap loom available from https://educationandmore.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/back-strap-loom-weaving/ […]

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