Our women’s artisan groups all weave with the backstrap loom and it is intriguing to watch a weaver so seemingly mechanically design beautiful patterns and designs out of simple cotton yarns.
A loom is a simple uncomplicated device for weaving that has been around for thousands of years. It may be known by different names—belt loom, backstrap loom, etc. – but they are all have the same basic design. Variations of the loom have been found around the world including South America, Central America, China, India, United States native American Indians, Mexico and Vietnam. Peru’s native Indians have been weaving with this type of loom dating back to before 2000BC and many textile remnants have been found in archeology sites.
The looms have been made of many different materials throughout the centuries, usually found in the weavers local area. Typically they are carved from wood but other materials include bamboo or animal bones and today you will even see some weavers using pieces of PVC pipe.
Most women in rural Guatemala just make their looms themselves and have a variety of ‘palitos’, the crossbars, of different sizes for whatever width of cloth they want to weave. The batten (espada) takes more time to make because it has a beveled edge. I watched one weaver sanding a new batten with a shard of glass to make it smooth because she didn’t have sandpaper. All the different parts are sanded very smooth so the yarn isn’t snagged. The backstrap (cinturon) is usually woven by the woman and is simply a sturdy woven belt although sometimes a short leather belt is used.
In the Andes mountains of Ecuador typically men do the majority of the weaving. They usually use wool in Ecuador, because of the climate, and they not only weave but also spin and card the wool by hand. Because of the mild climate in Guatemala weavers usually weave with cotton yarns.
“I have been weaving for 40 years-since I was 7 years old. My mother showed me how to weave and she would rap my knuckles if I did it wrong! At first I didn’t like to weave because I wanted to play but we had to weave so we could have clothes and cloth to sell. Now I weave several hours everyday to help support my family by selling my weaving’s.” San Juan Artisan
Two great books on backstrap loom weaving and weaving in general are: “Backstrap Weaving” by Barbara Tabor and Marilyn Anderson and “The Weaving Primer” by Nina Holland. Usually they can be found at Amazon or Ebay. If you are interested in learning more about weaving we have several videos posted at our Facebook page or on YouTube.