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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 17, 2001 - Issue 49


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Weaving-Part One


 by Lynne Sageflower Pennington


There are several ways to weave; from using a loom, to weaving with your fingers. Today, with computerized looms some of the ways of weaving are a lost art, yet some are still carried on from generation to generation.
I can remember sitting in the back yard at my grandmothers watching her use a backstrap loom and also when my parents and I took a trip out west watching a lady weaving on a Navajo loom. As both of them wove soon a beautiful pattern emerged from their weaving.
Over the next two Issues I am going to talk about the following: the Backstrap loom, the Navajo loom, Finger Weaving and Seneca Weaving Sticks.
  • In Part One I will cover : The Backstrap Loom and the Navajo Loom.
  • In Part Two I will cover: Finger Weaving and Seneca Weaving Sticks. I will also give you the instructions on how to make a cardboard loom.
What is weaving?
Weaving is a technique of interlacing threads to form a fabric.
What are some of the some of the terms of weaving?

Warp: the parallel threads that are held to keep the tension during weaving.

Weft: The individual thread that is woven back and forth across the warp to form the fabric.

Other Terms
There are some terms I will explain when I get to the weaving such as the parts of the loom, etc.
There are many terms used to explain the different weaves. Many of the terms are similar to terms used in explain the different basket weaving techniques. My best advise here is to go to your library and get books on weaving. I will tell you of some at the end of this article.
There is a lot of preparation to be done before weaving. Today we can purchase yarns and materials all ready prepared. However there are still woman and men stating from scratch in their preparations from shearing the wool off the sheep to spinning the wool into threads and dyeing the wool.
In the books I have read I have found it interesting all the processes to get the finished threads and I think you will too.
Weaving can be put into subgroups from primitive weaving to modern weaving. In primitive weaving you have the Warp-weighted loom, Ground loom and Backstrap loom, Card weaving, and finger weaving. Then in the next group we have Hopi Belt loom, Navajo loom, Inkle loom, and the Floor or Trendle loom. In the next group it the looms we have today that are computerized. With a few numbers programmed into the loom machine you can reproduce those weaving made by our ancestors.
The first type of loom I am going to discuss is the Back strap loom.

Back strap loom is a primitive form of weaving. It is the oldest and most common loom used through out the world. 
The parts of the loom used in Backstrap looming
  1. Two bars, which the warp thread are continuously wrapped around in a figure eight.
  2. A piece of rope which is attached to one side of the bar, then wrapped around a tree or post, then attached on the other side of the bar.
  3. Back strap: a piece of leather or woven fabric, about 4 inches wide and 1 ½ to 2 feet in length, used to go around the back. It attaches to one side of the bar, wrapped around the persons back and attached to the other side of the bar.
The Tools
  1. Shed stick: used to permanently separate the alternating warp threads.
  2. Batten stick: a flat stick with one sharpened edge which holds the sheds open.
  3. Wooden Comb: A tool that looks like a comb but the teeth are spread wider apart. It is used for packing down the weft threads as you weave.
  4. Pick: A pointed tool that is used to pick up the warp threads as you slid the shed stick in between them.
  5. Stretcher device: This is used to hold the fabric out to its full width while weaving.
  6. Shuttle: A long flat stick which the thread is wrapped around and used to pass the weft thread thru the 
    warp threads.
  7. Sacking needle: A Sacking needle is used. to sew the ends of the rug or blanket you are weaving to keep it form unraveling.
I have placed pictures below of these tools

The Back Strap

The Batten


Primitive Stick Shuttle
Stick Shuttle

Comb and Fork

Deer Bone and Wood Picks

The Stretcher

How does the Back Strap loom work?
In Back strap weaving the tension is put on the warp threads by the person using a back strap. When the person puts tension by leaning forward or backward on the back strap it causes the weft threads are tightened.
As the weaving increases is it rolled up and placed either under the person or rolled up on another bar. This loom is easy to pack up and travel with the weaver.
The book mentioned at the end of this article has step by step instructions on how to use a Back strap loom.
The Navajo Loom
The Navajo Loom is another primitive loom. Before the evolution of the Navajo loom there is today the first looms were made of logs and saplings. Today many are being made from frames. While some are still built to be able to travel with the weaver some are attached to doorways or built stationary in the yard by placing pole is the ground.
With the Backstrap loom it is the weaver that provides the tension on the warp threads. With the Navajo loom the tension is provided by the top and bottom horizontal bars. The tension can be adjusted by heightening the top horizontal bar.
The Parts to the Navajo Loom
Main Part:
A frame ( different ones are pictured below)

Frame which is attached at the Ceiling and the Floor

Frame that is attached to the doorway with eye screws

The poles to this frame are in the ground.  
The Tools:
The Tools are the same you would use for the backstrap loom with a few differences.
You would use the Batten, The shed rods, the shuttle, the pick and sacking needle.
First Difference: Instead of a comb a Fork is used. It acts the same way as the comb though Its function is to pack the weft threads down as you are weaving.
Second Difference: There are 2 sizes of Battens used. One is wider then the other. The reason for the two sizes is because as you get higher and to the end of your weaving it becomes harder to weave between the weaving and the pole therefore the shed rod is difficult to use.
Here is a picture that shows the parts of the Navajo Loom. If you want a bigger picture of this so you can 
see the words email me and I will send it to you.

The same book that I used for a resource for the backstrap loom also gives excellent graphics of step by step weaving on the Navajo Loom.
In the next Issue-Weaving -Part Two, I will go over Finger weaving, Seneca Weaving Sticks and show you how to make a cardboard loom.
Resource Books:
  • The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book by Rachel Brown
  • The Song Of The Loom by Fredrick J Dockstader
  • Indian Blankets and Their Makers By George Wharton James
  • Backstrap Weaving by Barbara Taber and Marilyn Anderson

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

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