Since I grew up watching my mother weave, the process of weaving seems almost like common sense to me. So, I often forget to back up and explain to others what the process looks like. Here, I would like to take the time to show you what “backstrap weaving” really is:
Guatemalan Backstrap Loom
The Sam Noble Museum (University of Oklahoma) has a nice description of backstrap weaving:
The backstrap loom, an example of which is shown [above], is deceptively simple. For the most part, it consists of sticks, rope, and a strap that is worn around the weaver’s waist. This strap is how the backstrap loom received its name. This simple technology means that almost anyone can own a backstrap loom and that the loom can be set up almost anywhere. This mobility allows the weaver to work indoors or outside, at a neighbor’s house or in the marketplace, while keeping watch over the children or while chatting with friends. And the backstrap loom can be adjusted to fit any weaver, from the child learning to weave to an adult master weaver.
This simple loom is used all over the world. Products differ in style, but the basic process is quite similar:
The Cochiti Pueblo, US
The Quichua, Peru
The Jili of Hainan Island, China
The Hill Tribe, Northern Thailand
The Maya of Nebaj, Guatemala
Sumba Island, Indonesia
Many indigenous peoples used and continue to use backstrap weaving. In much of the world, it is a traditional art with deep ties to native identities. Unfortunately, it is a dying tradition as mass-produced cheap textiles flood every corner of the globe… without an international market for these woven pieces, it is very difficult for weavers to continue weaving, nor does it make economic sense to teach young girls to weave.
If you have some time to spare, the below trailer video (2011) about the Shipibo of Peru is worth a watch. It shows the reactions of the present-day Shipibo people to what was filmed decades ago of the same tribe, and how they feel about the changes in their lives. The connection these people feel to their traditional art forms is striking and inspiring.