The Art of Back-Strap Loom Weaving
'Another loom, allowing for subtly adjustable tension, therefore finer weaving, is the back-strap loom in which the lower bar is attached to a belt around the waist of the weaver, who, leaning forward or backwards can tighten or slacken the warp. This loom made possible the extraordinary textile achievements of pre-Colombian Peru and is still found in remote regions of Asia and parts of central and South America'
Annie Albers, On Weaving.
Mexican textile is arguably one of the most admired form of craftmanship in the world and one that contributed greatly to Mexico’s enduring creative legacy.
Major museums over the years explored the influence of this legacy over some of the most celebrated artist like Annie Albers, Ruth Asawa and Sheila Hicks (for example In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury, Art Institute, Chicago).
Most of the techniques still in use today were developed centuries ago by major civilisations like the Maya and Atzec and most survived the Spanish conquest, with its introduction of different materials and traditions.
In some parts of Mexico weaving is not just an essential part of everyday life, an activity with a functional purpose, it is also a symbolic representation of cultural and spiritual identity.
As Andres Fabregas, an anthropologist from Chiapas, explains, indigenous groups used clothing, tapestries and textile designed during the period of Spanish colonisation to express their individual and diverse cultural identity through ancestral symbols and patterns. Each symbol embodied a collective knowledge, which is still passed from generation to generation, from mother to daughter.
Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico, has one of the richest textile heritage traditions and here, the main weaving tool is the back-strap loom, used for at least four thousand years.
The back-strap loom is a relatively simple device, made mostly of string, stick and a strap. When the loom is set up the bar furthest from the weaver is tied to a tree or post the other is attached by a strap to the weaver who controls the tension with her body.
The back-strap loom is portable and more versatile of the pedal loom and it’s used only by women, normally sitting on the ground or a bench whilst weaving. The tool allows for narrow, but long textile to be woven, such as placemats, runners and cushions covers.
Although it appears to be quite simple, it can take from few hours to a full day to set up the back-strap loom, depending of the complexity and size of the piece.
In addition, the pieces woven in Chiapas are normally richly decorated with symbols such as diamonds and natural elements or animals. Weft brocade is the main decoration technique used, which can be mistaken easily for embroideries.
The set up of the back-strap loom is further complicated if brocading is used because it happens on the loom simultaneously with the weaving. The weaver integrates carefully a separate threaded design with each passing of the weft, creating a slightly raised arrangement on the surface of the fabric. You can see some examples of weft-brocading in the photos below.
Explore our range of handmade textile by artisans from Chiapas using the complex techniques described above, from gorgeous placemats to exquisite cotton and wool cushion covers.
Find a unique pieces for your home with a story to tell and to support them in the development and preservation of their important heritage.
The selection is designed by Colorindio, founded in 2009 by Pola Parlange and Libia Moreno with a mission to weave stories of ancient cultures through fabric.
Guided by fair-trade principles, they started a collaboration with weavers’ communities in Chiapas, based on cooperation, friendship and values of equity and balance, providing a steady income for more than 150 women. Each piece featuring in our collection is born out of this relationship and it’s an expression of weaving traditions and the rich cultural diversity of Mexico.
A number of villages in Chiapas are represented, each translating their individual contribution into exquisite pieces: San Juan Chamula, San Lorenzo Zinacantán, Aldama, San Andres Larrainzar, Santa Marta, Pantelho and Nachig.
Learn more about Colorindio.
Photos 1,2,3,4 and 5 courtesy © Colorindio, all rights reversed.