By Susie Atkinson
Basic, crude, primitive – these are all words that may come to mind when one thinks of the humble backstrap loom – a description that obscures the fact that some of history’s most beautiful and complex textiles have been woven on this simple arrangement of sticks.
A backstrap loom is basically two sticks between which the lengthwise threads (warp) are stretched from a fixed device such as a post or tree to a belt that a person wears around her waist. By backing away from the post or tree, the user can pull the warp threads into tension.
Two more sticks strategically placed in the middle allow you to manipulate the warps to create sheds, openings for the horizontal threads (weft) which hold everything together; the weft is carried with a shuttle and beaten into place with a flat wide piece of wood similar to a comb in shape. By repeating this process, the artist creates fabric.
There are some limitations to backstrap weaving. It is difficult to weave a very long piece of fabric, or one wider than the body. Despite this, the Borucans weave beautiful naturally dyed cloth.