Laverne is devoted full time to practicing, writing and raising the profile of and educating people about backstrap weaving.
She first learned to backstrap weave in Peru in 1996 and has studied with indigeous groups in Bolivia, Chile and Equador. Her talk gave a general overview of the people she has worked with, the cultures and their role in weaving.
The looms are a collection of sticks. They use llama leg bones filed to a point on one end as pick up sticks. Strong backs and magic fingers are the most important tools.
Most of Bolivia is on the altoplano without colour or wood. They have alpaca, llama and some sheep (bought by the Spanish) and cotton (in lowland areas). Where the Inca ruled pre conquest, they use backstrap looms. In the tropical lowlands, they use other looms, eg horizontal looms which are tapped into the ground or on wooden frames if the ground is too hard. If the warp is very close to the ground, it is very hard on the weaver’s back.
Weavers prefer the bright, synthetic colours rather than natural colours. Vertical looms are limited to the lowland and coastal areas of Bolivia. Laverne prefers the backstrap loom as it takes up the least amount of space.
They weave cloth with selvedges on all four sides. They weave the cloth from both ends and then needle weave the centre area. The weaver is part of the loom. The far end is attached to a pillar or tree. The near end is attached to a band around her waist.
If you get the moves working well it is a kind of dance.The weaver modifies the tension of the loom at will. With a vertical loom you have to fight the loom. They use overtwisted yarn to weave warp-faced cloth so the ends don’t mesh as they are woven.
Most weavers are very poor and have sold their own handwoven cloth. They start weaving at 5yrs old and go through an apprenticeship until they are expert enough at 18 to make a universal cloth to carry babies, groceries, etc. Men knit using bicycle spokes.
The Centre for Traditional Textiles in Peru has helped regain spinning and weaving techniques and pride. Anthropologists work with weavers to recover and preserve patterns. Most designs evolve quite quickly but there are some designs that have lasted more than 500 years.