Day 5 – Next Stop Mitla

Repeated sticks required to weave the pattern
Repeated sticks required to weave the pattern – click to enlarge

We drove 5 hours on winding mountain roads backtracking our path from Oaxaca to stop at a town called Mitla.

There was time to squeeze in a visit to very different backstrap weavers, Antonino Sosa and his brother who weave shawls called rebozos. These men gave up weaving on conventional floor and pedal looms to weave only on blackstrap looms. Usually only the women weave on backstrap looms. I think the men said they were faster because they stood to weave whereas the woman sit on the ground. Because their arms are longer, they could weave wider cloth.
What was terribly interesting was the pattern they wove. Usually that type of pattern cloth us woven on floor looms. They figured out how to do it on blackstrap looms.
They said they felt closer to their cloth with the more simple looms. I saw two old floor looms junked in far off corners of their large work space/courtyard.

Usually there are just two sheds or openings for the weft thread to pass through, but they rigged up three to achieve the pattern. Two shed were made with thread loops on sticks and the third shed was on a flat stick which we call a sword. Our guide translated sword as machete!

At the warping board when measuring out the threads for the loom they crossed the threads between pegs like I’ve never ever heard of before. That astonished me greatly. There were four pegs making two unusual crosses. It was these special crosses that kept the threads in the order needed to weave the pattern. Isn’t it fun to learn something new!!

We were shown every step of the way and every one of our questions (I had many) were answered. I always wondered how they got the threads from the warping board to be spread out and on tension. It was a piece if cake. He did tie all the crosses, then lifted the threads up off the pegs then put dowels in the loops at each end. Then he tied one dowel to a post and the other dowel to his belt (the backstrap)!

The next steps were putting sticks in where the crosses were and then trying the string loops according to what threads were on the tops of the various sticks. So simple when you see it done.

During weaving he leaned forward to release the tension on the threads so there was a big opening to pass the shuttle through. Then he straightened up to put tension on the threads while beating in the thread from the shuttle. That’s how backstrap looms work…leaning forward and back to create and loosen the tension.


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