A Very Ancient Technique:
Warp-Patterned, Spaced-Weft Twining

Written by Nora Rogers for a demonstration of the technique for the Santa Cruz Handweavers' Guild Braids Study Group, November 28, 2007.
My first exposure to these wonderful ancient textiles was in a class at Pacific Basin School of the Textile Arts in Berkeley in about 1975, called "Unravelling the Ancient Textiles of Peru". Jill Mefford, the teacher, showed slides of some of the 5000 year old fragments from Huata Prieta in North Coast Peru. I fell in love with the texture and with the moving warps. There were no instructions on how to create the structure, so I invented my own. Here is my first effort on the right.

This little tapestry does not look like the Huaca Prieta fragment at all, but it makes an interesting texture, with two layers of warp threads. I made another, larger textile, on a backstrap loom, as conjectured was done in old Peru by Junius Bird, the archaeologist who found the old 'rags' in a dig in the late 1940's.

A fellow Guild member, Louise Miller, found a diagram of the technique in an article by Andrew Hunter Whiteford in American Indian Art Magazine vol. 2 No. 3, Summer 1977, pp.52-64,85 titled "Western Great Lakes Storage Bags", showing the structure of this technique. It turns out that North American ancestors also used one of these pattern structures for making their storage bags up through the early 20th century.

Two details from a large sampler of patterns from Great Lakes Native American storage bags

Louise and I pursued this technique, interestingly producing very different kinds of textiles. Louise made beautiful pillows and bags using designs from the Woodland Indians. I researched the different variants of the technique, found elsewhere in Peru (El Paraiso) and Columbia as well as the Great Lakes. My subsequent textile art reflected this research in more indirect ways.

For Our Weft Twining Session

I will demonstrate the technique. If you wish to make a sample, bring two colors of a medium sized yarn -- not too thin. It can be any fiber you wish. In Peru people used cotton and vegetal. The Woodlands people used hemp or cedar bark and buffalo hair, later unraveled wool from blankets. It does not have to be hard twisted, but can be if you like.

Here are structural diagrams in two colorations:


The drawing on the left is the "Woodland structure" with each color paired. The one on the right is the "Zig-Zag" or "Huaca Prieta" type, with one thread of each color in a twining pair.

It is important to know that each thread travels a zigzag path the length of the cloth, pairing with a partner to the left on one row and with a partner on the right on the next row. This creates warp crossings. Any thread that rises to the surface for the crossing will be the color that shows.

Here is a pattern of 21 pairs plus the borders creating a parrot (from Huaca Prieta) in the zig zag technique. And two patterns of 15 pairs plus borders creating a thunderbird or hourglass from Woodlands storage bags. Cut the yarns about 20 inches long and fold them over for the pair. Add two pairs on each side for a border in one of the colors. Choose one of the colors for your weft. The wefts will show as horizontal rows and are typically the color of the background.

In these drawings, only the threads creating the pattern on the surface are shown.


Setup is as follows:

Half-hitch your looped pairs of colors over a thin dowel or pencil, or over a strong cord as shown:

If using the heading cord, you can use a foam-core board or similar, holding the ends of the heading cord in place with T-pins. If using the dowel (or pencil) no board is needed. Just work at a table or in your lap. Once you have twined a few rows, you can remove the dowel.

At the top, near the heading cord, twine two rows across the war[ pairs compactly, arranging the color pairs as shown in the diagram you have chosen. Then twine one row spaced about 1/4–3/8 inch from the first rows. Do not move the warps between those rows; keep them parallel and in the set-up of the color pairs.

For the next twined row, cross and pair them according to the pattern you have chosen. Cross the warps so that you background color is on the surface. Then bring up the pattern color from the back, crossing it over the background color, as you twine your weft rows. Continue on to complete your pattern and one or two rows of background at the bottom.

Your wefts pairs may be cut off and knotted (overhand) at the end of each weft row (as some Huaca Prieta textiles had); or you may continue on to the next row, giving an extra wrap around the outer warp thread (as many of the El Paraiso textiles had).

Four samples of the Woodland type pattern

Created by Nora Rogers, November 2007