Backstrap weaving is an ancient fiber art practiced for centuries in Central and South America and China. Weaving has historically been a way for artists to communicate feelings and tell stories with the use of patterns and symbols. It’s also a time-honored tradition for fifth-grade students at the Manhattan Country School Farm.
The students take a multi-step approach to creating their cloth. They choose their yarn colors and sley the strands through a reed or heddle during the fall Farm trip. They create the pattern they will follow to make a woven piece during their winter and spring trips. While sitting on the floor with their backstrap loom or telar de cinteron tied off in front of them, they slide the shuttle back and forth. The shuttle holds their yarn and acts as a vehicle to transport the thread through the warp and weft.
This project connects the students directly to several academic disciplines. Working in grids and determining latitudinal and longitudinal lines relates to math. History is easily explored, as backstrap weaving is the oldest known weaving technique. Physics is at play as the weaver uses the frame, his or her body, and even gravity to provide the needed tension. Once this process is set in motion, our fifth-grade fiber artists are free to explore various topics of conversation as they weave in front of the roaring fire of the wood stove in the textile studio.