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NAVAJO RUG WEAVING TRADITIONAL TECHNIQUE
Churro fleeces are all but greaseless, making them easy to clean and wonderfully porous for dyeing. The long silky fibers of the churro, laid side by side, could be spun into a lustrous yarn. As the churro flourished,so did Navajo weaving. By the 1750s, the form had developed a palette and character all its own. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Navajo were considered the outstanding weavers of the Southwest.
In the 1860s the U. S. Government sent Kit Carson to round up the Navajo people and, in so doing, destroyed huge numbers of their sheep. Those who survived the incarceration at Bosque Redondo were released to the reservation area in 1865. Each was assigned only two sheep. The sheep they were given,however, were not their native churro, but, American merino. It seemed that American textile manufacturers refused to buy churro fleeces because the long hairs tangled in their machines. The manufacturers demanded that Navajo produce shorter-haired fleeces through cross-breading, first with a variety of merino sheep originally bred in France, now raised in the western United States for both its wool and mutton; and Corriedale, a breed of rather large white-faced sheep, originally developed in New Zealand which produce good wool and mutton lambs, and, finally with French Rambouillet.
In the 1930s and '40s, the U. S. Government's stock reduction policy,ostensibly meant to curtail overgrazing, further reduced the churro population. During these years, churro were singled out and shot because of the problems they caused wool manufactures.
Navajo weavers had problems with the short-haired fleeces. Yarn spun the old way split and broke, and the greasier fleeces had to be washed many times. The oils in the wool kept dyes from being absorbed. Weavers were forced to go off the reservation to buy expensive manufactured wool. The commercially dyed, machine spun yarn profoundly changed the character of Navajo textiles.
SPINNING: The Navajo technique of spinning involves a simple spindle stick and whorl, about 12" long. The base of the spindle is seated on the ground with the shaft twirled on the thigh with one hand while the other regulates thickness of the fiber Fiber thickness determines the ultimate strength and weight of the rug. Two spinnings are usually required to produce weft yarns. Additional respinnings produce finer and finer threads.
The early Navajo obtained lathering soap from roots of the broad-leaved yucca, mainly Yucca baccata in central Navajo country, and from the narrow leaved yuccas, such as Yucca glauca and Yucca standleyi. Both are used fresh or dried and may be gathered at any season of the year. The broad leaved yucca is the stronger and more desirable of the two.
Many weavers now choose machine-carded, chemically dyed, prespun skeins of yarn for consistency in weight and color.
WARPING THE LOOM:
The warp is one continuous strand that is wound in a figure eight pattern at approximately 1/4" intervals around the cross pieces. Constant tension of the warp is maintained as the strand is passed over the cross piece on the outside and returned under the cross piece on the inside, thus creating warp pairs. The two figure eight patterns created are called sheds, established by the insertion and tieing of two sticks, called shed rods, into the warp pattern. During actual weaving, manipulation of the shed rods creates the needed spaces for passing of the weft threads. To secure their equally spaced position on the cross piece, the warp is then edged off by a twining cord to form a stabilizing top and bottom border.
When the entire warp is strung and secured, the warp frame is dismantled and the warp is transferred and mounted on the permanent upright loom bellyaching the warp cross piece, now referred to as the warp beam (upper) and the web beam (lower), with a lightweight rope. The warp beam is actually attached to another dowel, called the stick, that can be rope lowered or raised to desired heights. The shed rods are then untied, but not removed.The warp is straightened within the loom frame and a desired tension is applied to make the entire harness a taut unit.
DESIGNS: Traditional Navajo designs have been handed down from one generation to another. Repetition of colors and basic motifs is often characteristic of a weaving family or region. In the classic period, rugs were sold at the trading post nearest the weaver's home. According to experts,a good to average weaver can accomplish approximately one square foot of weave per day.
(Above chart compiled by Garlands and Wide Ruins Trading Post, August,1973).
It is understandable that at an average of $2.58 per hour (and many are woven for a lot less), the weaving of a Navajo rug is hard work for the money. The cost is justified. The current price varies considerably from one rug style to another.