Navajo Style Tapestry Weaving



I find myself at home, with a finished weaving, when I should be in New Mexico starting one.  The annual workshop that takes place in Table Mesa, New Mexico with Sarah Natani is in progress when this web-log is posted.  I will miss the friends that I made at the last one I attended and the new knowledge I so desperately crave that Sarah would pass on to me.  Alas, funds and circumstances have seen it fit to keep me at home working on my skills.   Nothing can replace the years of experience and the effect that such a culture can impart on your weaving.  When Sarah talks about weaving, you know that its a part of her life, her heritage, culture, religion and how she sees the world around her.  It’s quite easy to get swept up in that frame of mind and allow your hands to find a rhythm that flows in accordance to the forces of nature that we’re all a part of.   When I attended the workshop I was taught how to do an interlock join, and I decided to start incorporating turned warp joins so I could achieve some diagonal lines in my weaving.  It wasn’t easy, but I’m getting it sorted out.  Still, I would like to advance my patterns to another level as well as get more of that priceless knowledge that Sarah has in such abundance. 

Traditionally, in Navajo style weaving there is a wool warp, strong and plied at least three times.  Commercial wool warp is available and many use this.  With this style of weaving, the warp is stretched very tightly, like a string instrument.  When using commercial warp many find it’s necessary to “over-spin” the warp to give it more strength.  I did a small weaving to teach myself the fundamentals of turned warp, I used colors that I was trying to get rid of, its a piece that I don’t find all that attractive, but I’m glad that I was able to work on the skill.  On that piece I chose to not over-spin the warp, thinking it unnecessary, and I had problems in a few areas where it was starting to shred.  I treated these areas gingerly, but it was evident that this wouldn’t have worked on a  larger weaving, and it underscored the need to over-spin commercial warp for this style of weaving.  So with this piece I begin by over-spinning as much warp as I can fit on my wheel’s bobbin, taking it off with a niddy noddy or skein winder and wetting it to set the new twist, then allowing it to dry.  I wind this into a ball so it’s easier to warp my loom.  While I try to warp my loom with one continuous warp string, I don’t fret over running out and tying a new one onto the old end, as I have have bought a cone of warp that has a knot tied right in the middle from the mill.  I pick out yarn that is the same as some that I will use for my weft, and I over spin this as well, then I chain-ply/Navajo ply  and set the twist.  I use this for my end and side selvage cords.

I turn my loom upside down and place warp dowels as far apart as I want my weaving to be tall.  I tie a not on one end, and wrap the warp in a figure eight, always going over the rod then under then across and over the next rod.  Its important to keep the warp under good tension and for worsted weight weft I make my turns around the rods every 1/4 inch which will give you 8 EPI when all is said and done.  When I’ve wrapped my warp to the width I want, I tie the end of the warp on the same rod the beginning is tied to, this gives me an even amount of warp strings.  At this point it’s easy to see that you have two open areas seperating the warp.  Half the  warp stings on top and the other half the bottom at one rod, and the opposite at the other rod, now is a good time to place one stick through each of these “sheds” to preserve them, push them together to the center and tie them together as one.  Next I take two end selvage cords that I prepared, each one twice as long as my weaving is wide, or one four times my weaving’s width and fold in half.  Tie the two together leaving a 4-6 inch tail, or if folded tie 4-6 inches away from the fold.  Twine the warp with this according to the picture on both ends, tie another knot and leave 4-6 inch tails.  This will keep your warp properly spaced and hold your warp together when you pull out those rods.

Turned Warp (4)

It’s then necessary to bind the warp onto other warp rods.  I take an additional rod and place it next to the twinning and tie them together loosely.  Bind the twinning cord to the new rod very tightly without going through or catching the warps, this is done to both ends.  Now its ready for the original rods to be pulled out and the warp to be mounted onto the loom and stretched nice and tight.

Once it’s mounted it’s time to weave.  With this style of weaving it’s traditional to use a loosely spun single ply wool or wool/mohair blend yarn.  The Brownsheep company makes a few that are appropriate, including their Lamb’s Pride, Lanaloft and Top of the Lamb.  This is very much a type of tapestry weaving, and the finished product was meant to be useful as a rug, blanket, or clothing.  The weft isn’t cut or left to hang on the back when its time to add a new length, its broken and laid into the shed and the next end is laid on top overlapping.  The yarn is twisted opposite of the way it was spun and you pull, essentially allowing the yarn to draft apart.  The first four and last four rows are woven over and under warp pairs instead of individual warps, this is to ensure warp coverage at the twinning.  The weaving process is too complicated for a short article and there are several different ways to make joins.  But the weft is beaten in place with a weaving fork or beater and packed well.  It results in a very dense and sturdy weave.  When colors change in design to form a vertical line the weft yarn is either interlocked with one another between warp strings, or they turn and share one warp.  Both are correct and used in different circumstances.  Patterns can be quite intricate and involved.  Sheds are made by stick and sting heddles and while two sheds are most common, four and six are used as well.

When you near the top, the sheds get very tight.  Weaving with a needle becomes necessary, even to the point of  weaving one warp at a time.  When you are done weaving the only thing left is to remove the binding string from your weaving and your loom.  Now its ready for your wall, floor, bed or to be made into a bag or tool roll.

 What I miss by not being at the workshop is the culture that makes this style of weaving a journey.  While I can’t pretend to know enough about this style of weaving or their history, culture and religion; it’s obvious that they are all intertwined.  It seems impossible to have one without the other.  There’s a beautiful story about creation and weaving that Sarah shares with us, and a frame of mind to keep when you weave.  I’m inspired as I consider that when faced with a hardship that I can only imagine, these people created beauty, provided for their family and moved their hands under a divine guidance.  Many Navajo weavers start from the beginning, from sheep to finished weaving.  Raising the sheep, shearing, processing, spinning and dying the wool.  Maybe next year I’ll be able to share a week with Sarah and bring some of my finished projects and show her how she has inspired me.

A website devoted to learning, sharing and teaching a wide range of fiber arts. Inkle, Tablet and Navajo style weaving, Spinning, Knitting, Crochet, Sewing and Lace Making. Silver Work, Beading and Tool Making grace my bench as well.

8 comments on “Navajo Style Tapestry Weaving
  1. Mary Walker says:

    What a beautiful small rug you did! I hope that you’re able to return to Sarah’s class sometime soon! Nizhoni yee!

    • Thank you for your kind words Mary, I consider it high praise coming from your discerning eye . I hope I can return to Table Mesa too. I would like to attend one of your workshops as well, I’ve seen your videos and like your teaching style. This weaving measures 12″ x 25″, I have spent the day sketching out my next one. It will be 33″ x 43″, I have made only one other this size. I have Zero Brownsheep dealers near me and must mail order all of it. I found that I don’t enjoy spinning a single worsted weight yarn suitable for this type of weaving. I save my spinning projects for finer yarns to use in knitting and crochet. I wanted to go into more detail, but there’s just too much to tell. I must get a Navajo to English Dictionary. Weave in Beauty Mary.

  2. Angie says:

    You really did a very nice summary of the process of Navajo weaving. Your photos are very detailed (a useful thing!). Beautiful rug!

  3. lista says:

    When I come and see what you’ve posted, I notice that they are always so good.

  4. Emil Bayton says:

    With having so much content and articles do you sometimes run into any problems of copyright violation? My site has lots of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any solutions to help stop content from being stolen? I’d definitely appreciate it.

    • I haven’t noticed anyone stealing my content. However, I do see excerpts and pictures floating out on the web. Most of this is due to the “S.E.O.” or search engine optimizing that we do to get our content out in front of people. We would like to think that our blog would just pop up, in its entirety, for those that would find it interesting and useful. What really happens, is the bits and pieces that we “tag” with those keywords pop up in conformity with what people are searching for, and spend time viewing. It’s these random bits and pieces that people click on to find our blog and content. I have a love/hate feeling with it; I hate it because it makes my content appear disjointed, and it’s a bit like Big Brother always watching what we click. I also love it because it’s the way that everyone finds my content, and oddly enough the way I discovered interests in some of the things that I love and enjoy the most. Many patterns that I use are found free on the web, so a copied design wouldn’t infringe on any intellectual property. When I start adding material with a copyright then I’ll protect it.

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