Ariz. - Beneath the shady arbor on the campus of Diné College,
Sarah Natani demonstrated the art of carding and spinning wool,
while her sister Irma Henderson instructed students in the art of
drop spinning wool from her own herd of Churro sheep over the mountain
at Two Grey Hills, N.M.
whose day job is as a psychiatric health worker for Indian Health
Service, has found the benefits of spinning.
is relaxing, I get really stressed by my work, and so I come home
and spin for hours. It is really stress releasing. It helps process
things when you are spinning," said Henderson, as she stretched
a cord of wool and wrapped it around the wooden spindle.
begins the process each year in the spring, shearing her herd of
Churro sheep in April and May.
take all the foreign matter out from the wool and dry it, to get
it ready to wash," she said. For Two Grey Hills Trading Post
yarns, Henderson has the wool washed and carded into loose ropes
at a wool mill. Natural colors of brown, grey and tan - the colors
of traditional Two Grey Hills tapestries and rugs - are sold to
weavers at the trading post.
from the hurry of the world, students sat calmly beneath the shade
on a hot summer day in June and patiently spun wool into yarn for
weaving. They are students at the "Sheep is Life Celebration,"
which offers classes in carding, spinning and weaving, and even
a class to write about it.
the spinning class, be-neath the shade, there is the traditional
Navajo spindle, placed on the ground next to the seated spinner,
and the drop spindle, which is dropped from the hand while the yarn
many Navajos weave with traditional and contemporary patterns, few
continue the art of carding and spinning wool from their own sheep.
But in areas like Two Grey Hills, N.M. and the western Navajo region
of Tuba City and Shonto in Arizona, it is being kept alive. The
preferred wool is from the Churro sheep, known as the ancient and
traditional sheep of Navajos.
maintain the integrity of the work, the wool needs to be from the
Churro sheep," said Hendersons husband, Les Wilson, a
trader at Two Grey Hills Trading Post for 21 years and married to
Irma for 12 years.
of our job at the trading post is to make sure it does not disappear,"
said the drop spinning method came to Navajos from South America.
"A lot of people in South America spin as they herd sheep and
do other things."
this class for beginners, Henderson has added a modern element to
the spinning process. A used compact disc is placed on a wooden
rod for the spindle, offering learners a less expensive spindle
than the wooden spindle.
can drop it as much as you want and it wont break," Henderson
the traditional Navajo method of spinning from Hendersons
sister, Sarah Natani, is Zuni Ishikawa from Japan. Ishikawa said
she became interested in weaving during her travels through Japan
while in her 20s and later learned weaving at Big Mountain.
Japan, she watched as hemp and silk were spun for weaving. Here,
she finds the secret to spinning.
is good for the heart and mind, to clean up myself. It is healing."
She said that spinning is addictive, in a non-harmful way.
puts your mind at peace."
demonstrating spinning and carding, Natani offered advice on washing
the fresh sheared wool.
you wash the wool, leave some grease on it," she said as she
demonstrated carding the sheared fleece into wool that was smooth
handle it too much or it will get mad at you."
find that it only looks simple.
takes a lot of practice," said Natani, who has taught her craft
in Rome, Italy, and been the special guest at a weaving exhibit
in China. Natani, of Sanostee, N.M., teaches weaving at Diné
College in Shiprock, N.M.
lot of students want to start learning from scratch," Natani
said, adding that it takes about a year of practice to learn spinning.
She said the basics of traditional weaving could be learned in her
Sky of Phoenix, seated and spinning in the traditional Navajo way,
said the workshops also offer a way to make new friends. "Im
enjoying the company of all these fine fiber artists. There are
wonderful people here."
the spinning and carding beneath the shade was Millie Allen, Navajo
from nearby Upper Wheatfields, who like many Navajos wants to recapture
the craft of her childhood.
interested in weaving, processing wool and making yarns. I remember
my grandmother used to raise sheep and goats. She never went to
the store to buy her wool," Allen said.
nearby was her mother, Mae Toheedliinii. Allen said, "I
asked her if she could give me her old cards."
is Life Workshops," held June 21 - 24 at Diné College,
included Bertha Chees weaving class, with braided, diamond
and changing heddle styles of twill weaving taught as family stories
Natanis weaving students learned how to warp a loom, weave
stripes and a design using the vertical interlock method. Natani
shared Navajo regional designs, natural plant dyes, dynamics of
spinning wool using the "S" and "Z" twist, spinning
Navajo 3-ply method, Navajo twill weavings and Navajo creation stories.
also taught students to spin fiber using a spinning wheel and how
to put spun fiber into skeins using a Niddy Noddy, made from PVC
Navajo dyeing of yarn was taught by Isabel Deschinny, daughter of
the late Mabel Burnside who created a dye chart of natural plants
used in Navajo weaving, which became a popular collectors
item. Deschinny uses only plants, natural mordants and water to
make her yarn dyes. Only a few Navajos continue to collect plants
and use natural dyes to color yarn for weaving.
Sheep to Story: How to Weave Personal Experience Stories",
was the unique class encouraging everyone to tell their own stories,
with the admonition that everyone has a story to tell. Rebecca Lynn
Cross and Sally E. Said offered the class in an effort to preserve
the stories and lifeways using a method developed at Diné
College. One of the suggested topics for writing was, "When
I learned to herd sheep." The stories were printed and shared.
information on future workshops, contact Roy Kady or Racheal Dahozy
at (928) 871-4991 or visit http://www.navajolifeway.org.