The other day Elena and I had a long conversation about weaving a Navajo style piece (ie., four selvedges, no fringe!) on a Mirrix Loom. We came up with one great idea. I tried it. It failed. Sad face. Then we rethought the whole thing. I tried it. Epic success! Elena smiled. I smiled. I will now share!
What you need to accomplish this: a couple of lengths of texslov cord, two thin metal rods, some strong string (I used Seine Twine) and the usual: warp and weft.
First, set up the thin bars on the back of the loom by wrapping two lengths of texslov cord around the loom and sticking both bars into the cord. This is the point where you can decide the length of your piece based on how high the loom is set and where you insert the bars. With this method, you will be able to weave a piece longer than the length of the loom.
Next, warp the loom by simply wrapping the warp around each bar, hopping from one to the other by passing around the front of the loom and then heading back to the back. It’s really easy. There will be a space where there is no warp between the two bars.
When you are done warping, use the Seine Twine to zig-zag back and forth between the bars (in the space that is empty) so that you can remove the cord and so that the bars do not bend under tension.
Remove the cord. Loosen your tension. Move the bottom bar around the bottom beam to the from of the loom at the top of the bottom beam. Tighten your tension.
Start weaving! When you’ve woven as far up on the front of the loom as you can, loosen your tension and rotate your piece to the back of the loom. You will weave right up to the second bar. When you are done, there will be no fringe. You can also add the shedding device which you can use until you have about four inches left. I got so excited I did not pause to install the shedding device. I did insert a thin metal bar to keep one shed open. And I will eventually attach the shedding device.
Have you tried doing something similar on your Mirrix Loom? How did you do it? Let us know in the comments!
I am going to approach my next subject, Navajo weavings, a little differently. Rather than jump into the history of Navajo weaving, I am going first talk about the weavings themselves and the equipment that was used. In part two of this blog I will talk about the actual history.
I would guess that anyone reading this blog already has some knowledge about Navajo weavings. Whether you’ve read about them, seen pictures of them or, if you’re lucky, have seen the weavings in person, the term Navajo weaving will bring a very specific image to mind. You will remember the stripes and the patterns, the symmetry, the lack of fringe and the density of the fabric. You might also get an image in your head of the vertical looms which are unique to Navajo weaving. Navajo weavings share certain aspects with other weavings, but they also have distinguishing qualities that set them far apart from all other weavings.
The quality and beauty and tradition of Navajo weaving continues and thrives to this day. The journey of this weaving is the journey of a nation. There is a common thread that follows from the first weaving traditions borrowed from the Pueblos to the rugs that are meticulously woven today. But before I launch into that journey, I want to talk about the process of Navajo weaving from the preparation of the loom to the weaving itself.
Warp which is usually wool for endurance is not put directly on a Navajo loom. This is a very important difference between the way any other upright loom is prepared for weaving. The Navajo loom itself is just a simple, sturdy frame. Often they were made from tree trunks. The point was to be sturdy. The warp itself is prepared off the loom and then placed onto the loom.
Because the Navajos at one point became nomadic, this was a key aspect to their weaving. They could remove the a weaving in progress from a loom and travel to a new place where they would build another loom and place the weaving in progress on it. Check out this YouTube video on how to prepare the warp.
The continuous warp is prepared in such a way that the top and bottom is twined to a rod. A figure eight is used to wrap the warp around two poles that are attached to a warping frame. The width and height of the weaving is determined at this point. An edging cord is twined on each end of the weaving which spaces the warp and creates the end selvedges. Next, these twined ends are bound onto poles with heavy twine. Those poles will be attached to the loom frame with heavy cords. This is what creates the tension on the warp. The spacing of the warp will be finely adjusted once on the loom.
When the weaving is completed, those top and bottom edges will be finished. In other words, there will be no fringe and there will be instead a row of twining. (note: there are a couple of exceptions to this no fringe rule such as the Germantown weavings which in rare occasions had fringe added and the Gallup throws that were sold to train passengers in the 1920s and 30s and were not made on traditional Navajo looms. But for our purposes, I am going to be talking exclusively about the Navajo weavings made on traditional Navajo looms.)
In addition, as the weaving is made, twining can also be to the side selvedges in order to add strength and decoration. Because of this, the final weaving consists of four finished and twined selvedges with the twining emerging as strings from each corner of the weaving. A real Navajo weaving will never have fringe.
Other tools used by the Navajos include: battens, heddle rod, beaters, shuttle stick, small wooden needles, the Navajo spindle, hand carders.
Heddle rods with heddles that are attached to the warp threads (there are two, one for each shed) are used to create the shed. A batten, which is a flat stick with a point, is stuck in the shed to keep it open. Beaters are made of wood and are used to beat down the weft. A shuttle stick can be used to pass the weft through the shed. Small wooden needles are used to weave the weft once the weaving is too close to the top to use the shedding device and batten.
The Navajo spindle has a very long shaft which is rolled along the spinners thigh. Hand carders are used to prepare the wool for spinning.
What qualities are inherent in a Navajo weaving?
Navajo rugs have between 30 to 80 wefts to the linear inch which determines the quality of the weaving.
Several important aspects of a Navajo weaving set it apart from all other tapestries or weavings. As I already mentioned, they have four finished selvedges and no fringe. The design, colors and intricacy of a Navajo weaving is the creation of the weaver herself (and yes, women were the weavers although today men also sometimes are weavers). No pattern is used to create it. Rather the weaving comes from the weaver’s mind informed by her world and the world of her ancestors. I want to note here that the warps themselves are never marked. In order to create certain patterns, tuffs of fleece are stuck between the warp threads to mark spacing and then, obviously, removed as the weaving progresses.
A few very specific techniques are employed to make a Navajo weaving. The wefts are discontinuous. In order to create joins in color areas weft interlock technique is used. The two wefts loop around each other in between the warp threads rather than around the warp threads themselves. The reason for this is quite simple: it builds up less thread at the join. But it still does build up higher at the join and therefore weft has to be inserted on the sides of the join in order to build up those areas. Weaving is always done on the fell line. In other words, once the shed is created all the wefts are woven and then a new shed is created.
Even when weaving a solid stripe, the weft threads are discontinuous. The weaver will weave a weft only as far as it is comfortable for her hands or the length of the batten (the stick that is placed in the shed to keep it open . . . a wide weaving will have several battens). The joins between the wefts in solid areas are usually built up at a diagonal. The line that is created at these joins is called a “lazy line.” This allows a weaver to create a wide fabric without having the weft travel from one side to the other. Although this is not something I’ve read, from my experience weaving tapestry, this would also help eliminate pull in from the side selvedges.
And then there is the Weaver’s Pathway or Spirit Line. This is a small, thin line that extends from the center of the design field and across the border to the outer edge of the rug. It is frequently placed near a corner and its color is the same as the background color of the weaving. The concept is that the weaver must release her energy and spirit from the weaving so that she may have it to create the next one.
Symmetry both horizontally and vertically is an important design element of Navajo weavings that do not include pictures. One corner of the rug is duplicated for the other three corners. When the weaver reaches the middle of the weaving, she repeats it exactly. Since the warp is a static length, it takes great talent and technique to perfect this symmetry. When you look at a complex Navajo weaving you can see how difficult this is to accomplish.
Pictorial Navajo weavings represent a radical departure from the traditional symmetrical, patterned Navajo weavings. They are the only examples of a total random placement of images. The first examples of this date back to 1864 but with rare exceptions the first pictorial weavings did not arrive until the end of the nineteenth century.
And then there are the wedge weaves. It may have been a new way to achieve the lightening bolt designs of their eye dazzlers.
Diagonal stripes are woven which thereby distort the vertical orientation of the warps threads. This creates scalloped edges.
Cotton was initially used for Navajo (and Pueblo) weaving but gave way to wool when the spaniards introduced the Churro sheep in the 16th century. In the second half of this history I will more fully address the comings and goings of various materials for Navajo weaving.
Stay tuned for part two where I will explore the history of Navajo weaving.
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The Mirrix Looms Ambassador program hopes to unite Mirrix Looms (both the company and the products) with talented bead and tapestry weavers from around the world. By connecting these gifted artists, quality weaving equipment and the networks of both, the hope is to simultaneously increase awareness of each ambassador and of Mirrix products.
Each ambassador will have a unique role, but you can expect instructional blog posts, project ebooks, inspiration and more from these amazing artists.
Today, we are very excited to introduce our third Mirrix Looms Ambassador, Natalie Novak.
How long have you been weaving and what first attracted you to tapestry weaving?
Not long at all! I only started weaving in early 2012. I had spent the previous fall and winter checking out every weaving book I could find at the library, at first I mostly focused on Southwestern textiles, (Navajo, Zapotec, Rio Grande), but my curiousity quickly spiraled out to include anything weaving related. At a certain point it was obvious to me that my interest was going beyond casual observer and I could hear the loom calling my name.
What formal weaving/tapestry training do you have?
I’m really lucky to live near The Damascus Fiber Arts School, which is amazing! I learned Navajo style weaving from Audrey Moore and tapestry from Terry Olson. They’re incredible teachers and weavers and they’ve created a great community there. It’s funny in a way because I attended the Oregon College of Art and Craft 10-15 years ago and they have a really great fibers department, but I was there for painting and drawing so the only fiber class I ever took was Surface Design with Lisa O’brien. I remember there being an entire room full of floor looms and I’d always walk through really quickly or avoid it entirely because I was afraid I’d break them somehow. They looked so complicated and intense!
What kinds of looms do you currently weave on?
I have a Navajo style loom made by Duncan Fiber Enterprises and a variety of frame looms: copper pipe ala Archie Brennan, Glimakra and some gorgeous wooden frames that my husband made; it helps that he’s a furniture maker.
How do your tapestries and paintings relate to one another? In other words, what makes you decide to weave something in tapestry versus painting it?
Right now I’m weaving everything. I’m obsessed! Initially I was working only with geometric shapes and color relationships in my woven work because it felt so different from painting, it seemed so structured. But there’s definitely a shift taking place and my approach and subject matter in tapestry are getting closer to how I think about painting, which has always been very narrative for me. When I think about making work now, I think about painting mostly in conjunction with other woven works. When I ask myself why something should be woven I can always come up with an answer that adds to the meaning of the piece.
What are your three favorite tapestries?
This question is way too hard! I guess the first pictorial works that really blew me away were some of Mark Adams’ designs; I remember thinking, “Wait, that’s tapestry?” I couldn’t believe these psychedelic, technicolor artworks were made with the same techniques as the medieval/renaissance tapestries I was more familiar with. My favorites are the three pieces in “The Garden Suite” which hangs at the San Francisco Airport and “Queen of Heaven.” Can I count this as one?
I also really love Gunta Stolzl’s Bauhaus work; it’s so modern and timeless. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess “Slit Tapestry Red/Green” is at the top of my list.
I recently took a workshop from Joan Baxter and so I have to include one of her beautiful pieces. She really understands color and has a way of creating the illusion of transparency in her tapestry, which isn’t easy to do. I’m impressed by just about everything she’s made, but “Waterforest” is my favorite.
What are your favorite and/or “go to” tapestry techniques?
Greetings Weaving Friends!
My friend posted a picture of her grandmother on Facebook. They are Diné (Navajo) and her grandmother is a master weaver. “Margaret Dalton, 91 years old born back in 1923, of Ft. Defiance, Arizona had completed this rug back in the 1950s in time for the opening of Navajo Arts & Crafts Enterprise in 1961. The rug pictured is actually folded over 4 times in order to hang properly on the wall. It is made of natural dye and woven in the form of a geometric design. The rug measures over 150 feet by 50 feet in width.” (see the source link above).