Workshop: weavers must learn stories too

By Shine Salt
Navajo Times

YAH-TA-HEY, N.M., July 25, 2013

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(Times photo - Shine Salt)

TOP: While working on her first rug, Brianna Brieno, 15, slides the batten through the loom while starting on the next layer of yarn. "I learned to have patience because this takes forever," she said.

SECOND FROM TOP: Catherine James shows her daughter, Calista James, where to begin her next step for her rug design.

THIRD FROM TOP: Tightening her loom, Calista James said she hopes to finish her project by the end of the program on July 26.

T he Navajo people are known for their well-woven rugs, but not many people can tell the basic stories behind them.

As a summer project, about 10 young girls gathered to participate in a weaving project at the Chee Dodge Elementary School here to promote community, student and staff health.

"There's a connection with Navajo traditional crafts because the idea of learning, accomplishing and focusing on something often helps with depression or other kinds of issues that can (lower) self-esteem," said Ann Brendal, the school principal. "Having something beautiful you created helps with self-esteem and generally feeling good about yourself."

The program will continue until Saturday and on the last day, most of the girls will have their rugs finished. On their first day at the project, they went through extensive teachings about warping (strings that loop around the loom that hold the yarns in place).

Isabel Deschinny, a Navajo weaving instructor at the University of New Mexico, showed the young ladies the first steps to weaving a rug: building the warp for the loom and telling the stories behind it.

"When setting up the main part, it took about an hour to do and I told them, 'Remember to do the warping while facing east so the holy people recognize you,'" Deschinny said. "It's a very hard process as a weaver, so this is what a woman must first learn how to do because you're pulling and pushing during that whole time."

Weaving can teach people the basics of respect that Deschinny said is a requirement for any weaver while weaving.

The instructor told the group that while weaving one cannot say bad words, speak bad things, drink or pass objects through the loom because your loom is a person.

"Navajo culture is respecting all that we have, not just the weaving part but other types of artwork as well as people," Deschinny said. "That's what we do as weavers, we're respectful with what we do because it's what we do with our weavings."

A participant in the program, 11-year-old Caitlin James, said for her first rug she chose the colors pink, black, purple and grey because those are her favorite colors.

"It's hard because when you separate the warp, you have to pull it forward and put the batten between them," James said. "My eyes are weird, I grab a lot and so I have to take the whole thing out. Maybe because I've been staring at it for too long."

James joined the program with her older sister, Calista, 15. Both are from Rock Springs, N.M.

Calista said their mom signed them up for the program and she is having fun because it helps her to relax.

"My first design was different than the one I have now. I kept tweaking it and finally came out with the one I like," Calista said.

Deschinny said she learned the teachings of weaving from her mother, who said, "the bottom of the loom is the east, left side is south, top is west and right is north."

The James sisters' mom wanted the teachings to proceed like it did with her family.

"I wanted my daughters to join because I wanted them to experience what I did with my mom because she was a weaver," said their mother, Catherine James. "I want them to be proud of who they are and letting them know our family comes from a line of weavers."

Catherine said she plans to hang her daughters' rugs in their home, so she can tell everyone that they made it themselves.

Chee Dodge Elementary School received a cash grant called Navajo Coordinated Approach to School Health through the Indian Health Service, so the school decided to provide the weaving project.

Brendal said the school has done other events like the weaving project and is hoping to do another that will provide lessons on making moccasins.

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