Wearing biil carries on legacy of Diné weaving

By Tina Deschenie
Special to the Times

AZTEC, N.M., June 21, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Tina Deschenie)

TOP: Genevieve Hardy, of Fort Defiance, displays her woven clothing at the National Geographic Geotourism event held at the Aztec Ruins National Monument on June 2.

SECOND FROM TOP: Genevieve Hardy displays the chief blanket design set that includes a top meant for a male with a matching dress for the female.

THIRD FROM TOP: Weaver and designer Genevieve Hardy with her children Anjanette Hawk and Adrian Hardy who model their mother's woven clothing.

A s the graduation season continues, it is amazing to see in the Navajo Times photographs of the many gorgeous biil, or Diné woven dresses, worn by the female graduates.

In recent years, it seems there are far more woven dresses than the velveteen skirt and blouse sets.

This change back to an older style of Diné dresses could be interpreted, at least in part, as young women reclaiming the history of the traditional woven dress and expressing their pride in the matriarchal legacy of weaving.

In the past, it was mainly families with weavers that had access to woven dresses. Thankfully, today there are more and more weavers who are willing to weave dresses for a price. Sometimes one can even find such dresses for sale in trading posts or other clothing outlets, but they are usually limited in size and pattern.

Knowing all this, it was a real treat to become acquainted with Genevieve Hardy at a gathering to celebrate the Four Corners Geotourism website launch at the Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec on June 2.

Having seen her business on the geotourism website earlier that week, I recognized her booth banner right away. The mannequins on her tabletop were decked out in clothing that quickly attracted people.

Expecting to see only the woven dresses she advertises online, I was amazed to see the variety in clothing items she displayed: black-and-white halter tops with laced-up backs, a red-and-black vest, a red-and-black baby dress, and even a man's top featuring a white and grey Navajo chief blanket design.

The array of full-length woven dresses dazzled the eyes: black with red patterns on the hem, white and grey in a chief rug design to match the man's top (per Genevieve, "a set" meant to serve as outfits for a wedding couple), blue with white stepped designs, and black with an angled grey design on the skirt.

The Fort Defiance native says that she grew up watching her mother weave and that she learned to the craft by helping her mother "fix the mistakes in her weaving."

She recalls that she "used to undo the sections needing to be rewoven."

Then, as a mother to growing young daughters, Hardy started to sew their clothing.

"I made prom dresses and other formal wear," she said. "At first, I used patterns, but then I learned to sew without them."

Hardy also took drafting in high school and worked as a land surveyor at one time. She credits all of these experiences for her ability to weave rugs and to structure them into various clothing pieces.

Her interest in contemporary fashion inspired her to design the halter tops with back lacing that she now includes in her line of apparel.

She also strives to vary the patterns and designs that she weaves into the clothing, adding, "I want people to recognize the clothing I've made."

In fact, each item has the letter G woven into the hem or into part of the design as her personal brand.

"I never owned a biil of my own when I was younger," Hardy said.

However, she decided her daughters should wear the garments as they grew up and she started designing and weaving them.

Anjanette Hawk, 24, her daughter and a recent University of New Mexico graduate, smiles broadly as she describes the two dresses that her mother wove for her – one for her graduation ceremony and another for her graduation reception.

When Hardy's other daughter produced her first granddaughter, she wove her a miniature dress when she was still an infant.

"I made it so that she could grow into it," she notes.

Staying true to the intention of her start in clothing production, Hardy continues to weave for her immediate family.

Her children rally around her business in many ways. Anjanette serves as the primary model for the lines of clothing, and is also featured in all the promotional materials for Hardy's business.

At fashion shows, her daughter walks the runway to help show off her mother's designs.

Even Adrian Hardy, 9, her son, has modeled for his mother's work although, she said, "He doesn't always like to."

At the booth on June 2, Anjanette obliged her mother by slipping on a forest-green top with black detailing to demonstrate to the customers how the back laced up.

Later on, Adrian pulled on a vest over his T-shirt so that his mother could point out the constellation images woven into the front and back.

Hardy suggests that anyone ordering a woven clothing item should place an order at least six months in advance.

She adds that she is most busy during the fall and winter months weaving dresses for those planning to wear them for graduations in the spring.

Using a detailed order form, the weaver requires specific measurements and encourages her customers to identify their preferred designs, patterns and colors. The prices of her clothing vary but the average price of a full-length woven dress is $800.

After visiting with Genevieve Hardy, an observer may contemplate how satisfying it must be to weave such dresses for one's own daughters or granddaughters.

Her parting words were, "Anything is possible."

An inspirational woman, Genevieve Hardy is one of many weavers keeping a rich and long tradition alive among the Diné.

I am proud of all the women who honorably wear their biil. The wearing of such garments brings to mind the photographs of Juanita, wife to Chief Manuelito, wearing her biil.

In fact, Juanita's granddaughter, Jennifer Nez Denetdale, curated an exhibit that displayed her grandmother biil at the Navajo Nation Museum from 2010 to 2011. That rare dress, dating from the late 1800s, drew numerous visitors during the time it was on exhibit.