Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
The next summer I arrive at Ganado to learn that Marie and Tom have gone to Los Angeles, but Red-Point and his family want me to come there. Atlnaba and Maria Antonia will be my teachers. I arrive at White-Sands and receive a welcome the cordiality of which cannot be dulled by shyness. Everything must be just as it was last summer. Maria Antonia bids Ninaba go for a wagon cover but I stop her; I have one of my own this year.
Last year in leaving my pleasant house I felt a pang I was too ashamed to mention at leaving the poker I had used all summer. It was only a stick of a convenient size and shape, strong enough to carry a full coffee-pot, having a fork at the proper distance from the end, just one of those things. I am pleasantly surprised then to find the same poker lying with its point to the fireplace when I reappear.
I wanted to weave last summer; it is understood I shall want to weave again this. I have given the next rug long and serious thought and have concluded to try once more to make what we set out to do last summer. I have modified the design so as to conform to the technique. I will do it in the conventional colors, black, white, and red.
This time Atlnaba strings up the warp, her own spinning. There will be little trouble with this tearing. She notes the
design, changes somewhat the proportions of this one. The green was more than five hands wide by more than six long. This is very little less than four by little less than six. There can be no doubt that these proportions are better for the hourglass design we intend to use.
Strangely no complications enter into this weaving. The warps of the different sheds do not stick together. My hand does not hurt from the continual thumping. Even when the design begins to grow after we lay in a series of narrow stripes, the warp strands seem to know their places. I make mistakes, of course, but find them at once and know, too, how to correct them. The finished web is far from perfect. Atlnaba has tried to catch my errors and has succeeded in bringing wandering strands back to their places.
With Marie and Tom gone, the ranch is short-handed, and Atlnaba must put her mind and effort into duties she was free from last year. She has two large rugs strung up in her small hogan, a sand-painting one and an ordinary one with red background. Besides bearing an additional burden of labor, she does not feel very well, and her own weaving hardly progresses. For these reasons and because I do not need her so much as previously, she often leaves me to work by myself. My blanket when finished has therefore inaccuracies which one of Atlnaba's would not have, but they are what "make it look handmade."
As I advance about halfway to the center it seems to me the combination of black, white, and red is too hard, too glaringly clean. I ask Atlnaba if she has some gray yarn and she gives me a ball of a beautiful dark gray mixture. When she sees that I have introduced it into my side stripes, she is
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A GOOD EDGE
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MY FOURTH RUG WITH PATTERN
FOR THE SECOND
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pleased. She feels with me that the pattern is softened and thereby improved.
The mistake Marie and I made in the hourglass of the green blanket left too much space at each side of the center to be filled in with stripes. But I could have improved the effect had I made the stripes wider. Somehow the narrowness of the stripes detracts from the dignity of the design. This is only a minor lesson the green rug has taught me, and in setting the side stripes of my new rug I guard against changing the colors too often.
We need not wait until the blanket is finished to see that the changed proportions—longer and narrower—the accurate placing of the pattern, the introduction of the soft dark gray, and the widening of the side stripes combine to make a vast improvement.
My delight in weaving has now a quiet satisfied character. The matter-of-fact attitude of my family has communicated itself to me. I let Atlnaba take a turn at the weaving just as her mother might and have no qualms of conscience. When I complained of not being able to see the edge pulling in, one of my white friends suggested that I tie a string from the cloth beam to the top of the loom so that I could constantly measure the distance of the web from a fixed point. I have done this, and it adds materially to my perspective. Maria Antonia and Atlnaba consider it a good idea.
We have visitors again this year. Many of them are women who were here last year. One day Maria Antonia brings Tom's aunt, the one we brought with us from the girl's sing last summer, to visit while Atlnaba is with me. We are discussing the pattern. Atlnaba has suggested that a small gray triangle within the innermost white one of the concentric triangle
combination would be nice. And still another good pattern would be a step motive within the red triangle running in toward the center white one and breaking up the rather large white space. We tell the newcomers of these ideas, and they approve. Tom's aunt says she would outline each of the triangles in a contrasting color, the red with black, the black with red.
I should like any of the modifications. None would be difficult. The outlining means additional work, but is very typical of Navajo weaving. When Atlnaba made the small blanket with the comb pattern for me, she picked up and dropped thirty different weft threads in weaving a single row across the middle. A good weaver of course never considers how much work a pattern is. She sees it as a finished whole and exerts herself to accomplish the ideal.
This summer a number of interesting blankets are brought to the trader. There is a revival, under the encouragement of trade, of the blankets made of vegetal dyes. I happen in at the trading-post one day when an expert at this type of weave brings in her blanket. It is a soft harmonious combination of dark gray, black, white, a yellowish green and two shades of rose, the color of the sand cliffs. The effect is indescribable and impossible of reproduction.
The trader and I sink to the floor at the sides of the spread rug, the weaver lights at the end. She tells us what each dye is made of. The plants whose roots, leaves, stems, or blossoms furnish the materials are scarce nowadays and it requires a great deal of labor to gather enough to dye sufficient yarn. As we talk over the details several other women come in, sit as lightly as the first, and unobtrusively add their information.
The trader pulls out other blankets dyed with natural colors as the talk goes on. Each one brings forth some bit of new knowledge or an opinion on texture or pattern.
The so-called vegetable dye fabrics may legitimately be termed blankets. The kind I have been weaving, the most ordinary type, might better be called rugs. For they are tight and firm in texture and therefore somewhat stiff and hard, at least when new. They become softer and more pliable with wear. The constant wear of tramping feet brings out all latent flexibility.
But the vegetal dye blankets are in a class by themselves. They have a style which is theirs alone. From their very inception they are delightfully yielding. The warp of their foundation is coarser than the one we use. The strands are separated by heavier twining yarn, which causes them to stand farther apart than those to which we are accustomed. The weft yarn is thicker but more loosely spun.
I return from the interview with the conviction that what I have learned is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what there is to know. Not only must I learn the plants and minerals used in the dyes, but also where to find them and the long tedious processes of concoction. Nevertheless I shall never be content until I have sometime made a blanket of this type.
Another of our visitors is a schoolgirl who in spite of her education is interested in weaving. She has been back at her home long enough to take it up intensively again. I have James' Indian Blankets and Their Makers with its many colored illustrations. She and Atlnaba leaf it over by the hour until I think the whole book will disintegrate. They happen
upon a photograph of Atlnaba taken when she was only five. She was then called "The Little Weaver."
They criticise the designs in the book. They like the old-fashioned ones best. The girl likes one so well she sketches it to take home with her. But they have no tolerance for quaintness as such. If an old design is badly placed or irregularly executed, they condemn it as heartily as they do mine. Age does not excuse bad technique to them.
Much is said about keeping designs open so that the weaver "does not weave her spirit in." The idea is still believed by some women. Atlnaba makes many rugs with borders. The tapestry of the Sun's House has a black border. But at the upper right-hand corner she has run one gray thread across the border to serve as a "path." The little red-background rug she made for me also has a black border, but it is unbroken.
From the discussion and criticisms of my guests this day I gather that many designs with openings, especially those which are irregular are really due to miscalculations and ill-adjustments. They may be later rationalized as "sacred." One figure is, because of its age and texture, a beautiful piece; these modern weavers have nothing but scorn for it. The separate motives are not woven regularly, nor are they well spaced. My critics and teachers refuse to make a rationalization for "holiness." They continue with their remarks, leafing the pages over and over and back again to begin once more.