Navajo Weaving


Navajo weaving is a tapestry technique which produces a reversible textile. Originally used by the Navajo weavers to make blankets, the technique translated very well to rug-making, which commenced in the late 1800's.

As with all tapestry weaving, Navajo weaving progresses slowly, as each area of color is laid into the warp separately, one piece at a time. However, speed develops along with "muscle memory:, as your fingers become used to holding the tools and manipulating the yarns, and your eyes learn to distinguish the pattern elements.

This semester we are introducing Saturday classes for Navajo weaving. For more information, see below.

Our Method

We teach Navajo weaving in three stages:

1. The Fundamentals. The weaver learns the Navajo method for making and mounting the warp; how to use fork and batten until it becomes automatic; how to weave with the vertical hook join, how to correct mistakes, and how to finish a four-selvedge textile. The book Navajo Weaving Way by Noel Bennett and Tiana Bighorse is used to support the process. We also explain the historical evolution of Navajo design and show photos of pieces exemplifying the different periods.

This phase of the learning process focuses on the fundamental techniques of managing the tools and fiber, as well as learning the Navajo ethos of patience, adaptability, and quietude while weaving. Learning the fundamentals usually can be accomplished in one 6-week (or 3-week extended) session, especially if the student weaves at home as well.

The student may continue to work at this level, with or without edge cords, until she feels ready to proceed to new techniques.

2. Intermediate. Once the student is comfortable with using the tools and working with the vertical join, we introduce the diagonal and the turned join, and the use of edge cords. As part of learning how to use edge cords, the new weaver will also be introduced to the use of the Navajo hip spindle. In this phase, we concentrate on developing fluidity and ease of weaving, and continue to learn ways of fixing mistakes. The weaver may also begin to learn how to create her own designs or modify existing ones, and how to mix techniques in a single textile, or continue with one structure at a time to develop confidence.

After stages 1 and 2, the student should be able to weave independently, design her own patterns, adjust a design to changing requirements, and weave larger pieces. It is not necessary to continue to stage 3.

3. Advanced. At this stage the weaver may learn Coal Mine Raised Edge, weaving twills, tufting, and double weave. These techniques differ from the standard techniques in that they use multiple heddles, a different way of handling the edges of design areas, or the introduction of supplementary weft elements. A sampler employing all of these techniques might be woven, using instructions from Bennett's Designing With the Wool, or the weaver can create an original design.

Scheduling Classes

As our classes are all mixed classes, Navajo weaving students can attend any of the regularly scheduled sessions on Tuesday or Thursday mornings, 9:30-noon, or Tuesday evening 6-9 PM. However, we are making additional time available exclusively for Navajo weaving. You may register for Saturday class, which can be a regular 2 1/2 hour session, from 9:30-noon, or a double session(5 hour plus lunch). Moreover, these sessions do not need to be taken in consecutive weeks; for example, you may schedule a double session every other Saturday, or even once a month. This way, we can accomodate students who need to travel longer distances, or who wish to complete work at home in between sessions.

Tuition includes the use of all looms and tools, as well as materials for pieces up to 12 x 18 size. We offer the use of a simple portable loom by Mark Deschinny, a Cactus Flower portable loom, or a floor model which can weave a rug about 24" x 36" (Additional wool may be purchased directly from R.B. Burnham). The tuition of $130 covers at total of 15 hours of instruction - six 2 1/2 hour classes or three 5 hour classes. When you have completed one 15-hour session you may continue on from where you are simply by registering for another.