Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
When I started to weave Maria Antonia had brought a whole armful of reeds of different sizes. We are using two medium-sized ones for healds and four thin ones instead of shuttles. The rest have been lying behind the loom. When the rug is about three-quarters finished I notice it is becoming increasingly difficult to pull the heald forward. Furthermore, the batten often snaps. I am not wary, do not know it is going to play me this trick, and when it snaps from horizontal to vertical it gives my fingers a telling rap. Marie, as usual without saying why, gives me a narrow batten which she has brought with her. This helps a great deal, for the warp is becoming by this time tight indeed, so tight that each operation takes much longer than it did.
It is not long before this batten seems too large, and by this time we have a large assortment of them, for at Maria Antonia's request Ninaba has brought them from Atlnaba's hogan. As the warp gets too tight for the batten we are using we change to the next smaller size. The batten we started the blanket with was two thumbs (two and one-half inches) wide, the one we use last is only the width of two warps (about one-quarter inch). The tightness of the warp, ever growing upon us, makes each operation more difficult. It takes more strength to throw the sheds—and the strain the
warps do bear! Occasionally one having become thin as a hair succumbs and we have to piece it, but others, also apparently thin as a hair, seem to have spiderweb strength. Because of the small space through which to operate, it is impossible to use a wound reed for a shuttle. Now I moisten the splintered end of a reed, give the particular weft I am using a twist about it, and carry it like a pushing needle through as far as it will go. Sometimes it goes the entire length, but more frequently the yarn slips off the reed before it has passed quite across the width of the blanket. In such case the yarn must again be coaxed to adhere to the reed, and gently though firmly the combination is thrust through the remaining distance.
We still have about two thumbs' length to go. Marie now takes up her position before the loom. Her hands are working high, and she sits with her legs crossed at the ankles, resting her weight on her knees and toes. This is a position of rest. I try it but find I should have no mind left for my weaving if I assumed it. "How do you ever sit that way, Marie?" I exclaim. "They're always laughing at me for doing so," she smiles back.
But now she is weaving from the top instead of from the bottom. When pressing the weft toward the top the comb occasionally slips out of its place and causes her fingers to rub smartly over the binding cords of the warp beam. In my hands it slips oftener.
We finally get the upper weaving straight. It should have been uniformly straight, but the mistakes, so innocent when they occurred and seemingly corrected, have followed us to the end. Marie never did get the length of that warp on the left side quite even with the right. She, given her head, would
doubtless have been able to correct it to a degree. But she has had to contend with my continual drawing in of the weft, and we have now a kind of fan spread as we approach the upper left corner. The upper black stripe is a thumb wider at the left than at the right. Marie weaves in the diagonal of the stripe. I have less than two inches still to do. I had planned to finish it today, but I have not learned how tedious are these last two inches.
Next day I am up betimes, at work before Marie comes. I like to try out the work by myself and get very little chance. It is increasingly difficult now to get even the narrowest batten between the sheds. But when Marie comes she tells me to use one of the reeds with a flat end which lies among the bunch her mother laid behind the loom. She selects one that is smooth and concave from use. Its end is not more than one-quarter of an inch wide. She also, ruthlessly it seems to me, pulls the heald rod out from the loops it has been holding, winds up the cord that made the heald loops and puts the ball behind the loom to be used again. It is unbelievable that the thickness of such thin soft yarn could make such a difference, but each millimeter of warp release affords a relief.
With one of the flat-ended reeds I struggle on one warp at a time. The work finally becomes so tight that we can no longer use the flattened reeds, and now Maria Antonia plays her last trump. She has a part of an umbrella rib with an eye in one end, blunt on the opposite end. We thread the yarn in this and use it like a beading needle.
It is now impossible to work across the rug, so we take the yarn back and forth for a distance of only three or four inches. I think the top and bottom are so close that not another
weft can be inserted. Whereupon Marie comes after me and works in at least five or six more. After each space is packed sufficiently to suit even Marie, she takes the pointed end of the comb and with brisk rapid motions pulls the upper wefts down, the lower ones up until there is no telling where the join comes. I am working on the next three inches to the left.
"Some people are not careful about the way they finish their rugs," she volunteers. "We always make them very tight so you can't tell where they have been finished. They wear better that way."
At last we get it done, and it is late in the afternoon. This weaving is a time-eater.
I am much excited about taking down the rug. We loosen the large cord of the frame beam and the loom collapses. We untie the ends of the edge strands and take the loom from the loomframe.
We have still to unfasten the rug from the upper and lower beams. Marie begins with the lower, I take the upper. I see that she pulls the long strand out from between each two warps which it fastened. If she comes to a knot where it has been patched she carefully unties it. We have untied every knot we have come upon; it would be almost a sacrilege to cut the string because we never waste anything. At last we have the rug loose.
I lay it on the floor. But somehow it doesn't lie. It looks the embodiment of inherent motion, as if it might get up and walk out the door if we do not watch. It is sinuous. A snake has perfect articulation and musculature. This has neither; neither has it line. It is a thing apart, a form without a name.
[paragraph continues] I am crestfallen. I understand now the struggles of the women early in the genesis of the blanket. I understand how important the edges are. Maria Antonia on her way past the house to the corral stops in. She takes the sacking needle and loosens several edge stitches on each side, thus smoothing out several large gathers. But the rug still does not lie flat. My curiosity about the suggestion Tom previously made about straightening the edges by burying the rug in damp sand is greater than my hopes for its improvement. None of us is proud enough of it to take up the spare lengths of edge warp to form the corner tassels.
I am not like the child, Marie. I have finished my first rug, I must needs show it to my friends. I can always make it a night to go for mail. I wrap up the blanket in a spread flour sack, our substitute for paper, and start rolling off the six miles to the trading-post. I know the blanket is no good; I am disappointed because it is even worse than I expected, but there is a feeling of elation that one is finished. I consider what I have learned rather than the finished product. It is difficult to be downcast in the mellow light of the disappearing sun as it shines on cañon and mesa.
I have no success at achieving a nonchalant attitude as I enter the trading store. At least I restrain myself from showing the blanket to the assembled hangers-on. At last Old Mexican's-Son is free. As I display the blanket to him privately I ask, "How much will you give me for this?" He answers, "Two bits and a pound of coffee." Arbuckle's, he means. I reply it is worth more than that to me, as I wrap it again in its flour sack.
I take it to show to the women. "My first blanket is done,"
[paragraph continues] I announce. They are all dying to see it, but as I slowly and tantalizingly unwrap it, I exact the assurance, "Promise me not to laugh." They promise. As the stripes held together by some sort of irregular rhythm appear and start across the room they burst with one accord into a chorus of merriment.