Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
The stripes of my lower border are done, and quite nice they look too. The weft is only slightly tight and corrected after very little pulling in. I have no idea how to lay out the design. It is a simple pattern involving only concentric triangles which extend from the lower stripes to the center, and stripes along the sides. The design is calculated to occupy half the extent of the blanket and to be repeated in reverse for the second half.
Marie sits before the loom. She takes up a handful of warp on each side, seeing to it that each hand has the same number of warps. She drops them and repeats the even counting until she reaches the center warp. At the top of this warp she ties a little piece of weft yarn. She knows it is the middle warp although she does not know how many she has altogether; she has discovered it by balancing each strand on the right with one on the left.
She next measures with a string the length of the blanket, halves the string and with my pencil marks the center of the length. She now tries to fit her design into the space. She is getting a triangular pattern. I know she manipulates the threads regularly, but I am not able to figure out the rhythm. Marie continues to "show" me. I try it myself. Marie sees it is wrong, leans over, and picks up the proper warps through
which I should carry the white, the green, the white again, and I go on. For a while it seems to be all right; then soon again she corrects me. I flounder along, blindly really, because I have no way of knowing when I include one more warp with the green to the left, one more with the white. I know of course that after I have done it at the right, I advance one strand to the right at the left side.
By the time "the sun has moved to the middle" we have the beginnings of three large concentric triangles. We stop work to eat. My trunk is the point from which I get my perspective. As I chew the mutton Maria Antonia has given me, it seems to me the triangles are going to be complete long before we reach the center. Their sides are leaning in very fast, their base angles are sharply acute. My drawing calls for a more nearly equiangular triangle.
I hurry my lunch so I can try to work out the advances in the stitches alone. I don't care if the result is bad; I care if I know what I am doing. And I know I don't. Sneakingly and with a guilty feeling I experiment. But Marie has hurried with her lunch also. She is not going to let me ruin this blanket. So we continue. If I pick up the wrong strands she shows me the correct ones.
Red-Point is home today. He comes up for a smoke and a talk. He no more than gets settled on the trunk when he notices the pattern. He goes over to the loom and points out what I had remarked to myself. "If you continue this way, the top of the triangle will come here," he tells Marie, indicating with a finger a point nearly a hand below the center. "In her drawing, Weaving-Woman has it at the center." This old sage has plotted too many sand-paintings not to notice
the error at a glance. Marie says "Unh!" and we proceed as before.
Marie weaves a great deal on this blanket. Eagerly watching, I feel as she felt when as a little girl she eyed her mother and tried to learn what made the design. She, however, unlike her mother, is not unwilling to help me all she can. She "shows" me patiently each time I need to advance or to withdraw. The only thing she does not allow me is to make mistakes alone. Take them out also if need be, but get understanding I must. However, I finish this day with a feeling of absolute futility. Am I so dull that I cannot grasp this apparently simple point?
The next day we continue to work in the same way. There are moments when I think I have a flash of comprehension; but the flash burns out, and my theory does not hold.
I need supplies and mail, and I spend the night with my white friends. Next day the trader's niece decides to visit me. Cha is a dainty girl who has been brought up with boy cousins. As she dons her corduroy trousers and her blue shirt she declares, "I will be home when my shirt is too dirty to wear." "Or when we need food," I supplement her remark as we drive off.
Arrived at my hogan, Cha takes up a reclining position on the length of my bed roll, where she intends to read a thousand-page volume of detective stories. "You know, Cha, I have been weaving at this design two days, and I don't really understand it yet." Instead of reading her detective stories she watches me. We discuss the problem at length, and all too soon it is noon. With elaborate politeness I share the trunk with Cha, and not thinking much of what we eat we scrutinize and criticise every thread of the blanket. Cha was one of
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MY FIRST RUG
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DIVERSION DAM AFTER THE TORNADO
the group who laughed at my first rug, but like Red-Point and the rest, she laughed with me, not at me.
"We are going to reach the top of the triangle long before the center, as Red-Point said," I tell her.
"Yes, and the blanket is cock-eyed," says Cha. "See how much wider the stripes are on the left than on the right."
"You can't imagine how dumb I feel. Here we have been making triangles for nearly two days and we are nearly at the middle, and I don't really understand how to do them. Marie must somehow know how the warps look, or she must have some way of telling."
"Why don't you ask her to count?" suggests Cha.
When Marie comes soon after, I tell her she must call off the counts of the warps under which she places the weft as she works. She is amused but willing. As I sit, pencil and pad in hand, she does so. I learn then, much to my surprise, that she takes up an extra strand every fourth row, then relapses to the usual count. The extra warp being taken up at this place advances our diagonal line just as we wish. After Marie has proved to me by repetition that this is the case I try it myself, and it turns out to be the proper solution to my confusion. For some time hereafter we count as we weave.
Red-Point visits us again, greets Cha heartily as "Old-Mexican's-granddaughter-my-granddaughter." He points out once more the faults of my blanket, and we ask Marie why it looks so one-sided. She says it is because the warp on the right side is finer than that on the left, a matter she did not allow for in planning the rug. She should have allowed more warps on the right than on the left in locating her center.
We have advanced far enough to finish the innermost of the concentric triangles, a white one. Almost immediately
thereafter Marie begins to finish off the green one, really a triangle made hollow by the white one inside it. I do nothing about the finishing off of the triangles because I do not know how. But I have designed my blanket so that these triangles are blunt instead of coming to a point. Without saying a word Marie works on them. Four of them, green, white, black, and white, get their bluntness by a kind of crown effect very awkward to the eye. After thinking about this matter a long time and discussing its pros and cons Cha and I decide that it cannot be done any other way, or at least any better way.
The mistake is in the designing; the Navajo never do it thus. If they start a triangle, they finish it. We are now working the design in the center, leaving unwoven spaces on both sides. I will fill them in with stripes when Marie stops working on the center. I shall proceed just as I have done in weaving the stripes in two portions. I notice we avoid making our loop joins at the exact completion of a design, the outer boundary of the triangle, for example. I have already noted that other weavers do this also. A woman may work on a particular portion of a design, often the center one first. I can see no reason why she should weave a six-inch space instead of twelve or fifteen inches. But I have never seen one who wove just the design and then filled in. She always weaves a part of the background, so that the almost imperceptible diagonal line, distinguishable by little holes left by two wefts looping over neighboring warps, comes at some place other than where two colors meet.
Marie has now come to the end of our triangles; they are blunted and complete. Since our errors have changed the entire plan of the design, now is the time for me to suggest a
change. But I have no suggestion to make. So Marie keeps the two side panels distinct even as I had planned. But she does so by setting off a central white portion by means of straight black lines. I had made no provision in my design for learning how to make straight vertical lines, so here, as in other cases, mistakes teach me more than accuracy.
The vertical lines are easy to keep track of, the only difficult part is regulating the tension. I therefore find the warps spreading unduly as I weave. Although my finished product will be disappointing, I am nevertheless glad that this element of design is introduced. It is an important one, one I must learn sooner or later. I know it now but do not control it very well.
Except for regulating the pull of the vertical line, the weaving has once more settled into a plain stripe web. The expanse of white in the center is growing. It is becoming un-pleasing in its extent.
"Don't you think we're getting too much white in the center?" I say to Cha the third day of her visit. She has not gone very far with her stories, for she is as fascinated by the weaving as I am. Although I allow her quiet to read, her eye nevertheless roves from book to loom and reluctantly and briefly back to the book.
She agrees. I keep on weaving in the white space. Cha complains of hunger. I tell her to eat what she can find—there are crackers, the only food we have which does not need cooking or can-opening. We used our last bread for breakfast; crackers even though reinforced by coffee do not really stand by one for the whole afternoon. It is past mid-afternoon and as Cha rises from the blanket roll Marie comes in again. She looks at the rug with an appraising eye.
Cha sinks onto the trunk with a cracker in each hand and begins to examine the rug with Marie. "An awful lot of white in the center, don't you think?" Marie agrees. I suggest, "How do you think a small triangle would look in the center? You know I had one in the drawing."
"We'll try it," says Marie. "There is a lot of white."
We continue to study the rug from the distance of less than two yards and I ask Marie, "Do your rugs always get just as you think they will when you start them?"
Smilingly she admits, "Hardly ever."
Her critical attitude as she stands there elicits another question, this one from Cha: "Do you stand off from your blankets and criticise them as they grow too?"
"Always," she says, looking somewhat surprised as if it were a matter of course. "You see the patterns don't always get like I think, or they don't look nice as I plan them. Then I must change them. I almost always change something."
"Well, it's got lots of mistakes," summarizes Cha, "but it's a nice blanket anyhow. I like it."
Marie starts the center triangle and has a few rows woven when Cha announces: "I'm going home for supper. I said I was going to stay until I needed another shirt. I needed one yesterday already, but I said I was going to finish this book before I went. I have watched your old weaving so much I haven't got it done yet."
"We have to go," I agree. "Otherwise we'll starve. But do you realize that that blanket has all the patterns I need learn to make, the broad-based triangle, the vertical line, and the sharper angled triangle? I am not sure I can make those triangles all by myself, but I am sure I can after a little more practice."
"I am sure," she answers.
So saying, we make our sketchy preparations for a return to Ganado.
I come into the hogan the first thing the next morning to find the yarn in a different position from that in which I left it, pulled out of the box and over the floor at random like a string a cat has played with. I observe it the next few days with a suspicious eye. Each morning more of it is pulled out and left tangled. I suspect mice. I tell Marie about it: "You know, when I came in this morning the yarn was pulled out, all over the floor. Do you think I have mice? I have noticed it for several days."
"Yes," says Marie with unusual seriousness, "probably rats. And they'll bite our warp too."
My heart sinks at the thought. We know how to repair tears, but what would the blanket be like if a rat gnawed its way unsystematically through it? The event has evidently been experienced by Marie, who has grave misgivings even with her resourcefulness. "But what shall I do?" I ask, thinking of traps and the impossibility of securing any.
"Cats," answers Marie reassuringly. "I'll bring some up tonight."
"Why," think I, "should my first reaction always be of a complicated mechanical solution instead of a simple natural one?"
As I am reading by the light of my kerosene lamp late in the evening I hear talk and approaching footsteps. I almost never have guests after sunset. Marie and Ruby are coming; each clasps with a firm hand a protesting skinny blackish kitten. "Oh, the cats!" I exclaim, remembering our morning's
talk. "But aren't they too small to catch rats? Will they stay with me?"
"Just close your door when you go out. They'll stay all right."
The girls close the door as they leave me. The kittens roam about sniffing. They seem contented enough now they are released. My, but they are thin! I wonder if they ever get anything to eat.
Next morning I forget about them until I open the door. There they are. But now they are roundish in the middle where yesterday they were flat or even curved in; they seem to me to lick their chops contentedly. I offer them a bit of bacon left over from my own breakfast. They scorn it.
They leave me soon after breakfast. Hereafter when I come into the hogan in the morning the wool is as I left it.