Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
At the post there is one of the most beautiful modern rugs I have ever seen. It is of medium size, and the combination of colors is a stroke of genius. Besides, it is woven with a different technique. Although it has a pattern apparently secured by our ordinary weft weave, there is a twilled effect in the way the stitches lie. I consider this rug for a while, and after a time I think I know how to do it. It is a combination of the more complicated warp stringing and the weft weave. The set-up is as for the diamond, but this time the diamond is really large; there are only two complete diamonds to the width of the entire rug, about three feet.
I will try it myself, but I must—once more because of lack of time—make mine small. I pattern mine from the handsome one, designing only a quarter of it and in much simpler colors.
The process is one of the most complicated to which the Navajo attain because of the combination of principles. But it is not particularly difficult in actual execution. Mrs. Kinni's-Son agrees with my analysis and lets me set it up. I smile to myself, remembering how my white friends at Ganado tease me about my liking for stripes, as I weave a foundation of four stripes, each outlined by a contrasting color.
I have woven half of my third, a gray stripe, when I run out of gray yarn. I expect Mrs. Kinni's-Son will have some
more. She has, but it does not match what I have been using. There are many shades of gray. One kind is made by mixing white and black in carding. Many workers match up their carded pads as they work and secure uniformity. Atlnaba is always very careful about this. There will of course be many shades, lighter or darker, according to the amount of white or black that is used. This type we call "carded gray." But there is another kind, "natural gray." It is yarn spun from the wool of a grayish sheep. It should more properly be called tan.
This color is all right in its place; my idea of its place is with the tans and combinations of colors suited to them. The gray I had started with is soft and dark, exactly like that I had used at Red-Point's. The new ball Mrs. Kinni's-Son offers me is "sheep-gray." She sees no reason why the two should not be used together. She knows they are different, but her standards are not up to Atlnaba's.
I use the yarn but only with inward mutterings and grumblings: "That is the reason they get such effects as several at the post. Whole blankets woven and ruined by mismatching." If I were making a point of standards I should not be satisfied until we had spun the proper shade. But I am interested in getting on with my sample, which I am not going to finish anyway.
I see I shall soon need white. Mrs. Kinni's-Son sends the girl for a white skein. White is a euphemism for what she brings. It is a skein of nice yarn but the color of sheep during the rainy season. I gasp to think they would even consider using that, but the girl sits down and unwinds the skein preparatory to winding it in a ball. When she gives it to me, I say it is too dirty to use. I know the dirt could never be taken out of a
rug once it had been woven into it. I do not believe either mother or daughter would use it in her own weaving. I think: "Atlnaba would send Ninaba to wash that for me. More likely she would have washed it herself ere this. It certainly is a contrast the way "my family" has so many supplies on hand. Here they are never even a skein ahead of the rug they are making—lucky if they have enough to finish even that."
I decide I will not compromise by using this soiled stuff. I will wash it myself first. I have in my kit a small quantity of white I have spun myself. It is very lumpy and uneven but white and fleecy. I will use this as a makeshift for the afternoon. I take the ball of white with me and wash it, whereupon it becomes as good as any yarn.
I come to the triangle and weave a few inches before the day is done. The next time I come Mrs. Kinni's-Son tells me complaisantly that the sheds were wrong and she took them out and put them in again correctly. She cannot understand my unexpressed annoyance at the fact that I did not see her do it. Luckily I have my diagram and I can see wherein she changed it, but I should have liked a chance to ask why. I could see nothing wrong with the weaving, although I understand perfectly it would be too late to correct it when we come to the point of the theoretical diamond, that is, at the half of the weaving.
I dawdle considerably about weaving this rug. I want to keep my promise to the Kinni's-Sons about staying, but I do not want to finish this rug, nor do I want to set up another one here. So I work at other things. But I finally reach the center of the blanket and reverse the order of my healds. I decide to do "just one more row" then "one more series of healds" before I stop. Clouds have come up in the northeast,
wind blows violently. I work until big cutting drops come through the cracks of the roof, then hastily cover the blanket and wool with a sheepskin, throw over my shoulders the army blanket on which I have been sitting, and emerge into a perfect torrent. The inhabitants of the place scuttle for cover in the hogan. The boy has already started a fire of cedar and the raindrops hiss as they strike the metal pipe which carries away the smoke.
Everybody laughs as he moves his seat constantly from one dry place to another when the hard rain finds the weak points of the roof. This is the permanent building of the Kinni's-Son family. It, like the wooden houses, and in contrast to the hogans at Red-Point's, is bare. These people do not have extra supplies. There is hardly a thing one can mention, certainly nothing one needs, that Maria Antonia or Atlnaba cannot produce. Even this brief acquaintance with another family brings out the contrast and exaggerates the superiority of "my family."
Within fifteen minutes the settlement is a lake. Kinni's-Son, his son, and a boy who is visiting now go out although it is still pouring, to divert the wash which threatens to flood the corn behind the shed where my blanket stands on the loom. It is raining more gently when a cry comes from the younger girl that the puppy is drowning.
Three of the young people, shoeless by this time, wade about three-quarters of a mile to rescue it, and after a time they bring it in to the fire wet, shivering, and frightened, a drenched ball of fur, but showing even at this early age the peculiar lines which can best be described as "Navajo."
The rain has nearly stopped, and I wade gingerly, for rubber soles slip, from island to island of this newly made
pond extending from hogan to weaving shed. On the way I pass the cookhouse. It was dug out about a foot when constructed and in it the water naturally seeks its level. Coffee pot and wash basin, empty water bucket and frying pan float madly about as the water swirls through.
Where the loom is, the floor is patterned accurately with ridges regularly pecked out by the drops beating vigorously through the cracks of the roof. This floor is very damp but no water stands on it. I am disappointed not to be able to continue weaving and Mrs. Kinni's-Son with a shovel pats dry sand before the loom where we sit. We have our sheepskin and blanket spread once more and she is starting a fire in the stove when another shower drives us out. I wait for this one to sink in a bit, then decide to come another day to take down the blanket.
After two days of hard showers we get the clean brightness which only the Southwest knows, and I finish my work with the Kinni's-Sons.
During the intermissions of my weaving I have been working out the other weaves my friends have demonstrated on their small looms. All save one of the others are simple, and I do not need practice in learning them. The exception is the double-faced blanket, which is always viewed with a kind of awe by the uninitiated. It is a rare type, and when woven seems to be regarded as play with a technique. There are two looms strung with it at the post, but neither of them "comes cut" when I try to reconstruct the process. Mrs. Kinni's-Son does not make this kind. Juan's-Wife comes into the store. She is a neat, efficient-looking woman with features somewhat severely chiselled. Her rare smile is quiet like the sun shining
from under a deep long cloud. We ask her if she made this one.
She answers scornfully as she stretches the loom and carefully scans it, "Do you think I would weave anything as bad as that?"
I had come to the conclusion that someone had changed the sheds after the weaving had been done. Perhaps someone at the store, I thought. But I could not account for the fact that neither of the two looms worked. Juan's-Wife says she is going to Gallup for two days; but after that she will set one up at her hogan, and I shall come up and see it. She will show me how to weave it. After the agreed interval of time I go. It is at the end of my stay at Thoreau.
Juan's-Wife's father, who is the patriarch of the neat, cordial, prosperous group of houses, welcomes me, says I shall come here to live. He says he will build me a hogan if I do. Whereupon I conclude: "It isn't the railroad, for these people are as near as the Kinni's-Sons. It is the difference in families which accounts for the great difference in attitudes."
Juan's-Wife has made three-quarters of a rug with a bright orange, red, and black swastika design on one side, on the opposite side a speckled brown and white. She weaves a few rows as I watch; I think I understand the manipulation, and she offers me the comb. I weave, she watches me, lets me work by myself except when she sees I am drawing in a weft, whereupon she corrects it.
This web which seems so miraculous is actually one of the easiest of all the weaves. Each heald is looped with combinations of one and three warps. Two of the healds regulate the warps for the design of the face of the cloth, the other two those for the reverse side. The web is heavy but one of the
most interesting, although I have never seen one I considered really beautiful. I have brought the two looms with me from the post, for I wish to see wherein they are wrong. When I ask Juan's-Wife she says laughingly: "The woman who made that did not want anyone else to learn how she did it. So when she stopped weaving she took out the loops and restrung them wrong."