When Weaver and Loom Are One
“Through the process of weaving, we also learn the process of living.”
—Anne Lane Hedlund,
Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University
From a review of Navajo Weaving Way: The Path from Fleece to Rug
Most of the weavers I know wish they had more time to weave. I think that too often we allow ourselves the "indulgence" of weaving only when our other work is done. It is an add-on to our busy lives.
Navajo weaver and author Tiana Bighorse
removing the batten from her loom to
In our quest for weaving time and space, it is empowering to learn about other ways to weave and other ways to be. The weaver, life, and the loom can all be one. In the first chapter of Navajo Weaving Way, author, teacher, and weaver Noël Bennett observes that the necessities of life are a full-time pursuit for Navajo weavers: raising sheep for wool and food, gathering plants for dyeing, gathering firewood for the winter. She says: “Considering the slowness of the craft itself and the amount of time given to life basics . . . it’s a bit of a miracle that Navajo weaving exists at all.” But weaving continues to exist because for Navajo weavers, it is a way of life. It is life.
Noël told me recently that the Navajo word for "to teach" literally means, "to show." A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Navajo weaver Sarah Natani, and I experienced the Navajo way of teaching firsthand. My friend Laura had organized a class with Sarah here in Oregon, and Sarah had agreed to be videotaped while demonstrating the Navajo spinning technique. I set up a video camera and sat quietly on the floor for 40 minutes or so as Sarah “taught,” spinning the wool smoothly and effortlessly as she told how her people raise sheep, how children are taught spinning and weaving, how she spins a warp thread, stories of Spider Woman, what is good to do when weaving and what is not. Technique and life, taught as one.
Noël’s co-author Tiana Bighorse remembered the stories of her people as she wove, so that she could pass them on for future generations. Noël herself says that time at her loom is a gift, that life takes unexpected turns, but the comfort of the loom remains, the pattern unfolding. Noël’s book is intended to offer us the same gift, teaching Navajo weaving technique as a way of life, inviting us to “embark on a poignant and creative journey into a mysterious and profoundly nourishing universe.” When I read Noël’s books, I’m reminded that the loom is there all the time, waiting for me to return, centering my dreams and aspirations when I am away. Centering my life.