Like every other piece I have ever woven, this piece comes out of the time I created it in.
The yarns are all handspun wool, and most are either naturally dyed or are undyed churro. Most of the pinks and the wine colored yarns came out of a friend’s stash of handspun, naturally dyed yarns, that I had bought a year or two before I wove this. The undyed wools are probably all from my sister’s flock of sheep, although I have been known to buy fleeces from other sources too. The fact that I had very limited amounts of almost all of these yarns meant I had to design carefully so as not to have running out of a color cause any problems.
I think I started this piece in midsummer of 2016. The design process in this piece evolved over time, as do most of my pieces. I started by deciding on a background design. I had been collecting images for “patterns” on Pinterest, and this parquet pattern seemed like a very translatable idea.
I chose a side border that was really just an extension of, and variation on, the background, but would make a satisfying border that would hold the zigzagging background in place.
I don’t remember when I chose the next design element, but by then it occurred to me that this was kind of an “electric” piece. So I was casting around in my head for something that would fit with that, and I remembered a photo from a concert we had attended on May 9, 2015, of the Moody Blues. As one might expect them to do, they used some lovely psychedelic lighting effects. Although when I was taking pictures, I probably didn’t see a weaving in it, I did when I looked at the pictures.
I guess the relationship between what I wove and that photograph is pretty loose, but it definitely was drawn from the stage show.
The next big decision point was what I wanted to do with the middle. I have always loved to weave trees, and hadn’t done one in a while. It was fall, and the trees were full of golden leaves, and I was weaving gold in the piece, so it was a fall kind of tree that would be in the center. Trees involve a lot of detail work, so I was happy that the tree itself was small. I was satisfied with the way it filled the space and pulled the piece together.
Some time during the completion of the piece was when the election of 2016 happened. I was very distraught about the results, but I didn’t want to offend any of my customers with anything too overtly political in the shop. So when it came to naming the piece I chose to call it November Storm. To me it was about the disaster that I felt the election was going to bring upon the country. But it could also easily be interpreted as being about one of those fall electrical storms that come up around here every now and then. Visually, that made perfect sense to me. The double meaning was very satisfying to me. And I’m always happy to let people see what they want to see in my work.
Big news! I got married earlier this month, so today I’m going to tell you about the Frazada de Boda, or, in English: the wedding blanket.
I’ll forever remember the scratchy material on my bare shoulders as my father and father-in-law wrapped a blanket around me my now-husband. The sun was beating down on our heads and I closed my eyes to take everything in. It may have been a hot summer day, but my heart was warm from emotion. My dad had spent a month weaving our very own frazada for us, and only now were we allowed to see it. My dad explained the meaning behind the blanket to my husband’s family since they were unfamiliar with this tradition. I pressed my forehead against my husband’s as my mom started reading the the Shehecheyanu (surprise, my mom is jewish and so am I) and I cried a little because I was overwhelmed with emotion. It very well may have been one of the most special moments I’ll ever experience. There I was, marrying the love of my life surrounded by family (social distance style, don’t worry) and being wrapped in tradition. I felt like our living families, grandfather and all previous generations were watching us, proud of us, helping us solidify our union.
Now, what you’ve been waiting for: the history behind Frazadas de Bodas.
A while back I contributed to a project documenting weavings owned by local Chimayosos. Researchers went from house to house to look at individual weaving collections and document style, materials, dates, weaver, and the stories associated with each piece (this is still an “in progress” project, btw).
So what significance does this project have to wedding blankets, you ask (you probably didn’t)? Well, the answer is: you’d be surprised by just how many personal collections are composed purely of hand-woven pieces gifted to family members for special occasions, sometimes handed down generations. I’m talking about graduations, coming of age celebrations, and of course, weddings. Pictured below is our wedding blanket woven by my dad, my parents’ wedding blanket woven for them by my dad’s aunt, and below that my grandparents’ wedding blanket, gifted to my grandparents by my dad’s grandmother’s grandmother (on his mom’s side).
There are three symbolic bands on every piece: two outer and one center (although I’ve seen them with a single center stripe). The two end stripes represent the bride’s and groom’s families respectively, while the center stripe symbolizes the couple, their union, and the union between two families. A hundred or more years ago, this was a very common utilitarian blanket, but it isn’t seen so much anymore. They are traditionally very simple, have a white background, gifted by the groom’s family to the bride, and are made with a fine Churro wool. My dad tells me that in colonial homes, the windows were very small, so couples hung their wedding blankets on the wall during the day to reflect more light into the room. Clever, right?
Anyway, on June 7th, I had the honor of receiving my very own hand-made wedding blanket. Unlike the olden days, however, my dad wove it for the both of us, it’s made of mohair, it has a little bit of tapestry, and it will be hung on a wall permanently. One day, I’m going to weave my own children their wedding blankets (and for any nieces and nephews, of course) just as my dad did for me and his father before him.
Don’t get me wrong, wedding blankets are a part of my Hispanic heritage, but people come from all around to have us weave wedding blankets for their loved ones; it’s not just something we smuggle away for ourselves. The Frazada de Boda is a traditional item that should used to celebrate unions everywhere. So if you know someone who wants this special Rio Grande rug, send them our way. I’d be happy to weave one, it’d be such an honor!
P.S. this is a photo of my new husband, Kyle, and I on our wedding day.
Sun beams burst through grey skies, majestically illuminating the New Mexico landscape below. I had picked up my mom from my parents’ house in Chimayo and we were driving to Santa Fe through the desert landscape; my dad following close behind in his white Subaru. We were eagerly driving to the 2018 Spanish Market Preview night.
My dad, Irvin Trujillo, is always the star of the weaving division. Mom and I were joking with each other: “what award did dad win this year?” “Someday he’ll give someone else a chance to be the superstar.”
We started driving around the Santa Fe Railyard looking to park at “El Museo Cultural,” the site of the exhibition that year. We decided to check out a few parking lots close by just in case we were lucky enough to find a spot, but we were more than prepared to hike from a more remote area. We weren’t in any hurry since preview night went on for three hours, so we could take our time finding a spot. We drove around the rustic streets of Santa Fe passing paid meter after paid meter. We passed a concert in the Santa Fe Railyards on our way to a small paid-parking area nested behind a new concrete building where, lo and behold, we found not one, but two parking spaces next to each other. The best part is that they were right across the street from the building. I joked with mom “this must be a sign.”
Dad got out of his car and met us halfway to the pay-station. “Alriiiiiight” he said with a cheesy, satisfied grin spread across his wise face; so big his cheeks lifted his glasses. He gave us both high fives on our way to pay for our spots. There were quite a few things my dad could be high fiving us for: the fact we got great parking, the fact that we finally made it (it is a 45 minute drive, after all), or maybe even excitement for the fancy hors d’oeuvres that await us inside.
We marched into the building together, excited to and see if we (well, my parents) won anything and to see all of our friends. You see, Spanish Market artists are like a family. We know each other, respect each other, and some of us are even friends: friends we see once a year during this annual weekend event. There’s an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) bond that forms between artists that haul themselves out of bed at 4am to sell their art at the crazy weekend event that is Spanish Market. The overwhelming crowds, the heat, the visiting friends, the family, the fatigue: it’s all part of the package. So, while they may compete at preview night, that hardly matters because they will be battling the same storm together the next morning.
We gave the doormen our tickets and were rushed by the familiar sight we knew so well. The first thing you see is the crowd: collectors, artists and their families and friends, caterers, and assorted art connoisseurs. Some people are flamboyant and others not: there’s never been an official dress code as far as I know. The second thing you notice is the breathtaking art lining the walls and covering scattered tables throughout the auditorium.
Our first instinct is to casually beeline it to the weaving section. This year it was not hard to find. There, prominently displayed on the back wall, were the weavings. Dad’s piece, “Thinking Inside the Box” was the first one you saw, directly across the room in front of the front door. Mom got distracted talking to one of her “long time no see” friends, but dad and I prevailed. We both halted dead in our tracks when we got close enough to see what he’d won.
There it was: I saw the big ribbon that every one of the hundreds of attending artists strive for,
“Hey dad, look, you won ‘Grand Prize!” His elegant wool-silk tapestry of greens, blues, and oranges shined brilliantly, and the ribbons next to it were pretty shiny too. I turned to my dad whose arms were crossed and my favorite smile was on his face.
Not knowing how else to react he said calmly “We got really good parking.” I laughed because his comment blindsided me. He continued to stare at his piece, his eyes sparking. He’d never let anyone know, but he was excited that he’d won. He’d put his heart into that tapestry and the awards were well deserved. He’d worked hard for eight months to produce the blanket displayed before us all, and it was evident everyone knew.
Even if he was happy with his award, there’s no one as humble (and humbling) as my dad. Not once did he brag or even bring up the award himself, although many were eager to talk about it with him, including the Santa Fe New Mexican (you can read the article here- Mom and I also got interviewed for it).
Now don’t get me wrong, my dad isn’t the only star of the show. Both of my parents are respectable artists that bring their immense talent to the table, and to be honest, every single artist that vendors at Spanish Market shines in their own way. I’m supposed to be a little biased since they’re my parents, so forgive my boastfulness in this post (you could say I’m ‘genetically predisposed’ to think they’re the best *wink*); 2018 just happened to be my dad’s year to outshine the rest of the masters.
The moral of the my story is that awards aren’t necessarily what makes an artist (or person) great… at least in my personal opinion. My father is a thoroughly self-effacing and unassuming man, and that’s part of what makes him so inspiring. He’s such a beautiful, humble man on the inside on top of being such an acclaimed artist, and it’s hard to not want to be like him.
Note: That year, my dad won the “Jake O. Trujillo” award (an award named after his father and my grandpa), first place, and grand prize for his piece “Thinking Inside the Box,” and the “La Lana” award for his piece “Mohair Moki,” and my mom won an honorable mention for her piece “Chocolate Mosaic.”
Hello! My name is Emily Trujillo and I’m starting to write for this blog. This is my first blog post for this page. Some of you might know me, and others don’t. I’m an 8th generation weaver and daughter of Irvin and Lisa Trujillo, master weavers and owners of Centinela Traditional Arts. I came back to Centinela Traditional Arts three years ago when I graduated from UNM with a double major in Ethnology and Psychology. I’m now 27 years old. My blog posts will be stories from my childhood and growing up with spinning, dying, weaving, tradition, culture and family. I will also be writing educational blurbs about the tradition and history behind this art form. I hope to share what it means to be a part of this Hispanic family and what Rio Grande weaving is at its heart, and I hope that you all partake in this adventure with me.
This first post is going to be a small story about rinsing freshly dyed yarn from my childhood, one I remember fondly.
This story starts on a too-hot summer day. Cicadas screamed in the background and sweat droplets made their way down the curvature of my face. It was the kind of day where a kid wants nothing more than a popsicle at the pool.
However, on Centinela Ranch, there was no pool and I’d already eaten the last popsicle. I lay sun bathing on the red ramp behind my parents’ shop, the shop filled with the weavings I cared very little for at that point in time; however, that is another story. I was, to say the least, bored. It was too hot to hike in the hills or collect rocks and I’d watched every movie we owned a thousand times: even the Lion King wasn’t going to cut it that day.
I tossed and turned with my eyes closed. Resting on the ramp linking my childhood home to the shop was a delicate process: stay in one place too long and you get burned by the sun, but be wary of getting seared by the ramp itself (in retrospect, I have no idea why I would find that activity appealing). The shop door swung open,
“Emily. I have a job for you.” Me, turned off by the idea of working, groaned,
“What is it?”
“Come with me.” I reluctantly stood up and followed my dad into the shop. The air conditioner was running and it was refreshing to say the least. He led me straight from the back door to the front door. There were no customers in the shop right then, so my mother stood weaving at her loom in the front room. She was too focused to look up.
The little bells on the front door rang with the momentum of the door; with that we were back in the searing heat. He led me over to his newly built dye shed, one he was very proud of. There, sitting in front, was a little wooden cart filled with a beautiful array of colored yarns. Naturally dyed yellows (Chamisa), reds (Cochineal), blues (Indigo), greens (Indigo on Chamisa): they were all there. Even as a child, I was in awe of the beautiful colors my dad dyed.
He walked back to me and handed me his big rubber boots. He smiled at my excited face: I knew what was coming. We were about to rinse the excess natural dyes out of his newly dyed skeins of yarn in the irrigation ditch. Without this step, the excess dyes would get everywhere and stain the yarn around it. We want each thread to be crisp and stand out to make a beautiful contrasting tapestry.
I excitedly put the waterproof shoes over my bare feet and waddled awkwardly after him as he led us to the irrigation ditch. I was very small, even for a 10-year-old, so when I say “waddle awkwardly,” I mean “waddle awkwardly.” Each step came with a “whomp” from the mostly hollow boot hitting the ground and my foot sliding around inside.
When we got there, he started unloading each skein one by one. I snuck my way past them and climbed down into the roaring ditch water. There was nothing more crisp and cool than climbing into that ditch.
I didn’t need instructions, I’d been doing this every year since before I could remember. He handed them to me, one at a time, for me to rinse. I excitedly bent over and dipped my hands in, completely submerging each skein. I swished the skeins back and forth, watching the dye run out with the water.
My dad would get excited with me. He’d say: “woah look at that,” and “you’re doing great” and sometimes tell me stories about how he used to go there with his dad. He always tells me that the water is gold in the southwest desert and is a blessing from God; that the water is spiritually blessing the wool for the weaving.
This is something that came to mean more to me when I was older and could understand what that meant, and I think it’s important to pass on.
As the dyes ran, I could paint the water. When I moved the skein, the color followed, flowing gently behind. After a bit of swishing and swaying, I’d dip it repeatedly: up and down, in and out. As a little girl, it took my whole body to pull out the saturated yarn and then put it back in. I’d rinse and repeat (pun intended) until the water ran clear. The yarn would still be the same beautiful color, but there was no longer any excess dye.
I never appreciated how much it strengthened the bond between my dad and I as a child, but now I know it is one of those sweet moments with my father that I will always cherish. It’s an experience I treasure every day until the day I die.
It’s not just something shared between my father and I, however; this method of rinsing yarn has been passed down from generation to generation. The new generation helps the old and the old spreads the knowledge to the new.As one generation grows older it gets harder and harder to climb in and out of the ditch, and the new generation is there to help. And for the new generation? The act of physically doing it is a better teacher than any verbal instruction could ever be. It’s a symbiotic relationship that links all generations to each other.
I never knew my grandpa, but I feel like by doing this I understand that small part of him: even feel connected to him in a way. It’s really something special and I’m grateful I have the opportunity to share my story, this precious experience, with all of you. Thank you for reading.
My name is Emily Trujillo and I’m a 24 year-old 8th generation Weaver. I’m also the duaghter of master weavers Irvin and Lisa Trujillo. It took me so long to start this because I had what I like to call a ’24 year teenage rebellion.’ You see, I grew up being asked if I was a tapestry artist by almost everyone, and I resented it (irrational, I know). Out of angst and a need to rebbel, I played around with almost every other art medium: from jewelry to watercolors, tape sculptures to Photoshop. Though the day finally came: I changed my mind and started weaving. The catalyst? My college career. One of my majors was ‘Ethnology,’ the study of culture, and it really made me appreciate my own heritage. All over the world, culture is dying, and it’s heartbreaking. I, however, have the opportunity to save my own. So here I am, announcing myself to the world. I came back to Chimayo to make sure Rio Grande Weaving doesn’t end with seven generations.
This is my first piece that my mom named for me: “Emily’s Triforce.” I sold it before I was even ready to sell it and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to at the time. I’m still not sure if I should have sold it. The story goes: I showed it to someone before it was even photographed, and they asked to buy it. So I quickly shot this – sadly – warped picture to document it.
This piece meant a lot to me, not only because it was my first, but also because at the time I was weaving it I was getting ready for my first figure skating competition. I was skating to the theme of “Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker,” a video game I played with my brother as a kid. Because of this, I was listening to the soundtrack from Windwaker & other various Zelda games for the entire seven hours it took me to weave this. So this piece represents a particular slice of my life. The triangle in the center is like a Triforce (an important symbol within the game series), but I wasn’t skilled enough to weave a triforce yet. However, in the game there are islands and mountains you explore, so I wove what was meant to represent the terrain surrounded by the seas you explore within a triangle.
This story is important to my introduction as a weaver because I hope to learn the traditional styles and techniques, but I want to use them as building blocks. I want to incorporate my own personality and experience and create something that separates my generation and represents me as a person. I am my own artist with my own personality and life story, and it will reflect in my pieces. I hope to one day create works of art like my parents, but works that stand apart as my own. Only time and hard work will get me there, so I’m going to give it my all. I hope I don’t disappoint.
We were honored to be invited to participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall in Washington DC. We shipped a loom out for Irvin to weave on, but they borrowed a wheel for me that is just like the one I use at home. I also brought a couple of scoured churro fleeces to spin during the weekend we were there.
Most folks don’t seem to know what spinning is, what weaving is, or what a spinning wheel or loom is. People thought I was making thread, or maybe rope, working silk, weaving, knitting, or sewing. For some reason, a number of people thought the churro wool looked like alpaca fiber. Since these processes and tools are so removed from day-to-day life, I guess this is all understandable. Irvin was right by me, weaving, so at least I could point out the loom and ask them to observe the weaving process. All of this makes me think that fiber folks should be out in front of people more often.
There were, however, people whose nostalgia about wool and spinning and looms very much affected them. People with family or friends, or long-ago-and-far-away histories, that involve these things. The mother and daughter from Thailand, the lady from Ethiopia whose family wasn’t privy to weaving or spinning skills, but who maybe she wished they had been. The lady from India who was learning all about sprang. People who really wanted to learn to spin. Knitters and weavers who think maybe they’ll spin one day. And some people who were just enthralled by the wheel and the seemingly magical process.
But the kids were the most fun. The little ones were down at my level. Some kids are too shy to speak to a stranger about that mysterious thing I was doing. Lots of kids just stared. There was a lot of confused information given to them by parents who wanted to explain things but didn’t really know themselves.
Some wanted to try it out. (Uhh, might be frustrating for both of us.) Some tried to touch the wheel while I was spinning. (No way! That’s just dangerous.) I let them feel the fleece, which looked a lot softer than it felt. That was when parents would touch too, which was great.
My favorite kid encounter was with a boy who was maybe four or so, whose jaw dropped and eyes shone. He loved what he was seeing. I like to think that somehow spinning is kinda magical and that’s what he was thinking too. He came back a couple of times, and made me very happy. There’s always hope when that kind joy exists in the world.
The topic of sketching and planning our pieces comes up on a regular basis as I weave under the watchful eyes of our customers. The philosophy that Jake Trujillo passed on to us regarding this was pretty clear. Design at the loom and make each piece a unique work of art.
So I don’t often sketch things out before I weave. This comes from a long history of not liking pieces that I have thought through too much in advance. I find that basing my work on something I have drawn out on paper as opposed to basing it on what transpires at the loom tends to produce pieces that are awkward and stiff. Perhaps that is just my perception, or maybe it’s that I drew more pieces out when I was a less experienced weaver and not able to execute designs as well. But the philosophy that was passed to my by my husband and his father says that Chimayo designs are done at the loom, that designing is part of the weaving process.
When I am weaving in any of the traditional styles, I have some design decisions already made for me. Tradition will tell me a great deal about design placement and proportions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have lots and lots of creative design decisions to be made. The question to consider here is when and how I will make those decisions.
I have to have an idea of what the proportions are going to be. This is one thing I often plan out on paper. If I’m weaving a Chimayo, I decide how much background I will start with, how big the stripes will be, what size designs I will be putting in and where they will go. The more I weave, the less I find myself spending time on this step. I can rely on weavings I have done in the past, and, to some degree, I remember the measurements I was happy with. Or I can draw a rough sketch indicating where to begin and end the different elements I will be weaving.
For a Chimayo-style piece I will not draw designs. I will be conscious of what I might want a base to be like before I start the design. I will probably be conscious of what colors will be predominant and what will be secondary or just highlights. I might have an idea of what kind of center design shape will predominate. I might consciously be aware of a new idea or concept I want to explore. But I might have pretty much no preconcieved notion of what a design will end up looking like. Chimayo absolutely has that kind of potential for spontaneity. And one more thing before I start weaving: I have to have an idea of what the proportions are going to be. This is one thing I often plan out on paper. I decide how much background, how big the stripes will be, what size designs I will be putting in and where they will go. The more I weave, the less I find myself spending time on this step.
The one motivation I have for sketching things out is that it might actually help me think about how I will actually weave something. Let’s say I want to have lines that interact in some way, as in, one line passing under another line. It will help me to have that drawn out. I may or may not actually follow the sketch when I get around to weaving it, but it will probably help me to have drawn it out.
When Irvin and Lisa Trujillo got married, they went up to Santa Fe for their honeymoon. Not a great distance from Albuquerque, but nevertheless it was an important choice. They went to see a museum show about Saltillo weavings. Remember that Lisa was about to start her life as a professional weaver, and that Irvin had been weaving since he was a child. But neither of them had seen Saltillo weavings before. The show convinced them both that they were going to have to weave in this style.
These beautiful textiles originated in Mexico. They are very finely woven tapestries, with a border, vertically oriented background design and serrated center diamond. Some of the classic Saltillos have what is described as a lozenge shape as opposed to the diamond shape in the center. The Saltillos were owned by the wealthy elite landowners of the time, the hacenderos. When Mexico gained independendence from Spain, the Saltillos were a symbol of national pride.
The wealth that produced these fine textiles in Mexico did not exist in New Mexico. But the Governor of New Mexico in 1807 invited two weaving experts to come north with the aim of improving textile production. The Bazan brothers are credited with bringing the Saltillo style and the tapestry techniques needed to produce them, to New Mexico.
We call the New Mexico version, Rio Grande Saltillos. They have never been produced in large numbers, but we are aware of a few different recognizable variations. One thing that they seem to all share is that they have vertical borders like the classic Mexican Saltillos, but they don’t have horizontal borders. These are replaced by stripes.
We call this first group “vertically dominated”. They have the vertically oriented background designs of the classic Saltillo, but do not have a central diamond.
Others have a central diamond that seem to radiate to the ends.
Some have a central diamond and dispersed elements that make up the background of the piece. Some of these have no vertical borders at all.
There are pieces with the dispersed element field, a center diamond, and big corner elements.
This is a picture of Jake O. Trujillo finishing up a warp on his warping mill which was kept in the attic of Irvin’s grandmother’s house. This picture was taken in the early 1980’s, but he had built the mill soon after he built his loom in 1927. He’s removing the warp from the mill, “chaining” it up to bring it to his loom across the road.
This is a picture taken a few years later of Irvin and Hosana Eilert putting a chained warp on a loom. The challenge is to have every thread across the warp to be the same length and the same tension. This is critical to the integrity of every weaving produced from the warp. Warping a loom this way isn’t easy. When warping wide looms this way in years gone by, Jake would ask for help, and the three of us warped as a team of three. I don’t remember us being a happy team, but we worked together and we got the work done.
Our weavers are accustomed to having warps made for them. They bring us their warp beams and we fill them with warp. This is the way the weaving dealers in Chimayo have been working for many years. We need those warps to be long, and to be perfectly even in tension. Any errors in warping will mean that we have weavings that won’t lay flat and aren’t very useful. The tie industry of the late 1930’s introduced industrial-type warping techniques that were adopted by the early Chimayo weaving dealers. The technique used was to make a sectional warp on a horizontal mill and transfer that warp directly to a warp beam. The weaver can then take that warp beam to the loom for weaving.
Between the times when these first two pictures were taken, we moved the mill from the attic across the street to the yarn storage room of the shop. Irvin modified the mill by adding spokes and crosspieces. He also built in a braking system, and mounts for a tension box and a wide variety of warp beams.
The steps to the process are as follows.
Sixteen cones (called a buñuelo) of warp are set up on a cone rack and threaded through the tension box. We weave at eight ends per inch, so sixteen threads will make two inches of warp.
We create a cross at the beginning of each of our two inch bouts. If you are familiar with making a “chained” warp, you are creating that cross with the figure 8 at each end of the warp. This is done here by pulling the bout against a small section of rigid heddle reed mounted in the tension box to separate every other thread. The cross is held in place by two lease strings (purple threads in the picture) that pass from one side of the mill to the other. The cross will be our essential guide to the sequence of threads in the warp when we go to tie the warp to the old warp on the loom, or thread the warp through heddles and reed. The end of the warp that we start with will be buried by the length of warp, but will come out as the accessible end of the warp once it has been wound on to the beam.
The bout is as long as the warp needs to be. So a warp is ten turns long, or 15, or 20 turns. It’s critical that the count is right, that each bout is the same number of turns, so that we don’t reach the end of the warp and find some sections longer or shorter than others.
The end of each bout is tied onto a nail that is inserted into the mill’s crosspiece. As you can see in the left this picture, it’s the same crosspiece where we started the bout.
Each 2″ bout is wound on the mill all the way across the warp. The tension box must be moved for each bout, so that it is aligned with the right section on the mill. The warp on the mill in this picture has 20 bouts for a 40″ warp.
Now we bring the warp beam to the mill. Because we warp a lot of different beams with a lot of different widths and different axles, Irvin has designed a very flexible system to accommodate them all. What matters is that the warp beam is perfectly aligned with where the warp is wound on the mill. We use flanges on our warp beams that keep the warp at a specific width. As long as the beam is aligned correctly with the warp, it will distribute itself evenly across that width as it winds onto the beam. If it is incorrectly aligned it will catch on the flanges, potentially breaking threads.
Before we start winding the warp onto the beam we apply a brake to the mill. What we designed as a brake is essentially a wide rubber band with weights tied to the end that limits the rotation of the mill. Winding onto the beam requires a great deal of effort and some patience. But if it all has gone right in making the warp it will provide weeks or even years of perfectly-tensioned warp for creating beautiful things with.
We were honored to be a part of the Gallery of Conscience at the Museum of International Folk Art. It was a large investment of time spent with a cadre of New Mexican and international artists, over the space of several months. It has been difficult to communicate what we were doing during that time, but the Museum’s website explains. “The Gallery of Conscience is an experimental gallery in the Museum of International Folk Art where the public is invited to help shape the content and form of the exhibition in real time.
Visitors notice the Gallery of Conscience looks different than the rest of the museum. In this gallery, visitors are invited behind the scenes to participate directly in the creation of an exhibition. That is why the space looks informal and unpolished- it’s on purpose. The Gallery of Conscience team seeks to make visitors feel welcome to write comments, leave thoughts and participate in the exhibition’s creation.
Negotiate, Navigate, Innovateis about contemporary folk artists and their relationship with their patrons, buyers and collectors. We are especially interested in understanding the pressures they might feel to keep their traditions alive in the face of modern technological advances and new consumer demands. Visitors will see a kind of “mock up” or series of idea sketches. The artworks will come at a later point in the process- after we have heard from visitors, artists and local community members. Even the exhibition title itself is up for grabs- so be sure to vote on which title you like best, or suggest your own. Come back often and see how the exhibition has changed in response to your ideas.”
There were a number of opportunities for us to interact with the other artists involved. We also were encouraged to take on an apprentice and create a video documentation of the experience. That is what you see above. These experiences have given me a lot to think about over the last several months, and I’ve been anxious to record my thoughts.
About selling traditional arts in a big, well-connected world.
Obviously there are countless approaches. We were all involved in one of the big summer markets in Santa Fe: the International Folk Art Market, the Spanish Market, and Indian Market. So we all were aware that there were people who decided who was in, and who was out, of these venues. It’s not easy to be allowed to show in any of these, there are rules involved, and policies to navigate. We talked a lot about interacting with the buyers of the products we made, and how those interactions affected our work, and how it affected us on a personal level.
Most interesting to me was how our selling of our work influenced how we understood our traditions. A list of questions I’d like to explore further in the future, emerges.
What do our traditions mean to our community?
Some traditional arts are essential threads of connection in communities. Others are more pragmatic expressions of comfort, communication, or personal expression.
What is the economic role they play? Is it serving to empower community members by providing employment, a creative outlet for self expression, or a role in a community’s sacred interactions?
This is, of course, a question of survival for these art forms. We met women from countries where creating these goods for sale served as a vital connection to others beyond the walls of their homes. And their cooperatives created leaders who played essential political roles as voices of the women involved. For many artists, these forms connected them to their personal and community histories. Others created objects that were important to a spiritual community beyond themselves. Some traditions, like ours, have always been primarily in a commercial realm, created for trade beyond the local community.
Does it inform and express culture to those within the culture, or to outsiders?
What I think I heard in our discussions is that this was a very personal question, and how we communicated with those who were interested in our work was at the heart of this. Who we sold to could be only people who were sincerely committed to the art form or the community, or it could be anybody willing to pay for the product.
What about the traditions are sacrosanct and what is changeable? Are we comfortable with new techniques or different materials, and why?
Again, this is a very personal issue. But some folks dealt with rules imposed by others regarding what is defined as traditional and what is not. And others were faced with choices as to how to respond to pressure to make change. Sometimes change meant making a markedly improved product, like drum heads not damaged by changes in humidity. Other times market changes might mean using color to appeal in a new market in a way that might go against the community of origin’s intentional use of color. There were new approaches that helped speed up the process and make it less work intensive, and there was clearly some conflict over the appropriateness of that kind of change too.
Do we make changes because of the pressures of outside economic forces?
These forces seem likely to continue to affect these traditional forms, but individuals may choose where they will bend and where they will not.
How do we respond to “cultural appropriation”? And what is our appropriate role in guarding traditions? Who “owns” these traditions?
As a person who grew up outside of the culture whose weaving tradition I am devoted to preserving, this is a very personal question. I don’t have any answers to this one. But I confront it regularly.
In the end, each one of us has to draw boundaries for ourselves, and these questions can help guide our choices. These are issues that we are often deeply emerged in, and the answers for us have probably grown more nuanced as we have been at this for some time now. But it was the work we did with our apprentices, and the videos that were made to document that work, that brought me to one conclusion. Traditions will, and must, change over time. They are in flux because new people must take them up in every generation.
There is still an underlying question too, about who supports these traditions, and why, and how. We have always had moral, if not a lot of financial, support from institutions of various kinds, some governmental and some private. We are always grateful when these kinds of acknowledgements of the value of tradition are made. It would be impossible to measure what these things have meant to our ability to keep up our efforts.
Another thing I will always be grateful for about getting to engage with all these artists in this program is that it engenders a sense of common ground and unity of purpose. Each of our opportunities to share with one another were seriously uplifting. I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way. For me that is a powerful spiritual thing.
This was the group of artists and staff who stuck around after the videos were premiered at the end of our project.
This was a group of us deeply involved in learning how to make videos. I am grateful for the immersion in a whole new creative process, and hope to apply what I have learned to future projects.