Rinsing Yarn: a Childhood Treasure

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. 

(The rubber boots and wooden cart)

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.  

(Photo of me when I was 13 helping dad rinse)

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.

(Me helping dye yarn as an adult with another part of the dying process. I’ll get to this later)
(Dad still enjoys it when he feels up to getting in the water)

  16 comments for “Rinsing Yarn: a Childhood Treasure

  1. May 26, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    This is incredible. I’m very impressed by the skill. Thanks for sharing! Greetings from London.

    • Emily Trujillo
      May 27, 2020 at 8:26 am

      Thank you so much! It’s appreciated. I’ve always been very shy about my writing.
      Greetings from New Mexico!

  2. May 26, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    Loved weaving this- It was fascinating!

    • Emily Trujillo
      May 27, 2020 at 8:23 am

      I’m glad 🙂 I hope my future posts are just as enjoyable!

  3. Ssignerkc
    May 27, 2020 at 6:44 am

    I love your memories and can’t wait to read more. My children are 1/2 Navajo and their Dad is from New Mexico. I happen to love Chimayo and it’s Santuario… I understand the “boredom” you mention. Quite honestly, you captured my memories beautifully!! Thank you!

    • Emily Trujillo
      May 27, 2020 at 8:23 am

      I’m so grateful you enjoyed and could relate to it! Chimayo is an underrated New Mexican gem and it’s always wonderful when people know about it appreciate it. I hope my future posts are just as pleasurable to read 🙂

  4. Stephanie Gooch Burns
    May 28, 2020 at 12:33 am

    Very nice writing. I enjoyed reading it.

    • Emily Trujillo
      May 28, 2020 at 6:44 pm

      Thank you! I’m so glad!

  5. Susan Sitter
    May 28, 2020 at 7:11 am

    I couldn’t love this more❤️
    What a art this is and you’re a natural storyteller – your memories actually brought me to tears

    • Emily Trujillo
      May 28, 2020 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you so much. You compliment makes me very happy, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  6. May 29, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Emily Trujillo
      May 29, 2020 at 5:03 pm

      It was my pleasure!

  7. Gretchen A. Adams
    June 8, 2020 at 12:42 pm

    That is so beautifully written that you could feel the excitement of the child and the understanding of the woman who grew up to write this. Thank you for sharing—write more!

    • Emily Trujillo
      June 11, 2020 at 10:06 am

      Thank you so much for reading! I’ll definitely have another one soon

  8. Audrey and Richard Marlar
    June 10, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    You are a very engaging story teller. I enjoyed reading your blog. We stopped in to visit the shop last summer and enjoyed visiting with you then, too. We have since started our own flock of churros and hope to come see the dying process for ourselves.
    Congratulations on your wedding!

    • Emily Trujillo
      June 11, 2020 at 10:07 am

      Thank you so much! I’m sure I enjoyed it too, especially if we talked sheep. Definitely make sure to stop by and see the dyes, it’s such a fascinating experience

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