Rio Grande Saltillos

 

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.

Classic Saltillo
A classic 19th-century Mexican Saltillo weaving

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.Saltilo vert

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.Saltillo w BG yarn

Others have a central diamond that seem to radiate to the ends.

My beautiful pictureSome have a central diamond and dispersed elements that make up the background of the piece.  Some of these have no vertical borders at all.

My beautiful picture
There are pieces with the dispersed element field, a center diamond, and big corner elements.

Always Greener

Always Greener600

 

 

Always Greener came out of my developing awareness of how the two sides of tapestry weaving, pictorial and geometric, relate to each other.  It always seems like there’s just a shade of jealousy about “the other side” having it easier, either making or selling their work, or just getting respect for it.  And I really am uncomfortable with any kind of “us versus them” mentality.

This piece was about taking naturalistic shapes and making them geometric.  It’s about how they relate to each other.  So I revisited this body shape that I’d done in a handful of pieces before.  And I let the bodies do things.  They float, they play with the lines that encompass them, and they turn into geometric shapes.  I was told that the upper right body is doing something akin to “downward dog.” I even divided bodies up for their geometric components.

It was woven in 2000.  It uses all natural dyes,  and it’s here in the shop at the moment on consignment from the owner.

Clearly we are solidly in the camp of geometric tapestry weavers.  Pictorials have been around in our tradition, but, other than things like thunderbirds and roadrunners, haven’t really been a big part of it.  It isn’t that our techniques aren’t amenable to imagery, but they really are very much designed around things like symmetry and pattern, and our techniques train our brains around logical thinking that just doesn’t much apply to naturalistic forms.  These thought process are certainly a big part of what I like so much about weaving.

Weaving imagery requires having something to say in imagery.  That “picture painting a thousand words” thing is something I have always found mildly intimidating.  And I’m sure I’d always have the nagging sense that maybe just painting it would be faster and more appropriate for whatever I would want to say with an image.

And once, a few years after I completed this weaving, I was told that what we do wasn’t actually tapestry weaving.  She had learned a different kind of methodology and apparently couldn’t mentally encompass what we do as being tapestry, despite the fact that it very much fits the definition of tapestry.

So, in my mind, getting respect for tapestry as an art form is challenging for all of us.  I’ve watched people talk about it as an issue, a challenge, for tapestry artists, but I don’t have any answers as to how such a thing is ever going to come about.  I know that there are tapestry weavers that promote their work really well, so I guess it could happen that someday a tapestry weaver, or a few really great ones, will push the envelope of artistic respect beyond where it sits today.  I don’t know that there’s any reason to think that geometric forms or traditional design should be any more or less likely to garner respect for tapestry than imagery or boundary pushing new tapestry forms.

I’ve heard from pictorial weavers that those of us weaving in a tradition have it made, that we have an already developed market.  Which is, sort of, true.  But I’d argue that, as individual artists, we have to build a market for our work in precisely the same way that any other artist does.  Our work has some credibility as an authentic outcome of an old tradition.  I wouldn’t say that that was really a simple thing to achieve, but it is something that adds value to our work based on work done by those that have gone before.  So maybe they have a good point there.

 

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Style by Style – Chimayo

PiedraLumbre 2Style by Style Weaving:  Chimayo

Weaving Chimayos is something I come back to time and time again, and after all these years I’m convinced that it’s because I really like what I call “Chimayo thinking”.  I’m convinced that it suits me best.  So let me explain.

First of all, there is a clear expectation of where I’m going to be putting designs.  It doesn’t mean that all Chimayos look the same, but they start and end with stripes, and they’ve got one, two, or three designs between the stripes.  Okay, there could be more than three, but the other designs would be sort of unimportant if it really looked like a Chimayo.  I know where stripes and designs are going to go, even if I have no idea what they are going to look like.  That means I don’t have any need to draw things out or plan much of anything.  A Chimayo design can be entirely spontaneous.  And that is a recipe for fun weaving!

There are other things that make it fun too.  I feel free to use different angles at the same time.  Like any other dramatic art form, I can set up things that will eventually conflict with one another, and have to, at some point, resolve those conflicts.  As I weave, color dominance can change, thus pushing me to continually make design changes to make a more pleasing balance.  Basically, as long as I don’t make it too detailed, the design can move along in such a way that I’m always watching and changing things to make it look interesting and pleasing.  It is just the right balance of needing to think about designing and the slow process of tapestry weaving itself.

Here is a step-by-step description of the process.

A. Before Weaving

1. Warp on the loom.

There are always warps on the looms I work on. In our shop we make very long warps of fifty to a hundred yards. And the fact that I am not a very productive weaver means that it is a safe assumption that I’ve got warp on my loom. So I don’t think of warping looms as a part of my designing/weaving process, even though it is probably the most critical stage for most weavers. Since warping is not my favorite thing to do, I tend to think of this as a really big plus to weaving in the Chimayo/Rio Grande tradition.

2. Yarn availablity

So the first step for me is to look over the available materials. I tend to have large amounts of yarn around me day after day after day. I am aware of what yarns need to get used up because no one else will, either because they are tangled, or deemed not a pretty color, or there are only small amounts of it, or maybe a differing dye lot will trip up a weaver, or there are spools that need to be freed up for use in other projects. The reasons I will decide on to use a particular bunch of yarn are pretty varied. Of course, the main thing that matters is that I am intrigued by the color combinations that I see as possible with the yarns that I have available. It is still amazing to me that my best pieces usually come out of times when my yarn choices were limited by these kinds of practical considerations. It is that old truism about necessity being the mother of invention. So generally speaking I am happy to be working within limited colors, whether self-imposed or not.

3. Size and Style

The proportion of colors in the yarns available will suggest to me what styles are options for me. If I have a lot of one color, and not much of the other colors, I can weave a Chimayo. If I have small amounts of a lot of colors, than I can weave Rio Grande, Saltillo or Vallero. Of course there are yarns that inspire me to do non-traditional types of pieces too. The yarns will also determine the size of the piece.

4. Spools

I’ll start by making up a batch of spools. Enough to get going, but, if I can’t guess as to how much yarn I’ll need of each color, I’ll leave some of the yarn aside for future spool- making.

5. Proportions.

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.

B. Step by Step- The CHIMAYO BLANKET

1. Background

Then I’ll go to the loom and weave the first bit of background. I’ll try to center my signature mark in the middle of the right hand corner of this band of background color.

2. Stripe

Now I can weave the first stripe. This is where I fiddle with color combinations, laying spools next to each other, deciding on color proportions and predominance. I make decisions here about how colors will interact with each other that I will use through the whole piece.

3. Background

Now there is another bit of background color. This is usually a stressful part of the piece for me. I’m aware of the infinite possibilities of what could occur in this piece. But I’m also imagining some, based on what I learned about my color interactions while I was weaving the first stripe.

4. Secondary design

Ok, in our hypothetical Chimayo, let’s say I decide to weave a base, and lay in yarns to determine the edges of the design, where the two colors meet. These are carefully counted in. I am always conscious that most designs allow me to count only the top threads of the shed, but that I need to be aware of the bottom of the shed for vertical designs. Counts matter only if I want things to be symmetrical. Sometimes that won’t be necessary, but most of the time it is critical to get this first count just right. HOWEVER: this doesn’t mean I know where everything is going to go from this starting point. I am willing to leave as much open as I can, allowing the piece to suggest ideas to me. I know this might sound like artistic nonsense, a bit of a spiritual gobbledygook maybe. But I think that the piece will turn out best if I am constantly looking out for new design possibilities for it as I am moving forward through the piece. This is a design philosophy that is very suitable for Chimayo weaving, and maybe not for some other art forms. But I think that it allows me to be most true to the medium I am working in. It is important for me to be responsive to what already exists in the web I have woven, to imagine the best of what the design possibilities hold.

So this is how I move through the piece. After I lay in colors, determining the edges of color areas, I need to decide what direction any angle I create with that join is going to move in, and whether there will be stepping I’ll need to do to get the overall angle I want to make. I might make some simple algebraic kinds of computations considering how many steps of what size I’ll need to get from point A to point B. These kinds of computations require that I’m aware of how many rounds per inch this warp/weft combination is producing, and although I usually use the same materials, my handspun yarns have some inconsistency in this regard. So, even though I told you in the last paragraph not to plan things out to much, I do want to encourage you to think things through. There is a lot of logic in these pieces. Patterns with potential conflicts are the most interesting to look at, but you, as the weaver, will have to resolve those conflicts in eye-pleasing ways. In any case, it is this process that is where I derive great pleasure from in my weaving: determining possibilities, and creating and resolving conflicts. It takes imagination and intellect, and it is lots of fun, like doing puzzles.

So let’s say I’ve made it through the secondary design.

5. More Background, and maybe Jaspes

Now I can pick up the shuttle again and weave the background color again for a while. I may choose to put in some jaspes in here, especially if I need to cover a lot of ground before I can start a center design.

6. Center Design

A center design will be roughly based on ideas I explored in the secondary design. But I have room to elaborate on things this time, maybe there was an idea I really liked in the secondary design that I think would be so much more interesting if I got to continue it for a longer period. Or there are angles I’d like to have play off of each other that were just parallel or repetitive in the secondary design. The center design gives me time to resolve ideas that were left unsatisfied in the secondary design.

7. At the Center And Coming Back

I want to make sure that every design I’m carrying reverses at the same time at the center of the piece. It is not always aesthetically ideal to turn them around together, so some elements might require some “fudging”, some extra rounds woven while other areas are not actively weaving, so that everything turns around at the center. It is important to take note of these inequalities, and make them up as quickly as possible, in the first few rounds of the second half of the piece. Because the “extra” rounds of design will be doubled right at the center, it will be a judgment call as to whether the “fudging” rounds are aesthetically necessary or not worth the extra bulk they will generate.

Once I reach the center of the piece, I have to stop designing and reverse the design, You are now “The Weaver”. Angles and steps that were working their way out from the center must turn around and move back in. And I must count to make sure I duplicate things I did in the first half. Remembering and anticipating changes that are approaching is what is critical throughout this second half. Even with the mistakes I have to correct in this “coming back” stage, it is still much faster for me to weave the second half of a piece, mainly because I’m not stopping so much to make decisions.

This second half is much like looking at someone else’s weaving. A weaver can “read” another person’s piece, seeing the sequence that the weaver went through to create a piece. This is a valuable skill to have, both for understanding other weavers ideas, and for speeding up that return trip on your own designs. Vertical distances can be measured, especially those expanses of background colors. Everything else involves counting threads, either warp threads for horizontal distances, or rounds ore even pics for verticals. Whereas accuracy really matters, and I always strive to get an accurate reproduction from the first half to the second half, it’s important to be realistic about what kinds of copying errors will be visible and what won’t. It isn’t worth unweaving a lot to correct an error that will be totally unnoticeable to the viewer of the piece. There will have to be a level of error that you can live with, because you will make mistakes doing this. You’ll have to figure out what you can live with on a case-by-case basis. And I’ve always figured that weaving accurately wasn’t due to my not making mistakes, but because of quickly catching my mistakes. It’s all about being aware of what your design is doing and anticipating the changes coming up. This requires tremendous focus. (This must be more difficult when some instructor is looking over your shoulder all the time like in these workshops. Maybe you’d like to go home and practice.)

Style by Style Thinking: Rio Grande

We can weave very traditional Rio Grande blankets by just weaving stripes. Which means that we’re just throwing a shuttle back and forth, and changing colors to make the stripes. Shuttle throwing is a chance to do some pretty physical stuff, and get a bit of a workout. I’m pretty ambivalent about workouts. I see the benefit of it, but and am only interested in such exertion for brief periods of time. This isn’t a design consideration per se, but it’s probably a big reason why I rarely weave pieces that are just striped. This is all an explanation as to why I like to take a break from shuttlework and weave some tapestry.

Weaving stripes doesn’t mean I don’t have to expend some energy on creative thought. I have to make decisions about how wide each stripe will be, and what color it is. I can decide on a number of stripes I want in a piece. Traditionally that number is an odd number, meaning that there is a stripe squarely at the center of the piece. I can decide to make stripes stand out on a background, which is what Rio Grande blankets traditionally do, or I can have stripes that are more unified in appearance, without having clear beginnings or ends. I can put tapestry between stripes, or inside of stripes. Essentially, from a design standpoint, Rio Grandes feel like they have rhythm to them. So they can march in an orderly fashion, or they can have some variation, or “syncopation” to make them more interesting to look at. Generally, the blankets that “march ” are easier to weave, and syncopation can be harder to deal with on the second half when you have to copy the first half. Predictability makes it easier to remember what comes next, so you can weave faster. I don’t really like marches a lot, and weaving repetitive stripes doesn’t appeal a lot to me either.

Let’s have a look at some pieces. Let’s start by looking at a few that have Moki-type colors, black, brown and white, and a few greys, so we can focus on some basics.

"Rio Grande Camp Blanket" by Irvin Trujillo
“Rio Grande Camp Blanket” by Irvin Trujillo. This has a very rhythmic stripe. All of the stripes are evenly spaced and the same size. The blue and white stripes are clearly sitting on a dark background.The background seems to have some natural variation in the yarn which gives the piece some visual interest. Its stripes are very sedate and regular.In this piece, the stripes are sitting on background color.
"Wide Band Moki" by Irvin Trujillo
“Wide Band Moki” by Irvin Trujillo In this piece, the stripes are sitting on background color. In this case the blue is the background color. The blue and brown banding is pretty regular, but the stripes that are woven of white and tan are not nearly so homogenous. So this piece has more variation in it’s stripe dimensions and also has a couple more colors, making it a little bit more interesting to look at.
"Moki Mundo" by Lisa Trujillo
“Moki Mundo” by Lisa Trujillo. This piece has very regular Moki stripes of blue and brown that serve as a background for the stripes with designs. There is variation in the width of the designed stripes, variation of the tapestry-woven design elements.
LT 1st spin RG
“First Handspun” by Lisa Trujillo The stripes between the tapestry-woven design stripes here vary much more widely from stripe to stripe. Part of that is the variations in the handspun yarns, but much of it is in the lack of regularity in the pattern of the striping.
RG 2001
“Rio Grande 2001” by Irvin Trujillo Although this piece has much the same colors as the previous pieces had, we have a different emphasis in our coloration here and a definite lack of regularity in pattern. The reds at the center of the piece tend to draw the eye. But there is a lot going one beyond just the center. There are not clear delineations between stripes, no edges to help our mind see a predictable pattern. That adds an energy to the piece that a simple rythmic repetition does not have.

All of what we have visited here is just a few different approaches to striping. The possibilities for the tapestry design within the stripes is a whole different topic of discussion. Tapestry designs in Rio Grande stripes is related to, and almost certainly historically derivative of, the Saltillo design system. When we put tapestry into our Rio Grande stripes, we are bringing knowledge gained from our experience with Saltillo, Vallero, Chimayo, Modern, and even Pictorial weavings that we have done.

Style thinking

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I like to think that each piece I weave has its own set of rules to follow and its own set of challenges to overcome.  But the kinds of rules I set for the piece, and the kinds of challenges I’ll face, are related to the kind of weaving I’m working on.  So I thought it would be an interesting idea to look at what I call “style thinking”.  At least it’s interesting for me…

When I am deciding on what I am planning to weave, I tend to make our decisions based on yarns and considering whatever time constraints I might be operating under.  Which is to say that the yarns that we have available, with their stimulating colors and textures, are a big, often unconscious, part of thinking about design.  Time constraints are a much more conscious issue.  We have an annual “drop dead” deadline of Spanish Market, which is at the end of July and dominates our weaving schedule more than other time considerations.  We need to have things done in time for Market.  But the amount of time I have to focus on my work at the loom varies a lot with the seasons and our other commitments in life.  I have to think about these things before I launch into something that I won’t have time to finish.

 

For each style there are different ways to think about the following things:

  • design placement
  • time
  • color use
  • angles
  • repetition and rythm
  • kinds of mistakes,
  • level of detail
  • proportions
  • sticking with tradition and knowing where, when, and why to depart from tradition
  • where are the challenges?
  • where am I likely to get bored or worn out?

 

I’ll be addressing this in in a series of future posts, organized in order of the length of time it takes to get through a piece, from the quickest to the most complex and slow projects.  If you want to learn more about the history of the style you can take a look at earlier blog entries about that, or you can see the same material on our website, http://www.chimayoweavers.com.  The length of time it takes to get through a piece depends, more than anything on how much tapestry you wind up doing, and how complex it is.  It also takes much longer to weave things that require a lot of thought.  So complexity can be more than just moving a lot of spools, it can also mean trying out whole new, unfamiliar thought processes.  Trying out new ways of thinking is probably my favorite part of weaving.

 

 

Vallero

The Vallero is the first design within our tradition that actually develops here in Northern New Mexico. It’s named after the beautiful mountain town of El Valle, where there were a number of weavers who had the respected skill of being able to weave these distinctive textiles.  The oldest of these use commercial plied yarns, and tend to be more detailed than later Valleros.  The majority of Valleros were dyed with the early synthetic dyes, but are handspun wool.  Those woven before about the 1920’s are woven in two pieces with a seam down the center.

Trampas Vallero

This is a simple Trampas Vallero. It has five serrated Vallero stars, one in each corner and one in the center. The corner stars are in large boxes. It has a simple vertical border and it uses chained hourglasses to delineate color areas in the radiating diamond . It also shows striping in the radiating diamonds. You can see how similar these are to the Rio Grande Saltillos that preceded them. Valleros pretty much look like Rio Grande Saltillos but with eight-pointed stars added to them.  Not all Valleros have the same five-stars distribution.

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The weavers who wove Valleros were said to have had distinctive border designs that identified who wove the piece.  A majority of the Valleros we have seen have either a “tulipan” border like the piece above, or a “culebra” border like the Vallero below, or some combination of the two borders.

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An Evolution of Rio Grande Weaving

This is actually a fairly complete history of Rio Grande weaving.  A few weeks ago we were a part of a group of amazing experts on the local Hispanic culture of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado that met in Alamosa, Colorado. The participants are all instructors for something called the Hilos Institute.  The Institute is, we learned, about teaching instructors at Adams State University about the culture that a lot of their students come from, so that they can be do a better job as teachers.  And what they wanted us to understand, was how to organize our knowledge around teaching about Hispanic culture to their instructors.    We learned about “backwards design”, which turned out to be a very logical idea about teaching according to a goal of what you want your students to be learning.  So this idea popped into my mind.  This is (obviously) a spreadsheet.  And it includes pretty much the whole of what we want people to understand about how our weaving tradition evolved through the major historical periods of Hispanic New Mexico’s history.  It’s a little bit disconcerting to put your life’s learning into a spreadsheet like this, but hey, simplifying life is supposed to be a good thing, right?

Each of these images is good for a blog post or two, and has provided inspiration for countless weavings.  So, no, it isn’t really all that simple.  But here it is, anyhow, for your viewing pleasure.  We’re still happy to come show you lots of pretty pictures and explain this all in detail, should you want to invite us to speak…RG weaving historywpics_Page_1RG weaving historywpics_Page_2