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.)

Dyed in the Wool – New Mexico Magazine article

Even Our Looms Have History



I really have no idea how many of these postcards were printed up with this loom during the mid twentieth century but it must be a lot, because there seem to be a lot of them still around after all these years.  I have seen them around, mostly in antique stores and the like since I started weaving in 1982.  Nowadays you can easily find them sold on Ebay if you ever want one for yourself.  The photo was taken in Santa Fe, in a shop on the Plaza called Southwest Arts and Crafts.  At one point the image was even painted on the side of the building the shop was in.  Even now, the same image is painted onto the side of the spinning mill in Mora, NM.  Really.


Now let’s take a look at the loom my father-in-law, Jake Trujillo built and used throughout most of his life. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is a very similar design to the loom in the postcard.  It’s basically in a big box, not a castle loom like many Chimayo weavers use.  The breast beam sits inside the box,  set in a foot or so from the front of the loom.  The beater is hung from above, and it has it so that the beater can be adjusted within the space between the harnesses and the weaver.  Even the old wooden gear looks the same.  I remember asking about Jake’s loom.  He would say that he built it in 1925 or so, and that he had modeled it on a loom that was in a store in Santa Fe.  The Santa Fe weaver he had learned a lot from was someone named Frank Miera, but I don’t know if what he learned from Mr Miera included loom design.  He had built the loom to weave for his brother-in-law Severo Jaramillo, who I gather at some point before or after he became a dealer here in Chimayo was probably selling to the Southwest Arts and Crafts business on the plaza.  In any case this big loom was Jake’s favorite.  He wove 54″ x 84″ weavings on that loom from the time he built it until World War II.  After the war he married and started a life divided between Los Alamos and La Centinela, and between a job and his family and his land.  I understand that he rarely wove again until Irvin’s sister Pat left home to go to college and vacated a room that accommodated his loom.  That’s when Irvin started to weave.   Jake kept this as his favorite loom until the day he died, weaving countless glorious blankets over a long and productive life.  After he passed away, we were at a loss as to what to do with his loom.  Irvin should have taken it, but it’s a little bit, well, too short for him.  Besides, he already had a couple of wide looms to work on.  So we put it in the garage for a few years.  Eventually it was decided that I, Lisa, could use a big loom, and we pulled it out and set it up where it is in this photo and where it stands to this day.  I found out that it is really a great loom and had little trouble adjusting to the bigger loom.  What I did have to adjust to was the idea that it was really Jake’s loom.  His spirit always seems to me to be there with his loom.  I like to think that he supports what I’m doing on that loom.



Sometime in the mid 90’s or so we had someone offer to sell us a bunch of old looms and equipment.  The stuff had been found in a garage in Santa Fe;  apparently ignored for many decades.  I guess I’m not surprised that when people find stuff like this they think of us.  And we have bought a lot of old looms over the years, and can usually put them to good use.  Irvin was moving his big loom off to another location so that he could weave while the kids were in school in White Rock, so we had a need for another big loom, so we set up the one from the old Santa Fe garage.  He didn’t have to make a lot of modifications to it, except to get it to fit under our low-ceiling workspace.  Irv started producing his great work on that loom.  It took us years to notice that the loom had the same completely inexplicable holes in it’s frame that the loom in the post card had.  In the end we had to conclude that Irvin’s loom was the very same loom.  There are a couple of other clues that led us this conclusion.


This is the other postcard of that loom.  I’m pretty sure that it predates the first postcard in this post by a few years.  But it’s the same loom with some of those same inexplicable holes.  It also has the spool winder in the picture.  Yeah, the think that looks like a spinning wheel probably was never used to spin on, but it is very usefull for preparing spools of wool to weave on.  Whereas I’m sure that that is a nonsensical place to be winding spools, it is kind of picturesque.  And it was one of the pieces of equipment that came with the loom.  As did the madajera that you can see prominently displayed in the later postcard.  I put them to use where I work, in the big display room of the shop, because I much prefer manually winding spools to using an electric motor to do the job.  I leave such manly techniques to my husband.  What is interesting about the winder is that the wheel is a bicycle wheel.   And not just any bicycle wheel, but a wooden one.  I don’t know enough about bicycle history to tell you what that means exactly.  We have been told when the wheel was likely to have been manufactured, but I failed to commit that to memory.  The madajera is of an equally distinctive construction.  There are much simpler ways to build these, and this one is different than any others that I have seen, combining elements that are like an “umbrella swift” with a permanent base.

So I no longer question that the loom Irvin is now weaving on is the loom from Southwest Arts and Crafts that Jake Trujillo based his -now my- loom on.  All these old pieces of weaving equipment require maintenance.  We’ve replaced parts over the years, because stuff really does fall apart just like the rules of physics say they do.  But our equipment is homemade.  We can find or make all the parts we need and we have come up with creative fixes time and time again.  It’s all about keeping them going, and it’s what we love to do.