Weaving Navajo Tradition

on November 5, 2006

D.Y. Begay holds centuries of Navajo history in her skillful hands as she weaves earth-inspired designs on her wooden loom. Creating Navajo rugs and blankets is a way of life for Begay, who was born in Tselani, Ariz., on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Like her mother and grandmother who taught her the craft, Begay, 52, shears her own sheep, then cleans, cards, dyes and spins the wool before creating traditional and original patterns.

Following Navajo tradition, her family raises about 30 Churro sheep valued for their long and silky greaseless fleece, which is ideal for weaving. “The black Churro sheep are my favorites because of their dark lustrous wool,” says Begay, who returns to Tselani for shearing each spring from her home and studio in Scottsdale, Ariz.

After shearing the sheep, she begins the laborious process of cleaning the wool and carding it to straighten the fibers. She skillfully spins the wool into fine, even thread using a traditional wooden spindle. “The quality of a Navajo rug depends on how well the wool is spun, so spinning is an important part of the process,” Begay says.

As a child, she watched her grandmother collect berries, walnuts, bloodroots, cedar bark and prickly pear fruit to make dyes to color the wool. Later, her parents taught her which plants to pick, how to use insects, dirt and sand to produce the most desirable hues, and how to boil the natural materials with the wool to set the dyes.

As Begay developed her craft, she learned other dyeing techniques from books. Today, she experiments with natural materials she finds in the Arizona desert and in her travels around the world. “People say the desert is ugly and they think there?

Found in: Traditions