Carding & Spinning Sheep's Wool for a Navajo Rug
Navajo weaving is both an art form and a labor of love. That’s because these highly-detailed rugs, blankets and weavings aren’t just for comfort; they tell an historic tale of a proud people through beauty and innovative creativity.
The origin of these well-woven textiles may have been passed down in story from Spider Woman who taught the first weavers to weave by using sunlight, white shells, lightning and crystals.
Here is more information about the historic methods of working with the wool after it is shorn from the sheep.
Traditional Hand Carding
Historically, fleece and fibers were prepared before they could be used for weaving. Hand carding is the process of separating and straightening wool fibers using wooden paddles with wire “teeth” or bristles.
It works like this: the top “card” hooks its teeth into the wool in one direction, while the bottom “card” hooks its teeth in going the opposite direction. The weaver then works to gently tease and pull apart the wool creating evenly distributed layers, varying fiber lengths, eliminating any foreign matter inside, and improve fiber resiliency.
There are also two types of teeth which can be used—coarse and fine. The coarse cards are for fibers like mohair or wool, while the fine teeth can be used on soft fibers like cotton or angora.
Spinning the Perfect Thread
There are many forms in which to spin wool and the Navajo have a few techniques that can be used to form the perfect thread. The most famous and historic method is the Navajo spindle, also known as a drop spindle.
This type of spindle is generally categorized into three classes—center whorl, bottom whorl and top whorl. They all have varying degrees of speed and balance, but they can also produce different threat thickness. These “handspindles” involve spinning a stick with a weight top while the yarn twists and winds around the shaft.
Most of the historic weavings on our website are made with hand shorn, hand carded, hand spun Native Wool. Here are a couple of links to click to see weavings made using these techniques (A Historic Saddle Blanket and a Two Grey Hill Style). The Saddle Blanket (ght 2257) displayed shows the effect of the hand spinning of the natural wool along with the weavers hinge points that create depth and landscape. The Two Grey Hill (ght 2109) woven by one of the famous Two Grey Hill weavers, Bessie Manygoats, shows how fine she would have spun her wool.
- DeAnne Clifton