Navajo Wool Spinning

Navajo RugsThe Navajo never used the familiar spinning wheel. The Navajo weaver hand spins her wool into yarn, with a spindle resembling a miniature ski pole. The end is achieved by pulling and twisting in one operation, since spinning is essentially a process of twisting while pulling.

The spindle is worked with the right hand, the wool with the left. A narrow piece of carded wool is twisted around the top of the spindle, then a twirl of the spindle combined with a pull on the end of the starter thread, causes the line of yarn to grow in length. Twirl, stretch and jerk; over and over the process is repeated, adding more rolls of carded wool, until all of the wool is twisted into thread. As soon as the strand is as long and as twisted as the weaver desires, she tilts the spindle so it and the strand of wool are almost at acute angles; the spindle keeps twirling, and the wool is wound up and down the upper portion of the spindle. This is repeated until the spindle will hold no more, and the stranded wool is unwound from the spindle, wrapped into balls and laid aside.

Once all the wool is spun, or as much as the weaver believes she may need, it is all respun once or twice or more, according to the thickness and tightness of the yarn required. The second twisting is normally enough for the making of the wool yarns, but the third twisting gives a tight, strong, bristly cord about as thick as the usual binding twine. For the extra fine weaves the yarn is both fine and extra tightly woven. More wool is used in the first spinning to make it heavier and coarser for the warp (vertical thread). Further spinnings, pulling and twisting the original yarn into finer and finer thread, is used for the weft (horizontal thread).

Several thousand yards of yarn are needed to produce a good-quality four by six foot weaving. Only the amount of yarn needed for each weaving is actually spun, and the spinning process often goes on while the weaving is in progress.

Wool produced from the different strains and crossbreeds of Navajo sheep is sometimes commercially cleaned, cleaned and spun, or cleaned spun, and dyed, and returned to the Navajo weavers for use in their weaves. At present most processed wool has taken the form of cleaned, spun, and dyed yarn, colored with synthetic dyes to resemble soft vegetal-dyed or durable synthetic-dyed hand-spun yarns.