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Navajo weavers learn, enhance skills at spin off

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Lois Becenti sets the batter stick inside the wool warp on a weaving loom during the Crownpoint Spin Off at Navajo Technical University on Friday.

CROWNPOINT — As Gilbert Begay twisted wool fibers into yarn, his wooden spindle gently tapped the floor.

He learned the method, as well as how to card and wash wool and weave, from his maternal and paternal grandmothers starting when he was 11-years-old.

Thirty-four years later, he continues the Navajo weaving tradition, including paying homage to his grandmothers by merging their Gallup throws and Two Grey Hills designs into his pieces.

Begay, who is considered among the Navajo master weavers, was among the weavers gathered at the Crownpoint Spin Off on Friday at Navajo Technical University.

This was the fourth session for the spin off, which is designed to provide space for beginner and advanced weavers to gain knowledge while promoting the skill.

"You learn from one another. You meet people from other areas," Begay said.

"We're here all as one. If someone wants to learn, one of us is eager to teach them," he added.

The sessions are sponsored by Diné Bé' Iiná Inc., a nonprofit organization that promotes, preserves and protects the Navajo way of life.

Lois Becenti, a member of the organization, said the sessions are designed to promote weaving by teaching the basics, encouraging communication between weavers and sharing information about weaving's cultural significance.

Lois Becenti, a member of Diné Bé' Iiná Inc., looks through a book about weaving on Friday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

"My goal is always teaching, teaching, teaching. Let the young ones know, gain their knowledge and gain their skills about weaving. That's what I'm after," Becenti said.

Through a partnership between Diné Bé' Iiná and Wesley Thomas, an adviser for the Diné Culture, Language and Leadership program at NTU, the sessions are taking place at the university's hogan and are open to students as well.

The sessions happen on the third Friday of each month for now.

"It's a free event. If you want to know something about weaving, spinning and carding, just invite yourself," Becenti said.

For more information about the spin off, contact Diné Bé' Iiná Inc. at 505-406-7428.

From left, Lois Becenti and Lisa Hudson situate a rod as part of the process to assemble a weaving loom during the Crownpoint Spin Off at Navajo Technical University on Friday.

Becenti later helped Thoreau resident Lisa Hudson assemble her weaving loom.

Hudson is learning how to weave. She listened to Becenti's advice while the two women worked alongside each other to piece together the loom.

Occasionally, Becenti quizzed Hudson about the names of the weaving tools.

"You have to know each piece of your tools," Becenti said after Hudson removed her weaving supplies from storage.

Annie A. James uses a spindle to spin wool during the Crownpoint Spin Off on Friday at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

Crownpoint resident Lana Henio came to the spin off to learn more about weaving.

Although Henio knows the basics, she wants to develop her skills in design and to learn how to use a spindle.

"I want to learn how to be a good weaver," Henio said adding there are economic benefits to becoming a good weaver.

She has woven two rugs during her life.

The first was for the public employment program at Whitehorse Lake Chapter in the early 2000s. It was later sold for $500 at the Crownpoint Rug Auction, she said.

Wire is used to hold together parts of a weaving loom.

The second was made from black and white mohair and was the size of a saddle blanket.

Henio sold it when finances became tough.

"It's my first time, but I kind of think I'm getting the hang of it," she said of wool spinning.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.