Wool and Weaving
Navajo Churro Wool
A Navajo-Churro fleece contains an inner coat of 2 inches to 4 inches of fine fibers and a protective outer coat of 4 inches to 14 inches of long, course, hairlike fibers. It has varying amounts of short, course, opaque kemp fibers. The kemp fiber is essential in an "original" Churro fleece because kemp represents primitive characteristics. Kemp is usually white, brittle and will fall out when weaving. Likewise, the fleece affords maximum protection to the sheep from the many adverse conditions common in the semi-desert and mountainous country.
For the people this wool from the Old-Type Navajo (Churro) sheep is ideal for hand rug weaving as it comes in a array of natural colors, has a low content of grease and yolk, few crimps per inch and long staple length compared to breeds such as Rambouillet. The annual grease fleece weight for a mature ewe averages 5-7 pounds. Due to the extremes on staple length and rapid growth of fiber some flocks are shorn twice a year.
photo: M. Benanav
Teacher of Weaving -- Spider Woman
Spider woman is a deity among the Dine' whose home is at the top of Spider Rock. Her husband made her the first loom, using the sky and earth cords for the cross poles, sun rays for the warp sticks, rock crystal and sheet lighting for the healds, and a sun halo for the batten. The comb was made of a white shell.
The story goes that children that misbehave are carried way to the top of Spider Rock to be eaten and the top is white due to the accumilation of bones.
photo: M. Benanav
The classic Weaving period was during 1680's to 1800's in which the original Navajo weavings were woven using hand spun Navajo-Churro Wool. This accounted for the long wearing and luster on the finished product. The 3rd Phase Chief wearing blanket, which was a culmination of designs from the 1st and 2 phases, was made of 100 % Navajo-Churro wool.
Although the "Classic period" ended, many rugs are still made today. Even with all the new varieties of wool and synthetics, the Navajo-Churro wool is still the most desired for traditional Navajo weavings. Many of those who weave raise their own Navajo-Churro Sheep flocks and process their own wool for traditional weavings.