The spider's skill spins in their soul

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WEAVING may be an old yarn in this valley village that goes back almost three centuries, but the Jacob Trujillo family is threading some new twists into the tradition. Jacob (Jake) Trujillo, dad and senior weaver, has been handy at the loom ever since his teen-age days. In the mid-'20s, he peddled his wares to tourists whose Model-Ts bumped along a dried-up arroyo, Chimay'o's makeshift highway of the time. Back then, Jake stayed mainly with a standard weaving pattern - the ``Rio Grande,'' earmarked by its horizontal stripes.

Today, Jake and family are still grounded in tradition, but they're also taking their weavings down some avant-garde avenues. Maybe that's because son, Irvin, a civil engineer, is home to stay. And with him is his wife, Lisa, a non-Hispanic who adds her own flair to this seventh generation of family weavers.

``Even before we were married [in 1982], Irvin told me - in so many words - that he had to move back here to Chimay'o someday,'' says Lisa who grew up in California and graduated from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, with a marketing degree. ``This is his family home. At that point, I realized if I'm going to get married to him, I had to find a way to live here, too.''

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The challenge loomed large because most of the citified genre see Chimay'o as a siesta settlement where the hottest spots around are chili-pepper fields.

But Lisa had her solution - husband Irvin taught her to weave. And this wife from the ``outside'' soon found that the spider's skill slept in her soul. Lisa now spins and weaves with the cream of Hispanic contemporaries.

``Just this year she completed a `Saltillo' serape. A very intricate one. It's an incredible piece,'' says Helen Lucero, curator of New Mexican Hispanic crafts and textiles at Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art.

The Saltillo took six months to weave. Muted in color, it plays out the delicacy of a minuet, the gentility of a Cassatt. And into the Saltillo's traditional diamond design, Lisa wove a non-traditional heart.

``Seems as though every time I go see them, they amaze me with something new,'' says Dr. Lucero. ``They're exploring combinations that aren't what traditional Spanish weavers would have been doing back in the l800s or early 1900s.''

Although weaving runs smooth for Lisa and Irvin, there's a hitch in their life's tapestry they're not always embraced by the Hispanic community. Irvin went to school in the more cosmopolitan Los Alamos, birthplace of the A-bomb, where his dad worked as a property manager in the lab complex. Thus, much of Irvin's growing-up time was spent on English-speaking turf. The family returned to their home in Hispanic Chimay'o only on weekends to weave and tend crops.

Later, Irvin went off to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, undergoing more immersion in the Anglo world. ``I just don't speak the language [Spanish] as fluently as a low rider [the local young Hispanic men who drive low-slung cars]. So I'm not always accepted,'' Irvin explains.

As for Lisa, Lucero of the folk art museum says flatly, ``She's not Hispanic. For us [at the museum], it's a little difficult. We just haven't come up with a definitive solution what to do'' about Hispanic arts from non-Hispanics.

But Lisa seems to put this dilemma aside because she has backing where it counts - her father-in-law. Jake says, ``Oh, I'm really proud of her. She's not only a weaver - she's an artist, one of the best.''

Both Lisa and Irvin visit museums to study early examples, and they collect old dye recipes. If you walk into their kitchen, chances are you'll see dye brewing on one stove and enchiladas on the other.

It's in summer and autumn that Lisa hunts for her natural dyes, gathering the yellow blossom of the chamisa along arroyos; the flowers of the cota for oranges and bronze; the fruit of the prickly pear cactus for tans.

But the family buys its natural red made from the cochineal. ``They're insects imported from Peru,'' explains Irvin. ``Ten thousand to dye a pound of wool. You grind [the dried ones] into red powder.''

Lisa has taken to all three phases - dyeing, spinning, and weaving. ``But weaving really has turned out ideal for me. It appeals to the type of thinking I like to do. I don't like to plan ahead, and in weaving you only have to plan ahead six inches or so,'' she says with a laugh that's slightly tentative.

According to Irvin, most weavers carry their designs ``in their heads,'' although he has seen some families with sketches. That pattern-on-paper approach definitely isn't this crew's style. ``The best part of it is I create things that I don't know how they're gonna look until I'm finished,'' says Jake.

Almost any day finds Jake in the workshop, weaving wool spun by his wife, Isabelle. Outside, the countryside is quiet, but the craft drums up its own cadences - the pedaling of the treadles, the bobbing of the bobbins, and the steady slam of the beater as Jake pulls it toward him to tighten a woven row. Seven wooden looms - clunky as kids' climbers in a tot lot - crowd the room. They're all rough-hewn, handmade.

When the weather warms, sightseers will stream out of Santa Fe, heading for the high road to Taos. And en route, they'll see the sign to Jake's place.

A weaving glossary of the Southwest Rio Grande - A broad term referring to Hispanic weaving from the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico.

In narrower definition, the term denotes a pattern characterized by stripes. Design elements can also be woven into the stripes at the same time.

Saltillo - Original Saltillos were woven as serapes (ponchos) in Saltillo, Mexico, as early as 1700.

Design motifs for Saltillos include the chevron, diamond, hourglass, leaf-like symbol, and zigzag column. Serrated edges are common.

Vallero - The trademark is the eight-pointed star, usually brightly colored with strong borders. Chimay'o - A commercial style developed for the tourist trade about 1900. Designs include both Hispanic and Indian elements, the thunderbird being particularly popular.

Ikat - A resist-dyeing process. A weaver must have a predetermined pattern in thought. He wraps and binds a specific amount of wool. He then dyes the wool.

Because of the tight binding, some of the wool resists the dye, giving a pattern to the yarn.

This patterned yarn is integrated into the overall textile design.

Jerga - A coarse weave used for carpeting.

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