CHAPTER XV. Navaho and Pueblo Belts, Garters, and Hair Bands


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ALL visitors to the Navaho reservation and to the homes of the various Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico, especially in early days (twenty or more years ago), were astonished and delighted at the beautifully designed and woven belts worn by the women around their waists, and the garters and head bands worn by the men.

Dr. Washington Matthews thus describes the methods followed in weaving these:

Their way of weaving long ribbon-like articles, such as sashes or belts, garters, and hair-bands, which we will next consider, presents many interesting variations from the method pursued in making blankets. To form a sash the weaver proceeds as follows: She drives into the ground four sticks and on them she winds her warp as a continuous string (however, as the warp usually consists of threads of three

FIG. 188—Diagram showing formation of warp of sash

different colors, it is not always one continuous string), from below upwards in such a way as to secure two sheds, as shown in the diagram, Fig. 188.

Every turn of the warp passes over the sticks a and b; but it is alternate turns that pass over c and d. When the warp is laid she ties a string around the intersection of the sheds at e, so as to keep the sheds separate while she is mounting the warp on the beams. She then places the upper beam of the loom in the place of the stick b and the lower beam in the place of the stick a. Sometimes the upper and lower beams are secured to the two rails forming a frame such as the warp of a blanket is wound on, but more commonly the loom is arranged as follows: The upper beam is secured to a rafter, post or tree, while to the lower beam is attached a loop of rope that passes under the thighs of the weaver, and the warp is rendered tense by her weight. Next, the upper shed is supplied with a shed-rod and the lower shed with a set of healds. Then a stick is inserted at f; this is simply a round stick, about which one loop of each thread of the warp is thrown. (Although the warp may consist of only one thread, I must now speak of each turn as a separate thread.) Its use is to keep the different threads in place and prevent them from crossing and straggling; for it must be remembered that the warp in this case is not secured at two points between three stranded cords, as is the blanket warp.


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When this is all ready the insertion of the weft begins. The reed-fork is rarely needed and the batten used is much shorter than that employed in making blankets. Fig. 189 represents a section of a belt. It will be seen that the center is ornamented with peculiar raised figures; these are made by inserting a slender stick into the warp, so as to hold up certain of the threads while the weft is passed twice or oftener underneath them. It is practically a variety of damask or two-ply weaving; the figures on the opposite side of the belt being different. There is a limited variety of these figures. I think I have seen about a dozen different kinds. The experienced weaver is so well acquainted with the ‘‘„count„’’ or arrangements of the raised threads appropriate to each pattern that she goes on inserting and withdrawing the slender stick referred to without a moment's hesitation, making the web at the rate of ten or twelve

FIG. 189—Section of Navaho belt

inches an hour. When the web has grown to the point at which she cannot weave it further without bringing the unfilled warp nearer to her, she is not obliged to resort to the clumsy method used with blankets. She merely seizes the anterior layer of the warp and pulls it down towards her; for the warp is not attached to the beams, but is movable on them; in other words, while still on the loom the belt is endless. When all the warp has been filled except about one foot, the weaving is completed; for then the unfilled warp is cut in the center and becomes the terminal fringes of the now finished belt.

The only marked difference that I have observed between the mechanical appliances of the Navaho weaver and those of her Pueblo neighbor is to be seen in the belt loom. The Zuni woman lays out her warp, not as a continuous thread around two beams, but as several disunited threads. She attaches one end of these to a fixed object, usually a rafter in her dwelling, and the other to the belt she wears around her body. She has a set of wooden healds by which she actuates the alternate threads of the warp. Instead of using the slender stick of the Navahos to elevate the threads of the warp in forming her figures, she lifts these threads with her fingers.


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This is an easy matter with her style of loom; but it would be a very difficult task with that of the Navahos. The wooden healds are shown in Fig. 190. The Zuni women weave all their long, narrow webs according to the same system; but Mr. Bandelier has informed me that the Indians of the Pueblo of Cochiti make the narrow garters and hair-bands after the manner of the Zunis, and the broad belts after the manner of the Navahos.

FIG. 190—Wooden heald of the Zunis

It will be interesting to compare the photographs of Navaho weavers and Fig. 191. In the latter a girl of ancient Mexico is weaving a web of some description. The former are from photographs taken from life; the other I have copied from Taylor's Anthropology(p.248); but it appears earlier in the copy of Codex Vaticana in Lord Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico. The way in which the warp is held down and made tense, by a rope or band secured to the lower beam and sat upon by the weaver, is the same in both cases. And it seems that the artist who drew the original rude sketch sought to represent the girl, not as working ‘‘„the cross-thread of the woof in and out on a stick,„’’ but as manipulating the reed-fork with one hand and grasping the heald-rod and shed-rod in the other.

Mr. A. M. Stephen, a careful observer, who lived in close contact with both Navaho and Hopis some forty years ago, thus wrote (in an unpublished manuscript) of Navaho belts, etc.:

Aside from the products of the vertical loom, smaller fabrics are woven by different methods, as in the making of the girdle. A woman prepares to make one of these by spinning the warp on her primitive spindle to the requisite fineness, not thicker than knitting cotton, and often as small as sewing thread. She then selects a level place and drives two stout pegs in the ground, from four to six inches apart, and two others parallel to these, at a distance of from eight to twelve feet, according to the width and length proposed for the girdle. Across the ends of each pair of pegs, which project not higher than a foot above the ground, a slender stick is fastened, and around these two sticks, the warp, of different colors,is wound in the desired order and tightly stretched. A common arrangement in a girdle, say seven fingers wide, is to wind threads of dark blue so as to form a border on each side of one finger-width; next adjoining these, on the inside, another finger-width of light green, leaving three finger-widths between, which is then stretched with scarlet, and in the center, where the design is to be wrought, an additional


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finger-width of black thread is stretched over the scarlet. A black weft, wound upon a short twig, is then looped upon the outside warp-thread and carried across, above and below each alternate warp, then looped upon the outside thread on the opposite border. This is continued along the entire length of the girdle, and as the upper and under warp-threads are brought very compactly together, the weft is entirely concealed, and the process is really an inversion of ordinary weaving, the warp forming the surface instead of the weft.

Fig. 191—Girl weaving (from an Aztec picture)

A favorite design in the center of the girdle is a zigzag band extending its whole length, with a conventional figure of a bird, with outspread wings within each angle; this is produced on the upper or obverse side, by passing the weft under two or more threads of scarlet at once, leaving a single black thread below; the design is thus thrown in scarlet relief with black interstices, upon the obverse or outside of the girdle as worn, and a fringe of the warp, about six inches long is left at each end. The women alone wear girdles, and only the men wear garters to support their buckskin leggins. These garters are made by a method slightly modified from the above, but are, of course, much smaller, although woven with equal nicety, and are usually about two inches wide and four feet long.

Cinches or saddle girths are also made in decorated patterns, but instead of being woven between pegs, the warp is passed directly between the large iron rings or buckles at each end. After the warp has been thus arranged, one of the rings is fastened to the branch of a tree, or other convenient support, and the weaver attaches the other ring to her waist girdle, seating herself on the ground in such a position as to give the required tension to the warp, and the process she follows is more of close, neat braiding than weaving. These cinches are from four to six inches wide, and from two feet to thirty inches long.

Dr. R. W. Shufeldt, who thirty years ago spent many years on the reservation, thus describes and pictures the Navaho belt weaver at work. He says:

Among the Navahos one will see a great many blankets made before an opportunity will be presented for him to observe the labors of a belt-weaver. The reason for this is, that blankets are a universal necessity with them, while the belt is principally used as a supplementary adornment in dress. As my time for leaving the country drew near I almost despaired of getting a good photograph of the belt-weaver and the study of the loom she used. But a month before my departure an Indian came into my study one morning, beaming all over with the welcome information that one of the best weavers in the tribe had started the making of a belt in front of one of their huts. These Indians were then building close to the confines of the garrison.

The first day I studied her methods of procedure and the second day I succeeded in obtaining several excellent pictures of this weaver at work. My best result is here offered as an illustration, and it well shows the entire scene. The woman has rigged up her loom in front of her house; she is busily employed in her weaving and her child sits beside her.(Fig. 192.)

The weaver had constructed the subvertical, outside part of the frame of her loom of two trunks of small pine trees, averaging a little over three inches in diameter, and from which the bark had not been removed. Parallel to each other, and placed about a yard apart, these she had placed in a slanting position against the front of her


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By courtesy of the National Museum, Smithsonian Institution. FIG. 192—The Navaho belt weaver at work


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house outside. The upper ends were strapped to the house, and the lower ends slightly planted in the earth, being held more secure there by a few stones. Next she had firmly tied on cross pieces, a double one a few inches from the top, and a single one at about a foot above the ground. Over these cross pieces the warp passes, and in such a manner as to produce a double shed only. Then a smooth short rod is made to take up the alternate threads of the warp above the intersection or in the upper shed. This is easily seen in the engraving. Below the intersection of the threads of the warp the weaver serves the lower shed with a set of healds, which are usually composed of yarn, have their own rod, and as in the case of the rod above the intersection, include alternate threads of the warp. When drawn towards the weaver the healds serve the purpose of opening the lower shed, and still another short rod is used to keep the threads in place, which is also well seen in the figure, where the woman has her hands resting upon the batten, a smooth, flat, and rather narrow piece of hard wood. This is the last and yet one of the most important adjuncts composing this primitive loom, and is used by the weaver in turning it horizontally to open the shed to admit the passage of the weft, and afterwards to pound the latter down firmly into its place as the weaving proceeds.

These belt-looms as in use among the Navahos are not always exactly alike in their construction; for we find in some of them that the side posts of the frame are omitted, and the upper cross piece is fastened to a tree, and the lower one served with a loop of rope through which the weaver passes her limbs and then sits down upon, thus holding the warp of her belt firm and tense by her own weight as she sits cross-legged afterwards at her work. Other modifications of this simple loom are also to be seen in the contrivances in use among the Zunians and other Pueblo tribes, and there are a number of departures from the main details of the weaving (also to be noted), as we have described them above.

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