CHAPTER XXI. The ChimayÓ Blanket


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WHILE the aborigine of North America was familiar with the art of weaving prior to the coming of the Spaniards, it was much modified and improved after his advent. The Navaho brought a rude loom and rude methods of work with him. Here he found the Pueblo Indian and from him learned much. Then, when the Spaniard came, both Pueblo and Navaho had sheep added to their possessions, the wool from which practically changed the future of the art of weaving as far as they were concerned.

The Spaniards and Mexicans also brought with them their weaving arts. Many of their numbers were able to weave blankets and the finer serapes. Hence, side by side, three different types of blanket-weaving were carried on. These were, first, that of the Pueblos; second, that of the Navahos, and, third, that of the Mexicans. Almost every Mexican settlement had its weavers in the early days of their occupation of what is now United States territory, but here and there the art declined and finally disappeared, while in other settlements but one or two families preserved their looms and continued to use them. One settlement, ChimayÓ, however, kept up its weaving, and has so persistently continued in its practice that ChimayÓ blankets have become known all over the civilized world, and its older and better types are highly prized by collectors. The Mexican settlements known as ChimayÓ are about thirty miles north of Santa Fé and ten or twelve miles from Española, a station on the narrow-gauge line of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, which runs from Santa Fé to Denver, changing at Alamosa, Colorado, from the narrow to the broad gauge.

It was a sharp, clear, snappy afternoon in December, 1912, when I walked from Española to Santa Cruz, two miles away, getting a ‘‘„lift„’’ in a friendly buggy as I crossed the bridge over the Rio de la Santa Cruz.

ChimayÓ is not a town in the sense that Americans understand the term. It is the name given to ten or eleven little settlements, stretching out for six miles or more along the Santa Cruz River. The name implies ‘‘„the meeting of the streams.„’’ Just above the uppermost settlement the Rio Cundiyo and the Rio Chiquito unite and form the Santa Cruz. The dwellers in the ChimayÓ settlements call it the Rio Chimay´ until it reaches


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the town of Santa Cruz, when they are then willing to call it the Rio de la Santa Cruz—a change rather confusing to the ordinary American not accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of the Mexican mind. The settlements that form Chimay´ are known as follows, coming up the river from west to east—all are on the north side of the stream except La Puebla to the west and Potrero to the east—Cuarteles, so called because a body of Mexican soldiers was once quartered there; La Puebla; Plaza Abajo, the lower plaza; Los Ranchos; La Cuchilla, so-called because it is located on a small hill with a knife-like ridge; Plaza del Cerro, the plaza of the hill (this is commonly known as ChintayÓ on account of its possessing the post-office bearing that name); Rincon, the corner settlement; Potrero, ‘‘„the opening„’’—into the canyon above; Los Ojuelos, the little springs; El Llano, the plain; and Rio Chiquito, the Little River.

The locations of the ChimayÓ settlements were occupied by Indians long prior to the advent of the Spaniards and Mexicans. All the way up the banks of the stream there were small Indian rancherias or pueblos, and these people all called themselves ChimayÓ. It was in 1714 that a few Spanish families came and settled along the river, and little by little the Indians disappeared, or were absorbed by marriage, until now there is not a single Indian family left. This also accounts for the Mexican names given to the different settlements.

After spending the night in the parsonage of Santa Cruz, I hired a buggy to take me to ChimayÓ the next morning. The road for the major part of the distance is up the course of the Rio Santa Cruz, which at this time of the year spreads out into two, three, or more rapidly flowing creeks. The road was rocky in most places, sandy, and rough. We crossed the stream many times, the separate channels being lined with thick ice. In spring, when the ice thaws out, the road is muddy in places, as well as sandy and rocky; in summer, when the rains and cloudbursts come one cannot venture to guess where and what the road is, for they tell me there is no other way of going back and forth, and the stream spreads out until all roads are obliterated, and, at times, the river becomes a raging torrent, pouring down its flood with great rapidity to the Rio Grande. In the fall it is rocky, muddy, sandy, and rough; and winter, spring, summer, and winter it is uniformly hard, uphill, and disagreeable, except to those who choose to take their daily exercise by being jolted, jarred, jounced, and jiggered from one side of the buggy or wagon to another, up and down, back and forth, and sometimes all directions in one grand bounce, which jerks the head half off the shoulders, and semi-dislocates the spine.

But immediately on reaching Plaza del Cerro all memory of the discomforts suffered disappear. A drive of two hours and a half has

Fig. 223. Native Wool, Standard Quality. (Collection of C. H. Algert Co.)

Fig. 224. Extra Quality Native Wool Blanket. (Wetherill & Coleville Collection.)

Fig. 225. Extra Quality Native Wool Blanket. (Vroman Collection.)

Fig. 226. Extra Quality Native Wool. (Vroman Collection.)


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brought us to the settlement, snugly nestled along the foothills, beyond which snowy-clad peaks of the Rocky Mountains tower into the New Mexico sky. It is a straggling place, with streets that remind one of Sam Walter Foss's poem of the Boston ‘‘„Calf Path,„’’ in their irresponsible and altogether unsuspected twinings and twistings. Here a large plaza is surrounded by well-built, thrifty-looking Mexican houses. Though built of adobe, and with flat roofs, most of them are whitewashed and attractive, and a few glimpses through open doors as we pass suggest what our later observation confirms, that here is no lazy, indifferent, drinking, gambling Mexican settlement, but the home of self-respecting, hard-working, thriving, law-abiding men and women, who could well set an example to many far more pretentious towns and villages in our eastern states.

On every hand are evidences of prosperity. Fruit orchards are found in all directions. Apples, peaches, plums, and cherries grow abundantly and of finest flavor, and a ready market is found for them in Santa Fé, Albuquerque, and other points on the Santa Fé Railway. The plaza itself is cut up into gardens belonging to those who dwell around it, and in spring and summer it supplies their tables with a varied and abundant supply of vegetables, while it charms the eye of residents and visitors alike with the riot of color of its fragrant flowers.

During the fruit and vegetable season the people are fruit growers and agriculturists, but in winter, when the ground is frozen, they uncover their looms, and in three-fifths of the houses the bump of the batten and the jerk of the treadle may be heard as the busy weaver plies her shuttle to and fro.

Here everything is different from the methods followed by the Navaho. The loom, though rude and roughly built, is not unlike those which George Eliot described in Adam Bede, or which even now may be found in many of the older and quieter village communities of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The spinning wheel is different, however, in appearance from the old wheels which we find now and again in ancient houses, or exalted to places of honor in local museums, although, of course, the principle of working is practically the same.

Being made by Mexicans, the older types of ChimayÓ blankets were made in two parts, as are the serapes, sewed together down the middle. Of late years, however, as there has grown up a demand for ChimayÓ work, the double, center-sewn blanket practically has been abandoned, and it is now made in one piece, complete.

Figs. 249, 250 are representative ChimayÓs of the oldest and best types. The warp is of home-grown, home-cleaned, home-carded, homespun, natural white wool. Two threads are spun together to give the blankets


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strength and body. The weaving is simple, as is also the design, while the colors are but white, black, and blue, the two former being the native colors of the wool, and the blue made by dyeing with indigo. In some of the stripes that separate the black it will be observed that blue and white alternate. This alternation is caused by the weaver holding a shuttle of blue in one hand, and one of white in the other, and throwing them simultaneously in opposite directions.

Fig. 249 is of much the simpler form, though the colors in both blankets are the same, and only straight lines are used. Fig. 250, however, is much better woven and a far more desirable blanket. It is of full size and weighs about seven pounds. The general effect of its simplicity in color and design, enhanced by a peculiar charm bestowed by age, gives it a dignity altogether foreign to the later and more pretentious work.

Now and again a ChimayÓ weaver, embued with the love of colors apparently inherent in all Mexicans, wove a blanket with a wider gamut. and I was fortunate in securing a rare and beautiful specimen of this type especially woven for my friend, the Rev. G. Haelterman, the Catholic priest of Santa Cruz, in whose parish all the ChimayÓ settlements are, and to whose people he has continuously ministered for a score or more years. This blanket, Fig.251, is 42x75 inches in size, though, as it is woven in two parts and sewn down the center, it is really two strips 21x75 inches long. The basic color is white with the lines of the serrated diamonds in a light red, dark brown, dark blue, rich maroon-chocolate, with touches of lemon-yellow. The blanket has been washed many times and some of the colors have slightly ‘‘„run„’’ into those of other lines, and this seems to have enhanced the color values instead of detracting from them.

The blue dye of the old ChimayÓ blanket is indigo. This was brought from Mexico in lumps about the size of a walnut. A number of these lumps were placed in a small sack made of cheese-cloth or its equivalent, which was then thrown into a small earthenware bowl of urine. As soon as the indigo showed signs of disintegrating a larger bowl was put out of doors, on a fire, and the urine and indigo stirred now and again while it came to a boil. When all the coloring matter was thoroughly dissolved and the liquid boiled, the wool was immersed several times until the color was thoroughly absorbed. The yarn was then allowed to drain for a short time, after which it was hung out to dry.

The yellow was gained from the same flower used by the Navahos.

The red used was exactly as described in the chapter on the bayeta blanket. For the New Mexican trade it was generally purchased in ‘‘„Brazil sticks.„’’

When attention was directed by experts to the fine weaving of the

Fig.227. Extra Quality Native Wool. (Fred Harvey Collection.)


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Navahos, and the traders sent collectors all through New Mexico to gather every old bayeta, native-wool and native-dyed blankets, they brought in quite a number of these ChimayÓ blankets. The collectors did not gain their history; they were simply informed they were not Navahos, but were made in New Mexico by Mexicans. The name was spelled, therefore, in Mexican or Spanish fashion, Chemallo, and it was not until a comparatively recent date that those outside of New Mexico began to learn the real story of the ChimayÓ settlements, as I have herein recounted it.

The output of old ChimayÓs, while apparently large, was very small in the aggregate when such a population as that of the United States is considered. All told there never were more than a hundred weavers (so I am informed), and if each wove three blankets a winter—a large average—that would be but three hundred a year. The ordinary life of an old ChimayÓ, receiving the rough usage the Mexicans give their blankets, was possibly not more than ten years; hence many of them have passed out of existence. Mexico also absorbed quite a number, for in spite of the fact that the Mexicans weave their own serapes and blankets, the ChimayÓ weaves were much sought after. The result is there are, I suppose, not more than a score of good old ChimayÓs now offered for sale in the country. The only dealers that I know who have a few fine and desirable specimens are Fred Harvey, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Burns Indian Trading Company, of Los Angeles.

Fig. 252 is a fine, representative example in the Fred Harvey collection. The colors are black, blue, and white, the only dye used being that of indigo for producing the blue. The black varies in color just as the black is found to vary on the backs of the sheep, and in one or two cases a little gray has been introduced instead of black, which gives a unique and pleasing variety.

This blanket throughout is of native wool—not too closely woven—and the warp is of wool. The center design is of conventionalized diamonds, while the remaining part of the design is made up of diamonds, or lozenges of various sizes made of rectangular blocks or diamonds. The border, which is uniform in design throughout, is mainly black with a slight mixture of gray (before referred to) with blue and white figures interwoven throughout.

Those who are familiar with the Mexican serape inform me that this design is very often found in the Saltillo serape. ChimayÓs of this type are very desirable for portieres or couch-covers, where they do not get rough usage.

Fig. 253 is of an old ChimayÓ in my own collection. It is48x65 inches in size, and is all wool, warp and woof, and as light a specimen as


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I have ever seen. It is soft and pliable and perfectly suited either for a bed-blanket or wrap. Its colors are white, indigo-blue, and black, but the latter has softened until it is a rich brownish-black that gives a wonderfully beautiful effect to the blanket as a whole.

At ChimayÓ, however, as among the Navahos, modern methods have entirely revolutionized the industry. A modern ChimayÓ blanket is still a distinctive creation, but it is no more like the old type than a common Standard Navaho is like a bayeta. It must be remembered, however, that the ChimayÓ weavers have never made as tightly-spun a yarn, or as closely-woven a blanket as did, and do, the Navahos. Their blankets are softer, more adapted for bed coverings, or for actually wrapping around the person.

In nearly all modern ChimayÓs cotton warps are used instead of wool. These are easier to get, being purchasable at the nearest store; and, though not quite so easy to work, as they do not lend themselves to the strain of the shuttle as do the wool warps, they preserve the shape better. They are also cheaper, thus making the actual cost of the blanket less to the weaver. And, as in thousands of cases, the buyer knows no difference between wool and cotton warps, and is willing to pay as much for the latter as for the former, the short-sighted weaver argues that it is to her advantage to use cotton.

Little by little, however, the same check will be put upon cotton-warped ChimayÓ blankets as has been upon the Navaho, and the art will improve as the result.

But not only do the modern ChimayÓ weavers use cotton warp. They have grown weary in well-doing, and no longer cut, clean, dye, card, and spin the wool themselves. It is so much easier to buy Germantown yarn all ready for the loom; hence most modern ChimayÓs are made of Germantown yarns woven on cotton warps. Most of them have solid body colors with small designs interspersed throughout.

When I asked a keen-brained Mexican father of a family why native spinning and dyeing were abandoned, and cotton warps were used in place of the more satisfactory home-made wool-warps, he exclaimed: ‘‘„Our girls do not want to work so hard as their mothers did. They would rather go to school and make a speech [recite] than card, spin, and dye wool. They no longer sabe how to make atole. If they pretend to make it they don't cook it enough, and it gives one indigestion to try to eat it.„’’

I replied that it was ‘‘„Too bad!„’’ and he added, with a melancholy air: ‘‘„They should not forget the old things unless they learn something better.„’’

I could not help thinking how appropriate this was to all industries.

FIG. 228. Native Wool, Brown Body, Blanket. (Courtesy of J. A. Molohon & Co.) Giving rather a novel but pleasing effect. [PAGE 152]


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It is a bad business to forget the old good ways, especially when there are substituted for them new and worse ways.

For small pillow, cushion, and table covers cotton warps may answer every purpose, as the sizes demand so little weight, and the wear is so small that the cotton is equal to every strain. Some of the designs of these covers are exceedingly attractive, and they are worked out with artistic skill. Taste in color necessarily is a personal matter. What pleases one will not please another, and the ChimayÓ weavers are no exception to this universal rule. There are a few weavers, however, whose tastes seem more critical than those of others, and their work meets with the approval of those best qualified to judge.

In order to meet the great demand for modern ChimayÓ blankets of this and the better class Mr. Burns, of the Burns Indian Trading Company, of Los Angeles, personally visited ChimayÓ, bought several looms, and engaged the best weavers he could find to come to Los Angeles and there weave regularly for his growing trade. The looms were set up, and for the past two or more years have been steadily at work. While small covers with cotton warps are made, and a cheap grade of the larger blankets, the choicest weaves all have wool warps. Many of these are in almost solid colors, of reds, browns, blacks, grays, etc., with small designs in the center or at the ends in some relieving color or colors.

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