Rio Grande Weaving Process
Bob Davis produces fine hand-woven Navajo-Churro blankets
For 30+ years, on his small farm on the banks of the Rio Grande, Mr. Davis produces fine hand-woven blankets from the wool of his flock of Navajo-Churro sheep. This lengthy process includes planting and encouraging the grasses, legumes, and small shrubs that the sheep like to eat; hoping for rain in a dry climate; managing the care, breeding and general shepherding of thirty-odd sheep and lambs; shearing, picking and washing the wool, then carding and spinning it into yarn; dyeing the finished yarn (when unnatural colors are required); and finally weaving the blankets themselves.
One could easily make a career of any step in this process, but Mr. Davis insists on carrying it from the beginning, from earth and rain, through to the finished weavings.
“The process itself” says Mr. Davis, “affects the outcome. As the vagaries of the weather affect the quality of the pasture, and the quality of the care given to the sheep affects the quality and quantity of the wool produced, so do the acts of caring for the sheep and processing wool into yarn and blankets affect my whole outlook as both a human being and an artist. This dynamic interconnectedness and seeming circularity of existence affects not only the design but also the look and feel of my weavings.”
The works themselves are built on a woolen warp with wefts running between thirty and fifty yarns per inch. Many of the pieces reflect the classic Rio Grande five banded type of blanket, while others contain more Navajo-looking motifs. The blacks, grays, browns, and tans in these pieces are colors that occur naturally in Mr. Davis’ flock of Navajo-Churros, while the reds, blues, greens etc. are hand dyed using commercial dyestuff. Because of the use of natural wool colors, and the fact that a colored sheep changes color gradually over time, these blankets cannot be exactly reproduced and are therefore absolutely unique.
Navajo-Churro wool is unusual
Navajo-Churro sheep grow a double-coated fleece: a long, straight outer coat that looks like hair, and a fine, downy undercoat. Unlike fleece of more modern breeds, the wool fibers are straight, long, and found in a variety of diameters from the most coarse to the most fine. This results in a yarn that is dense, strong and not very stretchy—perfect for textiles that will be used as outer garments and carpets in a rough-hewn environment. There are a great many natural colors in the Navajo-Churro. Also, the two coats may be different colors within a fleece and will produce heathered yarns that would be impossible to reproduce using white wool and dye.
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