New Mexican weaver joins university wool heritage project

CHIMAYÓ, NM (AP) – An initiative by New Mexico State University aims to secure the future of a pair of centuries-old practices in the state: raising sheep and weaving their wool into patterns, to the both spectacular and utilitarian.

The Wool Heritage Project’s inaugural effort is to produce a 13-pound wool rug, designed by New Mexico state fashion student Savannah Willingham and created by one of the generational weavers of the northern New Mexico: Richard Trujillo, from Trujillo’s Weaving Shop in Chimayó.

The aim of the initiative is to draw attention to two industries, weaving and sheep farming, which supporters say have declined in recent years.

The store where Trujillo finished the rug is full of handcrafted wooden two-harness looms, including one built by Trujillo’s grandfather over 100 years ago. Others were bought from families who no longer participate in the weaving tradition.

“A lot of the visitors we get have never seen anything like it,” he said of the setup. “They are just amazed at the process.”

Trujillo is a seventh-generation Spanish weaver in the village along the High Road to Taos, where, in previous centuries, families like his raised sheep and spun their wool into yarn, trading woven textiles for other products for a living.

Her late father, John Trujillo, opened the store in the 1950s.

Trujillo himself started learning to weave around the same time that most children go to preschool, and while some younger members of the family are interested in art, “he becomes de increasingly difficult to find people who are willing to practice it, ”he said during an interview with The Santa Fe New Mexican, pausing in weaving a colorful, made-to-order table runner.

There are a few weaving workshops in Chimayó, where the tradition is still predominant compared to neighboring villages, notably the Ortega weaving workshop and the traditional arts of Centinela.

“We’re all pretty much cousins,” Trujillo said of the people who run the nearby stores.

The wool used to make the vests and colorful fabrics available at the Trujillo weaving workshop is harvested and produced from everywhere, he said. The end products are shipped all over the world, Trujillo said, adding that there is a particularly high demand for woven vests at a store in Tokyo.

Trujillo is an alumnus of the New Mexico State Geography Program, and the rug he created features the purple and white shades of the college logo.

The wool comes from a herd of around 100 Debouillet and Rambouillet sheep raised in New Mexico from the West Sheep Unit on the New Mexico State University campus, where students raise them as part of the Animal Science program.

Trujillo said the wool was particularly soft and fine.

“Fine wool sheep have a long history here in New Mexico, as they are able to withstand the harsh desert environment,” said Jennifer Hernandez Gifford, a professor of animal science at the university, who helped directing the Wool Heritage Project.

“Until this project, we haven’t really done much on campus to reconnect with the fiber arts,” she added.

Usually, Hernandez Gifford noted, sheep are shorn every year as part of their upkeep.

But this year, she saved the wool and sent it to a factory in Buffalo, Wyoming, where it was turned into yarn to start this project in cooperation with the Fashion Merchandising and Design Program. ‘university.

Using the remaining yarn, the university made available 80 blanket replicas of the original rug, which is on display in the state of New Mexico.

Blankets, at 4 pounds each, cost $ 500. Hernandez Gifford was concerned the price was a deterrent, but 30 have already sold.

Hernandez Gifford predicts that when the sheep are shorn again, another product will be available for purchase, with the profit going towards the cost of processing more items.

Hernandez Gifford said that while New Mexico ranks 16th among states for sheep production, the once-larger woolen mills and sheep farms have partly disappeared since the end of a federal grant from wool in the 20th century.

“The number of sheep in the state has really gone down,” she said. “So that’s really the reason why we have to (machine) out of state. There is no availability closer … and they do a great job.

Sheep did not begin to settle in New Mexico until the Spanish colonizers brought the particularly resistant Iberian Churra breed with them to the southwest in the 1500s. It was probably the sheep of the Trujillo family that first used wool for their textiles.

Prior to this, different groups in Pueblo practiced weaving baskets and other items from animal hair, plant fibers, and possibly cotton.

The Navajo people living in what is now Arizona and New Mexico acquired sheep from the Spaniards, and the resulting cattle called the Navajo Churro have since become an integral part of life for their meat and wool.

In the Navajo weaving tradition, fabrics are developed on a frame loom, rather than the standing looms that the Trujillo family uses. But Trujillo said both traditions render designs geometric.

During the 1930s, the U.S. government called for a reduction in sheep stocks on Navajo lands, citing concerns about erosion from grazing, which contributed to Navajo Churro landing on the species list. endangered, according to weaving company co-founder Tierra Wools. Molly Manzanares.

She favors sheep for their low-fat wool and natural color variations, which saves resources on cleaning and dyeing.

“They’re not as domesticated as, say, the rambouillet or some other type of sheep,” she said. “They are very self-sufficient.

The Manzanares company owns a herd of hundreds of Churro Navajo near Chama.

Part of the decline in sheep farming, Manzanares said, has come from the fact that sheep farming has traditionally been a community effort. Neighboring sheep herders would work together to protect herds from predators, mainly coyotes.

“They are tough,” she said. “We’ve been raising Navajo Churro for all these years and trying to bring them back, and finally we get into the rhythm. The drought… had a big impact.

Still, the art of weaving in New Mexico is playing a bigger role in national fashion conversations, said Kelly Coffeen, assistant professor of fashion merchandising.

“A lot of weavers in the northern part of the state, you don’t hear a lot about what they’re doing,” Coffeen said. “Some of them work for some of New York’s top designers.”

She added, “This whole industry is looking for authenticity and looking for ways to be unique. … We have to be aware of it and accept it for what it is in our condition.

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