Weaving has been a part of the Navajo way of life for nearly as long as we have been a part of this world. Before the churro sheep arrived with the Spanish and we adopted them into our communities, we wove fiber, rabbit fur and other materials. Diné (Navajo) people are taught not to kill spiders, because the art of weaving was a gift given to us by a deity known as Na'ashjé'íí Asdzáá, or Spider Woman in English. Young weavers are taught to find a spider web in the early morning and place their palm on it, without damaging it, to absorb Spider Woman’s weaving gift.
Spider Woman and her partner Spider Man’s spirits were created in the second world, the Blue World. In the third world, the Holy people revealed Spider Woman’s ability to weave a map of the universe and night sky. She wasn’t given any instruction how to weave, but through her curiosity and creativity she began to learn.
One day while Spider Woman was out amongst the trees she came upon a small sapling and wrapped her hand around a branch. When she let go a string was connecting her palm to the branch. At first she was startled but quickly realized that this string was the gift the Holy People had advised her about.
For the rest of the day she sat beneath the tree practicing her weaving, creating different patterns amongst the branches of the sapling. Seeing that she had discovered her gift, the Holy People instructed her husband to build her a loom and the tools she would need for different weaving techniques. They also gave Spider Woman special songs to sing to empower her weavings and tools. In this way she wove the web of the universe.
Today, after a Diné girl baby is born, her umbilical cord is buried close to the family sheep corral – the center of traditional Diné life – in the hopes that she will be a weaver and also that she will always return and be connected to her home.
Check out our SkyWeaver Collection, inspired by the history and tradition of textile arts here in the Southwest.
Story by Ungelbah Dávila-Shivers.
Ungelbah (Ungie) is an award winning Diné writer & photographer, and IAIA alumnus.