Navajo Spindle – Spindles Around the World #3

By Molly Ferriter – 3 Comments
In the fiber arts world, the Navajo people are recognized for their world-renown rugs and other woven textiles. As a teacher on the Navajo Nation for over a decade, I was able to see the beautiful handcraft in my students’ dresses and belts that they wore on special days such as class pictures and the school Christmas concert. For spinners, the Navajo spindle is well-known for its simple but graceful design. In our third post in the Spindles Around the World Series, we will be discussion the Navajo spindle, traditionally used by Navajo and Pueblo people in the southwestern United States. navajo spinning

Based on Spanish colonial descriptions of the 18th century, it is believed that the Dine’ (Navajo) people have been weaving their exquisite textiles for at least 300 years, though they may have been weaving long before that time. The Dine’ make their own yarn from their Churro sheep that are kept for wool and meat, and use local plants as dyes. The Navajo spindle, a slight misnomer as it is also used by the Pueblo Indians, is a long support spindle that rests on the floor as you spin. The Navajo spindle has no hook on the top, similar to many support spindles around the world.

A wonderful video of the spindle in action was made by Clara Sherman, showing how to card and spin wool. This is a fabulous video showing the wonderful artisan in action. Sadly, she is no longer with us, but we can still learn from her in this video.

While you can buy the Navajo spindle online, it is certainly less available than other types of spindles. I have found that the most widely sold Navajo spindle is the Schacht spindle, available for around $32 and up. Though,many people make their own, as it is relatively easy to make.

Schacht Navajo Spindle

Schacht Navajo Spindle

While I talked very briefly about the history of Navajo weaving, and the spindle, it needs to be pointed out that this spindle is still very widely used, as is the Navajo loom, among the Navajo and spinning enthusiasts around the world. Every one of my Dine’ friends has at least one family member who is a weaver; one of my favorite memories as a teacher was when our classroom Grandma showed my second graders how to make their own rugs with cardboard looms.

I have been living off of the Navajo Reservation for almost two years now and I wish I had learned more about spinning and weaving while I lived there. But this is why I love spinning: we can learn from people around the globe- from France, to the Middle East, to the Southwestern United States- we can share and learn from each other.

Chasingwind Cultural Consulting demonstrates the traditional Navajo way of carding and spinning wool during Grand Canyon National Park's Archaeology Day. NPS photo by Michael Quinn .

NPS photo by Michael Quinn

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  1. Donna says:

    what a wonderful video, that lady had such patience! So clever. Thank you.

  2. Shari says:

    I grew up in the Four corners area, and am still amazed at the workmanship of the weaving and the jewelry. I just wish I could have spent more time watching the weavers. W went camping in southern Colorado, and always saw the herders with their sheep. It’s a whole different world.

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn from this incredible artisan through the video you have shared. It is important for us to recognize, record and remember our elders, and carry on their teachings in our work. Thanks again!

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