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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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'Sheep Is Life' At Navajo Prep Draws Spinners, Weavers
by Alysa Landry - The (Farmington, NM) Daily Times

FARMINGTON, NM - The soft hum of a treadle spinning wheel set the soundtrack Tuesday at the annual "Sheep is Life" celebration at Navajo Preparatory School.

Feet firmly planted on the pedals of the spinning wheel, Sarah Natani let the silky strands of cashmere wool slip through her fingers while she joked with a small group of women.

"People ask how the wool gets to be orange," she said. "We tell them it comes from orange sheep. They ask where we get orange sheep, and we tell them you feed them lots of carrots. A lot of people believe us."

Natani, of Table Mesa, is teaching a vegetal dyeing class at the week-long event. The "Sheep is Life" celebration, in its 13th year, is a way to honor the animal's significance.

It also is a gathering of people who are interested in sheep, from the pasture to the loom to the dinner table, said Roy Kady, a Teec Nos Pos, Ariz.-based weaver.

"All the wool came from the sheep I raised," he said. "Not very many people are still doing that."

Natani was commissioned to teach dyeing, but she also agreed to help spin wool for use in various weaving classes running simultaneously on the Navajo Prep campus, including Kady's sessions on horse cinch weaving.

"It's a dying art," he said of the technique, which originally was done between tree limbs. "I learned it from my grandfather."

The technique is something Angela Crist of Cotopaxi, Colo., has wanted to learn for 10 years.

Crist, who grows and spins her own wool, said she always was fascinated by Navajo weaving. When the "Sheep is Life" celebration came to Farmington, she signed up for the class.

"It's fascinating to be able to go back to the basics and create your own fabrics," she said. "It's really nice to be able to talk to someone who knows how to do Navajo weaving. There are books out there, but this is better."

Producing homegrown fibers is a rarity, but the end products are unmatched in their quality, Crist said. She is hoping to add horse cinches to her products for sale.

Although traditional weaving is time-consuming, she said she wouldn't do it any other way.

"Cinch weaving is a rarity," Crist said. "Probably because you can get the products en mass, but in 100 years, this hand-woven one will still be around."

Weaving and other traditional arts are making a comeback, said Shirlene Jim, a home economist and 4-H leader at New Mexico State University.

Jim, who is assisting Kady in his weaving class this week, said she plans to teach weaving to as many as 40 students this summer.

"Young kids are interested in learning it," she said. "Elders are so happy it's coming back. It's our culture, our way of self-sufficiency. It's a way to reintroduce our culture to the younger generation."

"Sheep is Life" activities continue through Saturday with workshops about breeding, spinning, dyeing, weaving, butchering and cooking. The celebration ends Saturday with a banquet and auction. All activities are on the campus of Navajo Preparatory School, 1220 W. Apache St., in Farmington.

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