Preserving Traditions

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The art of weaving is becoming a rare skill in the Pueblo of Isleta, but is as vital to the community’s cultural heritage and preservation as the traditional clothing that require the intricately woven red, white and green belts, hair and leg ties.

For Eva Lucero, of Isleta and San Felipe Pueblo, the art form came to her 25 years ago as a form of healing after the passing of her husband.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-News-Bulletin photo: Weaver Eva Lucero works on a belt on her loom at her Isleta Pueblo home. She is one of only three weavers in the pueblo right now.

A quarter century ago, Lucero joined a class to learn how to weave the traditional belts worm by men, women and children in the pueblo. Her instructor was a well-known weaver, Marcelina Abeita, of Isleta, who was in her 60s at the time and has since passed on.

“She was such a patient woman,” said Lucero. “You have to have patience to do something like this, that she had. She was good at what she did.”

For a while, after learning to weave, Lucero put that craft aside to go back to work, but about 10 years ago, she decided to pick it back up again.

Since then, weaving has been a constant presence in her life.

Lucero said that of the ladies that took the weaving class with her, few of them are still weaving. She is one of only three weavers in the pueblo right now.

“I run into some people and they tell me, ‘Eva, I’d like to learn how to weave,’ and I say, ‘just go by the house and we’ll see what we can do,’ but nobody shows up,” Lucero says. “Nobody does it anymore.”

But it wasn’t always that away, said Lucero, who remembers her grandmother being a weaver.

But, back then, she remembers, men and women also wore what is now referred to as “traditional” clothing for their everyday attire.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-News-Bulletin photo: Eva Lucero, one of three traditional weavers from Isleta Pueblo, displays a hair tie she wove in the customary red, white and green colors.

“I know the ‘elderlies’ had to have (belts) because our people here and I think in the other pueblos, too, I know the older ladies used to wear their whole outfit. The manta and their Indian shirts and the belt,” Lucero said. “That was their regular way of dressing.”

Her neighbor, she recalls, wore her manta, a black dress worn over a long sleeve print dress, up until the last day of her life.

Being one of the only individuals still weaving the belts and other woven items worn with traditional Isleta clothing for occasions such as dances in the pueblo, baptisms, graduations, weddings and other occasions, there is no shortage of demand for Lucero’s work.

One order she had was for a wedding, in which she made about eight identical belts. She said, laughing, that she was very tired of their colors and design by the time she was finished.

Right now, she is working on leg ties and a belt for a little boy to wear in the pueblo’s Christmas dances that were ordered by his grandmother.

And for the holidays, she said, she is sure to keep extras on hand for any orders that might pop up unexpectedly, as they tend to do.

It only takes her a couple of days to weave a belt with a simple design, longer if it’s more complicated or if something goes wrong, but the process doesn’t begin there.

Ungelbah Daniel-Davila-News-Bulletin photo: Isleta Pueblo weaver Eva Lucero weaves a belt for a little boy to wear during the pueblo’s Christmas dances

The entire process is very labor intensive, just one reason why a weaver must have ample patience.

“First of all, the ladies, they hate spinning their yarn,” says Lucero, holding a neat little ball of black yarn. “I don’t just go to the store and buy the yarn like this … I spin it and it gets tighter, that way it won’t get fuzzy.”

Lucero purchases her yarn from the store. But, the yarn you buy in the store is too loosely spun to work with as is, so after she brings it home, she spins it on a spindle to make it more tight and workable.

She then loops her yarns around her warping board to create the warp that will be the foundation of the belt, looping in every color anywhere from six to 12 times, depending on how thick she wants the belt to be and that particular color within it.

Then she transfers the warp to her loom. Once on the loom, Lucero is able to begin picking her design for whatever piece she is working on.

She says her favorite part of the weaving process is putting the design in, which she said she invents as she goes. And if it doesn’t turn out the way she wants, she’s likely to take it all apart and start over, says her grandson Kyle Salazar, whom she is teaching to weave.

“That takes time,” Lucero says. “I tell them, my designs are all different, they’re not all the same. I just sit there and think and then get on it and see what you can find, what’s going to come out of it, and if you don’t like it, take it apart.”

Customarily, the belts of Isleta and some northern pueblos are comprised of red, green and white yarn, but these days, Lucero says, some pueblos are getting “fancier” by adding in a wider range of colors, such as blue, grey and orange.

The hair and leg ties are customarily red with white or black on the ends. While she’s made plenty of items in those colors, Lucero has also embraced the introduction of different colors into her weaving, as seen in one belt designed with red, black and blue yarn, and another in off white, deep red and gold yarn.

Weaving, she says, allows her mind time to wander and be meditative, and gave her something else to focus on after loosing her husband.

“You know, when you’re doing something like this that you like doing, there are so many things that come up in your head that you think about,” Lucero said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this, I caught myself thinking that the other day.

“I know I’ve got other things to do, but once I get started on something like this, then I get to work.”


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.