"I weave the Traditional Navajo Way"

Brief History of
Ashtl'o Guild

Information about the Ashtl'o Navajo Weaving Guild:

Brief History of Ashtl'o Guild

The spark which led to our Ashtl'o Guild was provided by Noël Bennett and Tiana Bighorse who wrote Working with the Wool in the early 1970s. This inspired a number of weavers in the San Francisco Bay area to start to learn to weave the traditional Navajo Way. We heard more about Noël and how she learned to weave on the Navajo Reservation. We met her delightful mother, Merton Kirkish, who owned a small business in Sunnyvale and Aptos called Living Designs, who first sugggested we form a Guild. Then several of us happened to meet each other at the San Francisco National Handweaving Convergence in July of 1974 where we first saw Sarah (Begay) Natani and her family demonstrate Navajo weaving in the Living Designs booth.

Thus inspired by a wonderful Navajo woman who was so incredibly open to showing us how to weave, we decided to form an interest and support group. So Mary Black, Carol Lane, Jean Shoe, Bambi Jones and Bruce C. Belknap met around the living room table in Jim & Marilyn Brandon's home and basically formed the new guild in August, 1977. We adopted the following statement:

The Navajo Weaving Guild invites you to join us and share the art of weaving the traditional Navajo Way. We ascribe to the integrity of this art and craft within its genuine cultural traditions as practiced by Navajo weavers throughout the Navajo Reservation. We do sincerely support everyone interested in weaving the traditional Navajo Way through learning to weave; learning about weaving through spinning, dyeing, tool-making, and studying Navajo cultural traditions; and encouraging beginning and advanced weavers.

As we discussed a name for our group, Bruce suggested the word "ashtl'o", which means "I weave" in Navajo to show our commitment. Noël observed this could be appropriate, yet the word would be particularly difficult to pronounce correctly in the Navajo language. We consulted An Ethnologic Dictionary of the Navajo Language by the Franciscan Fathers to learn this correct pronunciation and make every effort to pronounce it properly as follows:

"The initial vowel, a has a broad sound as in 'apple'. "The tl' represents a sharp, lateral, exploding sound, produced by forcing the aspiration through the sides of the mouth, closed for the pronunciation of the combined tl". The expulsion of air is rapid and simultaneous with pronouncing the t and l. " "As no general rules for the accent could be laid down, the greater stress put upon certain syllables is indicated by a diacritical mark placed over the vowel: thus ó."

 Ashtl'o Guild's first President was Marilyn Brandon. The first Ashtl'o newsletter was written and printed on Bruce's new Apple //e computer.

Ashtl'o Guild has continuously participated with the Conference of Northern California Handweavers conferences. We love to share the woven textiles by Ashtl'o members in the Ashtl'o Guild booth.

A most exciting and fulfilling tradition began in October 1982 when the first group of Ashtl'o Guild members stayed with Leo and Sarah Natani and family for a week-long workshop to spin, dye, weave and learn Navajo traditions. Since that time, Sarah and Leo Natani have been leading Navajo weaving workshops at their hogan in Table Mesa, New Mexico and throughout the United States, even in Japan and Italy.

Sarah Natani was, is, and always will be the inspiration for many members of the Ashtl'o Weaving Guild. At a time when it was not widely popular with other Navajo weavers, Sarah graciously taught Anglos the art of Navajo weaving because she knew it was a way to share her culture, to pass on her experience and knowledge and, in doing so, to keep a dying art form alive. Sarah was initially criticized by other Navajos for doing this, but she was a visionary in this respect. She persevered and now there are many Navajo weavers offering workshops on Navajo weaving, dyeing and spinning. Sarah has been honored in numerous magazines, books, and TV documentaries, as well as invited to Japan, Italy and other states to demonstrate and teach Navajo weaving.

During the 1980s, Ashtl'o members Marilyn and Bruce taught Navajo Weaving classes at several local colleges. Marilyn has also written and published a book, From Wool to Navajo Rug, 1990.

Until recently, Ashtl'o Guild has held meetings to continue the tradition of active spinning and weaving.

Ashtl'o Guild has members throughout the United States.

Members of Ashtl'o Guild, until 2007, received the Ashtl'o Guild Newsletter.