Mesa Community College offers a platform to learn about the beauty and history of indigenous Navajo loom weaving at the Southern and Dobson campus as it hosts a free, non-credit, Navajo weaving class every second Saturday of the month during the semester.
The free monthly class acts to support and promote MCC’s “Beginning Navajo Weaving” class, which starts its six week non credit semester on March 30.
The class is open to anyone interested in Navajo loom weaving, regardless of their skill level.
Students learn traditional Navajo style weaving using a loom, making small rugs, placemats, apparel and more, often using naturally spun yarn.
Both the free and paid class are a “dual teaching” format, wherein MCC faculty always works in collaboration with a resident indigenous instructor to properly represent the deep cultural history of Navajo weaving.
Class instructors Sharie Monsam and RoLinda Camacho have a combined 40 years of experience weaving in the Navajo style. Camacho first took classes taught by Monsam almost 10 years ago.
“My grandparents did weave, but I lost them when I was younger. I really never got to see or learn from them,” said Camacho, speaking of her own Diné family.
Camacho is now an instructor herself, teaching the Navajo weaving class alongside her mentor, Monsam, a weaver since the mid-1970’s.
Monsam learned to weave while teaching on the Navajo reservation near Window Rock, Arizona. She brought her weaving skills to MCC over the pandemic, an initiative started by MCC science professor Niccole Villa Cerveny.
Villa Cerveny is now an experienced weaver herself, learning under Monsam at different classes in Mesa and Tempe since the 1980’s.
“You realize after trying it yourself what those Master Weavers do and it made me look at Navajo rugs in a whole new way,”said Villa Cerveny.
The pandemic saw the closure of Fibre Factory, a Mesa business that hosted the weaving classes where Villa Cerveny first learned Navajo weaving from Monsam.
Today, the “Beginning Navajo Weaving” class at MCC is one of the only loom weaving classes offered in the valley.
The weavings have a history as utilitarian pieces of the Navajo culture that were used for trading or to supplement income.
Today they are mainly prized as pieces of art, with the intricacies of the hand woven pieces in the form of rugs, blankets, sash belts, and apparel including outfits used in Indigenous traditions.
“A lot of the rugs that my grandmother wove are gone. We don’t have them because back then, they wove and they traded [rugs] for money or food” said Camacho. “So it’s different now because we’re weaving to be creative,” Camacho added.
Any weaver at the class will note that their work all comes from a long history of indigenous techniques, but Camacho honors her culture by hand dyeing some of her yarn using naturally sourced herbs, roots and nuts, the same way her grandparents would have.
She produces vivid colors like “Wild Carrot”, a yarn with a golden yellow hue created from the carrot root, which sits in dense contrast with the peaceful earthlike tone of the color known simply as “Navajo Tea”, made from different native plants.
As instructors, both Monsam and Camacho believe that weaving as a creative pursuit, holds a deep meditative connection.
“I think most people feel better when they do something creative whether you knit or crochet whatever it is,” said Monsam.
Both the supplementary class on every second Saturday and the paid class starting Mar. 30, are open to anyone, including non-MCC students.
Finding ways to express yourself is key to the class, according to its instructors.
“The Navajo answer for what you are going to weave is, the rug will tell me,” said Monsam. “I love that.” she smiled.
Both the instructors, and attendees like Villa Cerveny who have found their passion for weaving through classes like this one, hope that they are able to provide a foundation for the culture to continue to thrive as its generations grow.
“It’s nice to have more Native Americans in here, especially the younger generation, because I don’t know too many younger people doing rug weaving.” said Camacho. “Everyone should at least try,” said Camacho.