Seven thousand head of livestock, among them three or four thousand churro sheep accompanied the colonists lead by Juan de Oñate when they arrived at the Tewa pueblo of San Juan at the confluence of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers in 1598. Within a few months Oñate established San Gabriel. From this flock of sheep, weaving as we know it today in the southwestern United States began.Looms have changed only slightly since their initial introduction to the Americas by the Spaniards. The changes are due mainly to the availability of milled lumber and metal parts that allowed for the construction of wider and more portable looms.

Textiles woven on the horizontal four-harness, counterbalanced floor looms included four basic yardage fabrics utilized by the settlers. Sayal, of which no known remnant survives, was used for sacks, packing, tents and wagon covers. Sabanilla, a natural white wool, fine, plain or twill weave fabric that could be vegetal dyed, was used for clothing, sheeting, and mattress covers, and as a foundation cloth for embroidery. An unusual sabanilla de algodon, or sabanilla woven with native cotton, is documented as having been used for refurbishing the Albuquerque town hall in 1814.Bayeta, or bayeton, was used for clothing. It should not be confused with the finer bolts of fulled wool fabric that were imported from Manchester, England, and the eastern United States. Jerga was used for poor man’s clothing, for floor coverings, and for wrapping cargo in the trade caravans that traveled the Santa Fe, Chihuahua, and California trails. The jerga colors most often employed were a natural white-and-brown combination that gave a checkerboard effect.

When commercial dyes became available after the 1860’s, synthetic shades of red, green, pink, and orange were mixed with the more subtle, natural-colored and vegetal-dyed yarn, making the jergas most visually interesting.

[excerpted from an article by Teresa Archuleta-Sagel inSpanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]

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