Source: Taos Magazine
Date: May/June 1998
Rachel Brown has created a wonderland of wool at Rio Grande Weavers Supply
by Melody Romancito
“It has always been a priority to make Rio Grande Weavers Supply a place filled with visual delights,” said Rachel Brown as she stood in the middle of her showroom, her arms gesturing to encompass all of the color and activity surrounding her. “It has to be as much a work of art as each skein of yarn, each loom or each tapestry. And from what people tell us, we have succeeded.”
Brown opened Rio Grande Weavers Supply 1985 as a source for better-designed looms, spinning wheels and other tools of the weaver’s trade, including several types and textures of multi-hued, hand-dyed yarns.
Weavers, both professional and beginner, and those simply interested in the history and techniques of spinning, dyeing and weaving wool, find Rio Grande Weavers Supply an informative visual and textural paradise. Here one can view fine weavings being created on a state-of-the-art Rio Grande Loom, experience a hands-on demonstration of a Rio Grande Spinning Wheel or simply admire the eye-dazzling array of colors and styles of yarns that are used in the making of hand-dyed rugs, apparel and tapestries.
One-third of Brown’s floor space is devoted to Weaving/Southwest, her fiber arts gallery that represents twenty of New Mexico’s finest tapestry artists. Artists often work right in the Rio Grande Weavers Supply studio creating rugs, blankets, pillows and a variety of custom orders for interior designers and homeowners.
But the heart and soul (or warp and weft) of Rio Grande Weavers Supply is Rachel Brown. As a weaver and tapestry artist Brown’s credits are long; her dedicated efforts in moving tapestry weaving from craft to high art have been widely recognized. In the world of wool and weaving she is celebrity, and was presented a lifetime achievement award at the Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in 1993. The awards were presented to thirty-seven women in craft arts for “making a difference” in their fields.
Brown has been dyeing wool yarns with acid dyes since the mid-60’s when she developed a sequential method of dyeing. The dyes she uses are the same as those found in today’s finest textile houses and are fast to both light and washing.
“Though we never set out to do this we have actually become color forecasters. We seem to anticipate new color trends in apparel and interior design,” Brown revealed, motioning toward the wall bins brimming with color-saturated yarn skeins.
Commercial yarns are often insufficient for the fiber artist seeking stylistic individuality through color and texture. It is the subtle depth of color created by slight variations in dyeing (referred to as the “abrash effect” by weavers and yarn experts) that gives yarns and finished pieces that special one-of-a-kind, gem-like quality.
“Whenever a weaver brings in something made with commercial yarns it just sticks out like a sore thumb,” Brown observed.
The variety of yarns available at Rio Grande Weavers supply include rug, tapestry, apparel and warp. Trading Post yarn is a specialty yarn that is tightly spun from both natural and commercially-dyed colors and used almost exclusively by weavers working in the Navajo style.
Another specialty yarn is the hand-dyed and natural New Mexico Churro yarn. Churro sheep were brought to the New World by Columbus on his second voyage. The king of Spain would not allow the Merino sheep to be taken from the country, so Churros, with their courser wool, were brought over. Churro wool was used to make the prized handspun Navajo and Rio Grande blankets of the 19th century. Many wool growers today are striving to bring back the Churro breed, now officially named “Navajo-Churro.”
Brown is steadfast in her commitment to, and appreciation for, the weaver’s trade. “I’m often humbled when I see the work of other fiber artists,” she said. “There are so many talented weavers out there. Rio Grande Weavers Supply is dedicated to providing them with exceptional yarns, equipment and tools, no matter where they’re located. We pride ourselves in a 24-hour turnaround of mail orders. We are also delighted to help weavers who call us for advice,” she added. “Our sales people are all experienced weavers.”
Brown is known internationally as the author of The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book which was published in 1978 by Alfred Knopf and is now in its tenth printing. She has been a force in the revival of weaving and wool production in the Southwest and helped found Tierra Wools, a Hispanic weaving cooperative in Northern New Mexico where she was a teacher and consultant for five years.
“I’m always torn between doing my own tapestry and running the shop,” Brown said. “I love the business aspect of it and am always trying to improve our marketing skills. We now have a network of three computers that does everything from accounting to mail order to tracking every skein of yarn, every artist and every customer.”
Weaving Southwest is located at 216B Paseo del Pueblo Norte. 758-0433 or 800/765-1272.