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Our Grandfathers’ Knitting Needles

In a tradition that links generations of Diné, knitting for winter ceremonies is “men’s work.”

Nikyle Begay Sep 19, 2023 - 8 min read

Our Grandfathers’ Knitting Needles Primary Image

Nishaun Begay wears his father’s handknitted leggings. Some Diné men knit and wear leggings for traditional winter ceremonies. Photo by Nikyle Begay

The Navajo, or Diné, as we call ourselves, are world-renowned for mastering the art of textile weaving. But little does that same world know that we have also been knitters. Knitting is known to us as Yistłeh Yistłoh, yistłeh referring to a knee-length leg wrapping and yistłoh to the art of weaving, fiber art, or in this case, knitting. In preparation to write this piece, I’ve reached out to two fellow Diné fiber artists, R.G. Sherman of Navajo Mountain, Utah, and Ron Garnanez of Oak Spring, Arizona. R.G. is known for weaving large textiles in natural colors, enhanced with red and blue details. Ron Garnanez is also a weaver, known for his chief-style blankets and use of mohair. Both weavers are also shepherds who also happen to have a knack for knitting.

Ceremonial Knits, Traditional Knitting

Growing up, my father and eldest brother took part in winter ceremonies, and it was my job to shine their silver conchos, dust off their moccasins, and make sure their knitted leggings made it into their packs. As a weaver, I was always so curious about their bulky knitted leggings. My brother’s pair are solid black tubes.

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