Tressa Weidenaar

Today, I have the great pleasure of introducing you to talented craftswoman, Tressa Weidenaar. Tressa’s stunning colourwork is inspired by traditional Navajo design in different media, as well as the landscapes that surround her in New Mexico and Arizona. When I first saw Tressa’s work on Ravelry, I was immediately struck by its poise and harmony: whether knitting a yoke in stranded colourwork, or using slipped stitches for a stunning shawl, Tressa creates designs of tremendous balance and beauty. Here she is to tell you more about her work, and what inspires her.

Tressa in her painted desert sweater

Most knitters and makers will agree that much inspiration comes from color. Walking into a yarn store and seeing the yarns grouped by color and weight brings joy and excitement. We are drawn to a pattern when we see the color combinations and enjoy the end result when we can show off the intricate work of our stitches.

I am Navajo. I was born in the Southwest and spent most of my childhood near or on the Navajo reservation. From the moment I could walk, my dad taught me to love the land. He walked with me and showed me plants and rocks. He taught me the names of trees and insects. For the longest time I only knew the Navajo word for rabbit (gah) as he often taught me in his native tongue. We did not have a television in our home; this kept me outside most days where I wandered and explored. I developed a deep connection to the earth beneath me, and I used my senses to see, hear, taste and touch the elements around me.

When winter rolled around, my mom kept my hands busy. She taught me how to make a quilt, showed me how to crochet, and helped me learn cross stitching. She read books to me as I worked on my many projects; this helped me to learn focus.

Tressa’s weaving

I was also surrounded by Navajo art and artisans. My great grandmother was a weaver and many of my uncles and aunts were silversmiths. My parents kept and cherished Navajo art in our home and my dad built up my collection of jewelry as I grew. The intricate patterns and vibrant colors in these works of art were a constant in my life.

Tressa and her own weaving, in the Two Gray Hills style

All of these things have deeply influenced my work with knitwear design. When I am outside, I think about what I can create and how I can create it. One example of this was my shawl design with A Verb for Keeping Warm.

inspiration for the Shí nalí Shawl shawl

I had an idea in my head for the shawl, but was very unsure about the color scheme for the design. One afternoon I was out on a well loved trail; I looked down and saw beautiful rocks of many colors around me, and I felt a spark ignite in my mind and realized I had found the colors I wanted to use for my shawl. 

A Verb for Keeping Warm developed a beautiful reddish orange using Madder Root and a sand color with Walnut to create the colors that inspired me on that day. I loved how the colors matched the red rocks and sand in the land around me.

The Twin Lakes Cowl was named for the place where my dad grew up. Although there is not much vegetation here, there is deep beauty in the land. The earth is dark red and streaked with white. The blue sky contrasts with these colors and creates a beautiful palette that always reminds me of home.

I like to take reminders of home with me when I have to leave to allow me a feeling of comfort. I am one who gets homesick easily and this was one way for me to feel connected even when I am far away. This cowl was also influenced by the tradition of weaving.Navajo rugs are typically symmetrical with the top and bottom half matching exactly.

If you fold the rug in half you should be able to hit the middle in the fold of the rug. The same is true for this cowl. If you were to fold it in half, you should hit the middle and have the design repeat on either side of the fold.

Twin Lakes Cowl

The Silversmith Hat was inspired by Navajo jewelry. I love the big chunky turquoise and coral stones that many Navajo and Zuni silversmiths expertly set into bracelets, earrings and rings. These pieces are sought worldwide. When I wear my jewelry, I feel a sense of pride and enjoy looking at the bright colors of the stones. Silversmiths often pair turquoise and coral together to create a striking contrast in their pieces. This was my inspiration for this hat.

Silversmith hat

I wanted a dark background color to allow the bright turquoise and coral colors to pop out and be the focal point of the design.

Silversmith hat, and the beautiful jewellery that inspired it

My family loves to be outside and we enjoy making trips to our local National Parks.

getting outdoors!

The Painted Desert in Arizona is about an hour away from us. Despite being barren and empty, this place explodes in colors. Red, pink, purple, white, yellow, black, and green are some of the colors that are visible in the rocks and earth. There are also many places where petroglyphs (prehistoric rock carvings) can be seen. Spending time at this unique place inspired me to design the Painted Desert Socks. 

painted desert socks

 The pink and dark blue are meant to show similar contrast between the pink earth and the brilliant blue sky. These open spaces are always exhilarating and help me to feel a sense of calmness. I was able to take a few pictures with my socks and the Painted Desert in the background. The canyons and streaks of pink and white earth can be seen with the blue sky above it. The design on the socks are a loose interpretation of petroglyphs.

Painted Desert socks in situ

Pendleton blankets are a common sight in many homes in my community. They are warm and vibrant in colors. I am drawn to their color schemes but also to their patterns as they often have very geometric, striking motifs. The Chuska Cowl was partly inspired by these blankets but also by the Chuska mountains in the heart of the Navajo reservation. These mountains are full of trees and water. Many Navajo families would have summer camps in these mountains where they would bring their sheep for the green grasses and plentiful water. 

Chuska cowl

This cowl incorporates browns and white for the earth, blue for water and sky, and green for the trees. It is often breathtaking how these colors come together in the forest and create a sense of peace.

Chuska cowl

As I continue this journey of design work, I continue to marvel at how deeply connected the work is to colors. Colors are tied to our experiences and emotions. It is beautiful to see how knitters choose colors based on their own experiences and their locations.

Thank you, Tressa, for sharing the stories of your beautiful work with us!

Find Tressa on Ravelry here.