Maybe you’ve made a god’s eye with a couple popsicle sticks at camp one summer in the hazy past, but have you considered the beautifully vast possibilities of this art form?
South Carolina-based Etsy artist Jay Mohler has found a calling making Ojos de Dios (a.k.a. god’s eyes) with up to six sticks, twelve sides, and undulating intricate woven patterns. His creations are constructed from the very same humble materials that many of us associate with a camp craft — colorful yarn and sticks — plus, a healthy dose of ingenuity and a deep interest in Tibetan and Huichol artifacts and mandalas. For this week’s How-Tuesday, Jay has teamed up with local Etsy photographer Emily Munn to create a how-to designed to coach you through the process of crafting your own singular Ojo de Dios, transforming raw materials into a harmonious artwork.
Ojos de Dios, which is Spanish for “Eyes of God,” are made from yarn and sticks by native peoples of Mexico and South America. Native Americans of the Southwestern United States adopted the craft more recently, and the eight sided mandala of the Navajo is the basic pattern that I’ve most often used in my own work.
These instructions are not intended to teach you how to construct one particular ojo, but rather to demonstrate techniques that you can use to improvise and create your own unique design. Let’s get started!
Supplies You’ll Need:
- Sticks — I use doweling, available at building supply places and hardware stores. You can use 1/4″ for up to 16″, 5/16″ for up 22″ Ojo de Dios, and 3/8″ for up to 32″, and 7/16″ for up to 40″ Ojo de Dios.
- Scissors suitable for cutting yarn
- A yarn needle — A large needle with an eye large enough for yarn to fit through it, and a blunt end where other needles are sharp.
1. Planning Your Ojos de Dios: For an eight-sided ojo, consider the overall pattern to be two four-sided ojos joined together. Each set of sticks for these two parts are notched in the middle, about 1/4 the thickness of the sticks, so the two sticks fit and stack closely together. Keeping yarn tight is a problem, so I’ll make small notches, with a file or pocket knife, every inch (closer on a smaller than 12 inch ojo) all along the doweling. Besides holding the yarn from slipping in towards the center, the notches act as guides for keeping the pattern even.
Equally important as the pattern that you weave in an ojo, are the color combinations that you choose. Myself, I tend to stick with colors from the American Southwest. I recommend choosing color combinations that you find especially beautiful in nature. There are also color wheel sites online that might be useful in matching up harmonious colors (such as COLOURlovers), although I’ve always gone by intuition and schemes from nature myself, and drawn inspiration from other artists.
2. Start Weaving: Start with the two sticks that will be the top two of the eventual 8-sided pattern. The way of making the central diamond is exactly the same from the very start, and the pattern that makes that central diamond also holds the first two sticks together.
Holding your first two sticks as illustrated here, cross over the central joining of the sticks, wrap around one stick two times, bringing your yarn to a new starting place, then cross over again, wrap around the next stick, and so on, to build up your central diamond pattern.
From the very beginning, watch to keep the pattern even. Look at both the space between strands of yarn, and the amount the diamond pattern has expanded along each stick. If you’re not satisfied, start over. Errors are easy enough to correct when caught early.
3. Add New Colors: To add to this, cut the old color to where a one inch tail is left, and simply twist the new color to the old, leaving the tails running along the stick. After a couple wraps have securely held the new color in place, you can snip the tails shorter, so they won’t get in the way later.
4. Prepare the Second Set of Sticks: When you are finished with your central diamond, cut the color yarn you are working with, leaving enough tail to tuck under itself to hold it temporarily in place. Prepare your second set of sticks in the same manner. After finishing the central diamond, prepare a second set of sticks with a solid color diamond, to be used behind the central diamond. I always make this second diamond slightly larger than the first, so it shows up well in the finished ojo.
5. Attach the Two Sets of Sticks: Now comes the trickiest part. Most commonly I use a dagger pattern at this point to hold the two sets of sticks together. Choosing my next color yarn, I start the new color by securing it over the tails of the last color one twist under itself, leaving a tail running down beside the earlier color. Now, holding the sets of sticks together with thumb and forefinger, I use my other hand to bring the yarn underneath both from where I started, as illustrated.
This stage, so near the beginning of the project, is the most difficult stage, so take your time with it, and don’t be afraid to unwind and start over again if the dagger pattern you are creating to hold the sets together doesn’t look quite right. Remember, once you have this stage down, everything else will be relatively easy-going.
Surprisingly, with just one strand of yarn running underneath, and wrapped twice around the opposite end of your starting stick, your ojo is already sturdy enough that you can now twirl the ojo to continue wrapping. In this case I went back and forth four times, then did the same temporary tie as when ending the diamond, by tucking the cut end underneath itself once, leaving a tail long enough to start a new color later. Be careful to keep things centered, and remember, although the ojo at this point may seem horribly wobbly and unwieldy, it will now grow stronger with every wrap of yarn that strings underneath the two sets, holding it all together with more and more strands of yarn as the pattern grows.
6. Continue Weaving: As you work, use your fingernails to push the strands of yarn into a nice even pattern. Throughout any ojo I create, I’m constantly making tiny little adjustments with my fingernails, both on the front and back sides. Be sure to keep adjusting the sticks to be evenly distanced from each other, as well as evenly balanced on top of each other. With practice, making all these little, but necessary, adjustments, will become automatic.
With this ojo in the illustrations, I’ve decided to do what I call a kaleidoscope pattern, where I switch colors frequently, alternating between the two original sets of sticks with interwoven diamonds. First I wove the orange, then the gold added with the yarn, in the way I almost invariably add onto a pattern, running underneath the earlier color. These beginning diamonds have three rows of yarn each, wrapping twice around each stick, unless I adjust how far along the stick the pattern is growing, by either wrapping once, or perhaps even three times. Occasionally I’ll use my thumbnail to gently push a pattern into a more agreeable looking place.
A challenge for me with this type of ojo, is to try and avoid any part of the pattern looking like a boring square, or box, sitting flat. We see all too much of that kind of shape in our lives: walls, buildings, TVs, and so much more! I think that circles and interlocking diamonds are so much more agreeable to the eye in an ojo. The other main challenge is to use colors in a harmonious and pleasing way. Be sure there is enough contrast between adjoining colors, so that they don’t blend too easily into each other and create a kind of uneasy blurring of the line between them. Also, though, try hard not to have two adjoining colors clash sharply.
7. Keeping Color in Mind: It’s important, besides following the well known guides of the color wheel (search for online help if needed) to be aware of how color types fit together: primary colors; pastel colors, jewel tones, and earth tone colors. Some people would say not to mix these different types. I say, mix carefully, and be aware of the effect that the different types have. I often mix in a couple jewel tones with a mainly earth-toned ojo, using the jewel tones for highlights. I like that kind of effect a lot. Pastel tones can also be used for highlights against a background of earth tones.
I’ll start creating an ojo with as many as fifteen or twenty balls of yarn beside me to choose from, but usually narrow the colors down to seven, or maybe nine, for an ojo of this size. For one of my much larger ojos, I might actually use fifteen colors. I’ve found that it’s generally a good idea, once you have used a certain color, to repeat it again later in your design, rather than have any one color stand alone. Also, it’s often best to pick out one or two colors to be your dominant color theme, and let all other colors play lesser roles. However, any and all generalities about color I’ve made here, I’ve broken many times in my own creations, so never feel bound by rules, but rather try to let intuition lead you to the highest of artistic creativity, if at all possible!
8. Weaving Patterns: In this particular ojo, after a bit of contemplation, I decide to add a bold, simple pattern, to balance out the quick changes I’ve woven so far. Here I’ve added four rows of a mossy green, then one row of a bronze color, then two more rows of the green. To prepare for the next stage, which will be orange going to all of the sticks, I’ll snip the yarn seen closest to the bottom of this photo short, and start the pattern from the stick which you see here in my hand.
Next, I weave to every third stick, and wrapping around the sticks twice on average, I make an eight pointed star pattern. With this pattern, the angle to and from each stick is very sharp, and you can easily wrap three times around each stick without your yarn bunching up at all. Also, its a good time to really even up your pattern, as there is more flexibility than at other points in the process to wrap the yarn more times, or fewer times, around each stick and still not show too much of either separation between the strands of yarn or to have the yarn bunch up too closely together.
9. Creating a Border: Finally I add the border, wrapping on average once per stick. On the last time around, I might give some extra wraps to the stick ends; the last chance to make the pattern come out even. When I get back to the starting stick for the last time, I cut a tail two or three inches long, and wrap three or four times around the stick, tucking the end of the yarn underneath itself once on each turn around the stick. The tail left at the very end I cut to about one inch in length, and tucked it in between the wrapped stick and ojo border, on the back side.
10. Adding Embellishments: The ojo could be declared finished right here, but I usually add some embroidery to the border, using a yarn needle. In this ojo I’ve chosen to embroider a fairly complex circular design. When I curve back at the two ends of such a design, I find it’s best to run the yarn underneath the back strands of that section of the design, to hold the last stitch properly in place.
Experiment a bit as you make this type of design, and try and find a balance between the design made by the yarn, and the spaces created in between the design elements. I encourage everyone to try adding needlework to your ojos. The design possibilities are endless, and you can truly make an ojo your own with a new and unique bit of needlework. Designs can also be added to parts of the ojo before the
border, and can even be used to pull the yarn of an ojo into a new position. After getting the working end of the needlework yarn back to the starting position, I tie the two ends together with a square knot.
11. Finishing: The final step is to add a loop to the backside for hanging the ojo.
You can find many examples of Ojo de Dios possibilities in my Etsy shop, and also in a Facebook group I started, Ojos de Dios, Yarn Mandalas of the World, where weavers from many countries around the globe have showcased their work. Happy weaving to you!
If you make your own Ojo de Dios, share a photo with us in the Etsy Labs Flickr group.