Navajo Weaving: Rugs & blankets which represent Navajo culture & spirituality

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Verica Sitnik
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The Navajo are a Native American people from the Four Corners area of the southwestern United States.

In the early 1600s, the Navajo people ingrained in the American Southwest, and later stretches across the bigger area.

Navajo textiles are produced by the Diné, which is how the Navajo refer to themselves (the word means ‘people’ in their language).

 Blanket used as a door; the Navajo family stands in the front of a house 1880-1910.

A Navajo woman weaving at a loom.

 

Traditional Navajo weaving. Photo Credit

Weaving is an important part of Navajo culture and tradition. Although some history tells that they learned to weave from their Pueblo Indian neighbors when they settled in this area during the year 1000 AD, historians believe that the Navajo were not weavers until the 17th century. Stories in Navajo folklore tell of Spider-woman, who wove weaving the most beautiful rugs and taught Navajo weavers their unique techniques for making rugs and blankets.

Wool, dyed and natural color yarns, Ye’ii tapestries, Navajo, Native American, ca. 1920-1930.

Navajo textiles have been highly regarded around the world for over 150 years, and their production has been an important element of the Navajo economy. The original function of their textiles was to produce clothing such as wrap-around-dresses, breechcloths, shoulder robes, hair ties, semi-tailored shirts and also saddle blankets and cloaks. After the mid-1800s, Navajo weavers traded with the white settlers and started to make rugs for tourism and export.

A contemporary Navajo rug Photo Credit

 

A transitional blanket, woven circa 1880-1885.

The textiles had great geometric patterns and the wool that made them was hand-spun until the 1860s. After this period Navajo weavers started to use a three-ply yarn called Saxony, which is a high-quality, naturally dyed silk thread. At the end of 19th century, with the arrival of the railroad, Navajo people began to use machine-produced yarn in their weaving, particularly a four-ply aniline dyed yarn known as Germantown.

Native American loom in New Mexico. Photo Credit

 

Weaving, mid 19th or early 20th century, Brooklyn Museum. Photo Credit

By the mid-19th century, the palette of  Navajo weaving included many colors such as red, yellow, green, black, and gray. Before that, the textiles were mostly indigo, white, and natural brown. Indigo dying produced darker shades of blue, while yellow and green were used for lighter colors. Red was the most difficult to purchase locally but was still used often. Traditional Navajo weaving used upright looms with wooden support poles.

Man’s mantle, Navajo, made around 1850 AD, wool – Textile Museum, George Washington University.

 

Wool, cotton, and wood: model loom, late 19th century, Brooklyn Museum. Photo Credit

The time it took for a weaver to finish an average rug was between 2 months to several years. A significant number of textiles that survive were from the early 1800s, such as blankets which were typically sold for $50 in gold in the 1850s, which was a substantial amount of money for that time. These highly prized rugs and blankets are not just artifacts; their art represented a concept of religion and beauty in the design and craftsmanship. The textiles are not simply artworks but are important pieces of Navajo culture.