Native American Rugs and the Navajo

Why consider Native American Rugs ...

Are you ready to decorate your floors or buy a wall-hanging?
Are you ready for that one (or two) items that will be an excellent investment?
Are you ready for something that is living history, benefiting a culture and yet can be used every day?

Tell me, what's the first image you have when you think of handcrafted Native American rugs?

The best-known coming to mind is the Navajo rug. These weavings or rugs are amazing, captivating, one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

Swept Under the Rug Book Description:

Collected and highly valued all over the world, Navajo weaving has been the subject of many aesthetic and historic studies. Grounded in archival research and cultural and economic approaches, this book situates Navajo weavers within the economic history of the Southwest and debunks the romantic stereotypes of weavers and traders that have dominated the literature.

True Navajo rugs are still made in the pre-European style...the weaver, sitting in front of a vertical loom, slipping the shuttle effortlessly back and forth using colored threads to weave the intricate design.

Info snippet: Did you know...Navajo rugs are symmetrical from left to right and from top to bottom, termed "symmetrical balance". Imagine the months of planning and weaving that went into its creation! And, each design is unique to the weaver.

Although not Native-made, read a BRIEF history of the Pendleton blanket.

Historically, Native American rugs were made of homespun cotton thread. When the Spanish came to the Southwest bringing their domesticated charro sheep, wool became the primary fiber used. Originally, they were not considered rugs at all but blankets. Trading posts of that time had more of a demand for Native American rugs than blankets. As time progressed, the names became associated with the particular trading post since the same group of Native American would usually trade with the same post.

There are three choices/levels of these products in the market:

  • A traditional item made of home spun yarn and natural pigments - cruder in appearance and design

  • One made of hand spun yarn and commercial dyes, using modern tools - preferable from a collection standpoint

  • One made in the traditional style with machined yarns and mass-produced - better finish, bolder colors, more balanced design layout and tighter edges.

Unique Characteristics:

Genuine Native American rugs are still made by hand on a vertical loom with the weaver passing the shuttle. The colors and designs are unique to the weaver.

Info snippet: Did you know...There is no such thing as machine-made Navajo Native American rug?!?!?

In many authentic rugs, when the piece is finished, there is a "break" in the weaving at the top to let thoughts out - so the weaver's thinking is not locked into the piece. A machine made rug will not have this break in the pattern.

Some weavers continue to make their own vegetable-based dyes for the threads. Remember to ask the dealer if the piece is indeed authentic, is there any information on the weaver (name, tribe), date made, etc.

There is also another distinguishing characteristic of a Navajo rug – the Lazy Line. This is where the weaver weaves one section, and then weaves another section creating a diagonal line where the sections were joined. For the most part, fake rugs do not have Lazy Lines. There are parts of the weaving process that make the Navajo rug truly unique. A Navajo rug’s warp thread (a thread that runs the entire length) is uninterrupted…starting at one corner and running the entire length, then back again throughout the entire rug. So, the length of the rug is determined by the length of this one thread! And, all designs within the rug have to be predetermined so they end when the length of the rug has been reached.

All genuine Navajo rugs will have “reversing warp thread” at both ends…truly unique in the entire world. There are some exceptions in Navajo rugs where the warp ends are tied off at one end only. If the ends of the rug have tucked in warps, the rug is a fake.

Info snippet: Did you know...A Navajo rug sold at Sotheby's in the 1980's for over $100,000!!!!

This art may be lost because of the hours to make one (estimated time to make a 3'x5' rug is 350 hours), and the younger generation of weavers may not want to take the time to learn this highly specialized skill.

However, because of worldwide recognition of quality, and increasing popularity of the beauty of these timeless designs, resurgence in weaving is taking place - one that pays homage to the past while looking toward the future, pride in maintaining traditional knowledge, pride in helping support a family or community and, pride in heritage.

"Native American Indian rugs today are categorized by design into Southwestern area rug regions. Two Gray Hills are renowned for their fine weave of all natural wools. The Storm Pattern of Cameron's regional Navajo rug is prized for its vibrant and powerful design symbolizing the beauty and fury of the storm. Vegetal dyes, many discovered or recovered in the last 50 years, lend their soft and pleasing pastels to the Navajo rugs of Crystal, Chinle, and Wide Ruins. J.L. Hubbell, Indian trader at Ganado did much to revive Navajo weaving at the turn of the century and many of the Navajo rugs from that region still display the dark "Ganado red" as popular today as it was then." Cameron Trading Post

Navajo rugs have the highest profile in the Native American rug marketplace. But, there are other weaving styles as well. Finger-weaving has been important since ancient times. As with other styles of weaving, this technique not only makes rugs, but also blankets, tapestries and clothing. Chilkat blankets, a specialty of the Tlingit people (Canada and Alaska) are excellent examples of finger-woven blankets. These blankets were woven from mountain goat wool and cedar bark.

Alaskan Native artist and Chilkat/Ravenstail weaver, Clarissa Rizal (Hudson), began creating her Northwest Coast Tlingit Native art in 1974, is now represented in collections throughout the U.S, and has won numerous Best of Show awards including the Sealaska Juried Art Show, the Santa Fe Indian Market, the Heard Museum Indian Art Market & Sale, and the Lawrence Indian Art Show.

Clarissa works mainly in fiber art, based on traditional Alaskan Native ceremonial regalia from Southeast Alaska, the home of her tribe, the Tlingit Indians. The regalia include Chilkat Blanket robes and weavings, Ravenstail robes and weavings, and Button Blanket robes and murals. Her works range from highly traditional pieces intended for ceremonial use, including copies of existing robes and regalia, to original contemporary art pieces that typically find homes in private collections and museums.

Clarissa has been teaching Chilkat weaving workshops and apprenticeships to aspiring Native women since 1989. She also does public demonstrations and presentations. Feel free to contact her for more info on upcoming events.

She also creates contemporary Tlingit award-winning paintings and collage and mixed-media art.

Documented Native American crafts from the 1700's mention Cherokee-made floor cloths woven from hemp and painted in brighter colors to cover a dirt floor.

Why Consider a Native American Rug?

With each rug woven today by Native Americans, there is such a rich history behind each piece, a pride in carrying on traditional processes, and an immeasurable contribution to the culture and livelihood of Native Americans.

If you are lucky enough that one of these Native American rugs is in your future, make sure it is indeed crafted by a weaver who knows what to do, what to use, and how to do it!

If you are interested in buying for yourself or as an Indian gift, or collecting, become familiar with it. Attend fairs highlighting Native Americans rugs or Navajo rugs; visit museums to study historical weavings; attend an inter-tribal Powwow(by the way, they're FUN!) where you can see different items, traditional and modern, crafted by different tribes.

Return from Native American Rugs to Home Page Let me know if you are interested in contacting a weaver of Native American rugs. I can help with historic Navajo rugs as well as an appraisal service too! Use my contact form and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.