Native American Navajo rugs, particularly the great ones, represent the native American Indian contribution to the world of textile production. The origins of Navajo weaving, however, are difficult to trace back before the late nineteenth century. Sheep wool was first introduced by the Spaniards several hundred years ago, but Navajo rug or blanket production only seems to have begun after American control was established. Many of the designs were supplied to the Indians by white American entrepreneurs, sometimes using Oriental tribal rug patterns. Consequently, those Navajo rugs are most prized that have a more authentic design tradition related to other native American crafts or media. Those that have vegetable dyes predating the introduction of industrial synthetics are also most desirable.
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Navajo rugs and native American Indian blankets are intricately geometric, tightly woven rugs in which the weft is packed tightly, making the warp invisible. It is commonly believed that the Pueblo Indians first introduced weaving to the Navajo Indian at the beginning of the 18th century. This belief is underscored by the fact that Navajo Indians commonly wove their creations on a Pueblo loom. At this time, wool was widely available, as the Spanish had introduced sheep to the Pueblos in the 1600’s. The oldest surviving instances of Navajo weaving date back to 1805.
Widely known for striking patterns, worked in dyed fibers ranging from soft, natural colors to more brightly colored yarns dyed with synthetic color, Navajo rugs come in many different styles of design. Wide bands of color mixed with stepped diamonds and other geometric patterns make this a very recognizable rug-type. Initially, there were few colors available from which to dye the fibers. Indigo was a very expensive and hard dye to render. Yellow was made from rabbit brush, a plant covered in yellow flowers. Occasionally green could be made from mixing the indigo and rabbit brush dyes. White and black were also used. Red, until the late 1800’s, was only available by taking apart red trade cloth. Today, dyes are made from widely available organic dye sources and by synthetic means.
A few examples of well-known patterns made today are Western Reservation, Wide Ruins, and Ganado. Though sometimes used on floors, Navajo rugs are more often used as wall-hangings.
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