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September 2016

Welcome to Our Monthly Newsletter!

We hope you will enjoy this month's articles.  

This month's topic is:  


Navajo Weaving History,

Navajo Chiefs Blankets,

Navajo Rug ID

Authentic Navajo Rug?

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Navajo history and specifically, Navajo weaving history, is centuries old. The Navajo people began arriving in what is now the United states in approximately 1100AD. They were originally nomadic hunters and gatherers drifting in small bands. Somewhere between 1100 and 1500, they finally settled in an area now known as the Four Corners, where the Southwestern states of Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona meet.

The Navajos are related to Asian people by physique and language and they share a kinship with the Athapascan tribes of Western Canada and interior Alaska. The Alaskan Athapascans had practiced the art of weaving and it is thought by some historians the Navajos may have had some knowledge of the skill from these ancestors.

The Arrival of the Spaniards -1500s

By the time the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, many of the Indians of the Southwest were already weaving some cotton clothing as well as nets, mats, sandals, etc. History has shown they knew all about cotton and how to grow, card, spin, and weave it.

The Spaniards introduced wool to the Indians. They brought churro type sheep as well as horses to the Pueblos and their neighbors, the Navajos.

The more sedentary type of Indians such as the Pueblos became skilled in pottery and basket making, because the materials were readily available on the land, and their supplies and finished work didn't need to be moved from one place to another.

Because the Navajos were semi-nomadic, they instead concentrated on the skills of sheep herding and making their own wool, which they learned from the Spanish settlers.

The Pueblo Revolt of 1680

Since the Navajos were semi-nomadic, they didn't accumulate household and other goods and they were able to move freely about the area. Thus, they were able to avoid much of the subjugation of the Spaniards and Franciscans who came to 'Christianize' and 'civilize' the Indians of the Southwest. 

The sedentary Pueblos, though, were an easy mark. The year 1680 saw the entire Pueblo population of New Mexico and Arizona rise up and rebel against the Spaniards, pushing them out of their territory.

Afterwards, the Pueblos, fearing retaliation from Spain, sought refuge with the Navajos, even though the Navajos and the Pueblos had raided and attacked each other for centuries. The Navajos were well-known for stealing sheep from other Indians (especially the Pueblo) and fiercely guarding their flocks.

It is a strange twist of fate that if the Navajos had not stolen sheep and horses from other Indian tribes, those Indians would not have had the availability of sheep later on since their livestock had been almost completely destroyed by the invading Spaniards.

Although they were not allies, the Pueblos and the Navajos were able to maintain a period of peaceful coexistence, even intermarrying. It was during this period, in the late 1600s that history supposes the Navajos learned the skill of weaving from the Pueblos. As mentioned above, they may have already had a measure of skill in that art. 

The Pueblo men had been the cotton cultivators and so they became the weavers. The Navajo culture, on the other hand, saw hunting as belonging to the men and the care of the sheep and the weaving was given to the women. Gradually, the women even came to own the sheep.

Whether or not the Navajos learned the skill of weaving from the Pueblos or their ancestors, it can be said without doubt, by the mid-1700s, their weaving had far surpassed that of the Pueblo and the Spanish as well.

The Navajo legend of weaving relates the story of a spiritual being called 'Spider Woman' who instructed the women of the Navajo how to weave on a loom 'Spider Man' told them how to make.


The mid 1700s saw the Navajos using the wool from their sheep in their weaving of clothing, blankets, ponchos, etc. The patterns were simple and consisted primarily of narrow stripes and bands.

The colors were usually natural wool tones of white gray, brown, tan, and black. Vegetal dying was also used for hues of rust, yellow, and green. Indigo blue had already been introduced by the Spanish and was used throughout this period.

Blankets woven by the Navajo were traded on a small scale to the Spanish, Pueblos, and other Indians.

Slave Blankets

Toward the end of this period, in the mid-1800s, a large number of Navajo women were captured and sent to private homes and fabric factories in Mexico. They were enslaved and made to weave whatever they were told. A type of 'slave blanket' emerged from this captivity that was more Mexican in style than Navajo.

To continue reading about Navajo weaving history, including the transition to rugs with photos, please click here...


The Navajo Chiefs Blanket was a shoulder blanket that was woven wider than long and the only Navajo weaving to be done this way.

The Chiefs Blankets, for identification, are often divided into several distinct types, some of which are labeled as 'phases.'

Below are listed the approximate years and descriptions of the phases of the Navajo blankets, as well as a few other important types of Navajo Chiefs Blankets:



Up until around the 1820s, the Navajo and Pueblo blankets consisted of simple stripes. Then the Navajos started producing a design of blanket known as 'First Phase Chiefs Blankets.'

These were highly prized for their beauty and because they could be used as coats during the day and blankets at night.

The First Phase Chiefs Blankets were a square shape with a plain design consisting of horizontal stripes of black and brown or indigo blue and ivory made of white & brown natural churro wool. Wider stripes can be found on the top and the bottom and wider stripes in the center.

When the 4 corners of a Chiefs Blanket are folded to meet at the center, the design is the same as when it is unfolded.

This phase of blankets were made up to approximately 1865 and were worn by the Navajo and traded with both Pueblo and Plains people, such as the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Ute.



Around 1840 the 'Second Phase Chiefs Blanket' arrived on the scene. These were made until about 1870.

In this phase, rectangular red rectangles (12 grouped in twos) started to appear within the horizontal bands. The design was basically twelve boxes or rectangles laid down on a First Phase Chiefs Blanket pattern so the First Phase Blanket became the background.

Bayeta Cloth

In this time period, the prominent red color the Navajo weavers prized came from the bayeta, a red woolen flannel cloth that was made in England, Spain and Mexico.

The bayeta, which had been occasionally used in some First Phase Blankets as well, was usually dyed with cochineal from the cochineal beetle. The lac beetle, found in Asia, was also sometimes used.

No plant existed in the area where the Navajos lived which could produce the permanent intense red in rich shades of the bayeta cloth. They would unravel the cloth and then respin the yarn. The red bayeta replaced the brown color in the First Phase Chiefs Blankets. 

The color palette of the Second Phase Chiefs Blankets also started expanding with yellow and green accents. Thanks to imports from frontier routes, the Navajo also used the colorful 3-ply European yarns usually called Saxony.             



To continue reading about Navajo Chiefs Blankets with photos, please click here.


Navajo rug ID begins with the ability to recognize some basic regional characteristics. It is important to remember, however, that every rug, like it's weaver, is an individual.

The process of weaving, to the Navajo, is a spiritual one. Each weaver puts her (or occasionally, his) soul and creative energy into the weaving of a rug. Though it may have a characteristic regional design, it will be the interpretation of the weaver that will make that rug its own enduring piece of art.

While basic knowledge of regional characteristics is essential for the study of Navajo rug ID, in the Navajo nation today a rug with a regional name such as Two Grey Hills may have actually been woven by a weaver from a completely different region.

To aid in Navajo rug ID, there are certain ones that can be identified by their distinctive colors, others by the bands of color and the designs within those bands, and certain others by their distinctive designs.


These are the Ganado, Klagetoh, Two Grey Hills, and Burntwater rugs described below.

The Ganado and Klagetoh tend to have simpler designs than the similar Two Grey Hills, and Burntwater rugs.


Ganado rugs always have a red background. The distinctive red color is often called a 'Ganado Red.'

The design, based on a central diamond or two, will be in black, white, and grey in the center of the field.

Simple geometric embellishments can be found on the edges and serrated or stair-stepped diamonds, crosses, zigzags, and simple geometric shapes can be found in the corners outside the central design.

There is usually a dark outside border.

These rugs can be quite large.

The origin for the Ganado rug is the town of Gando which is in the geographic center of the Navajo Reservation where the famous Hubbell Trading Post stands today.


Klagetoh rugs are similar to Ganado rugs. The background, however, is grey. The center design is usually an elongated diamond with black, white, and red colors.

Natural wool colors are used, except the red and the black may have some commercial dye. With this rug, the grey can be brownish or even tan, depending upon the fleece of the sheep used.

The name of this rug is from a small area south of Ganado meaning 'Hidden Springs.'

Two Grey Hills

These rugs are woven of natural, undyed, hand spun wool with designs of white, black, and brown.

These weavers card together wool from different sheep to produce subtle shades of the white, black, and brown. It is possible to find several different shades of gray, brown, and tan in the same rug.

The wool for the Two Grey Hills rugs is often fine and may require more weaving time, making them more costly. 

They usually have a plain, dark border. They may also have a spirit line. (See Authentic Navajo Rug?.)

The design of the Two Grey Hills does not represent hills. It was named for a village in New Mexico.


The Burntwater rugs display a combination of earth tones and pastels.  Colors such as brown, sienna, mustard, and rust are accented with pale colors such as rose, green, blue, white, and lilac.

The designs can use geometric spirals, head-to-head triangles, stepped diagonals, and multiple borders.

The Burntwater style is newer and is basically an expansion of the traditional Two Grey Hills designs by weavers in the Wide Ruins/Burntwater area south of Ganado.


The second type of rug for Navajo rug ID are the 3 styles of banded rugs--Chinle, Wide Ruins, and Crystal.

These rugs usually do not have borders.


Continue reading here for information and photos of more types of Navajo rugs.


Is a rug an authentic Navajo rug? How to tell? An authentic Navajo rug is an individual piece of art. To own one is very special. But, buyer beware, copies of Navajo rugs abound!

Fortunately, there are several ways a savvy buyer can inspect a rug and, with a good eye and patience, be reasonably sure (or unsure) a handmade rug is really an authentic Navajo rug.

Please keep in mind, as with any hand-woven rug, look for quality craftsmanship, though no rug should or would be 100% perfect (unless it is machine-made).



Warp cords are the vertical cords which serve as the foundation of the rug and go from end to end.

The preferred composition of the warp yarn is wool. Cotton warp cords would not be strong enough for the item to be used as a floor covering.


Weft threads are the horizontal threads that cover the warp threads, or the yarn that is woven over and under the warp, and goes from side to side. These will likely be wool.


This is not a fair description but a 'lazy' line occurs when a weaver is weaving a wide fabric and does not want to reach from one side to the other with each weft.

It is a subtle diagonal break in the weave to allow the weaver to work on one section  and then move over to the next.
Not every Navajo weaving contains lazy lines.


When the Navajo weaver works on a rug, she puts her soul, her energy, her spirit into it. Sometimes you will find a small thin line which extends from the center across the border to the outside edge. Sometimes it is a line placed near a corner and made of the same color as the background of the field.

When the weaving is completed, the belief is the energy and spirit woven into the rug must be released so the weaver will have the energy and spirit to continue weaving other rugs.




Look carefully at the entire rug and check the overall design. There should be no wrinkles. The horizontal and vertical lines should be straight and uniform in width. The ends should be the same width. The tightness of the weave should be uniform throughout the rug. The colors should harmonize. The reds should be deep. 

Grey and brown hues in Navajo rugs are often 'streaky'. This is caused by slight variations in the wool color of the sheep. Rugs that are copies usually use commercial dyes which will look more uniform in color. The greys in the Mexican 'knock-offs' will be solid.


Feel the rug. It should be smooth with no areas that are thicker or thinner.

FRINGE? The rug should not have a fringe on either end.

Please click here to continue reading more about how to identify an authentic Navajo rug.

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