Native American Rugs

Learn about the history of Native American rugs made by the Navajo Tribe.

The Navajo Indians used weaving as a way to make Native American rugs and blankets.  In fact, most Navajo weavings, whether blanket or rug, are referred to as Navajo rugs.  The technique of making these items has not changed since the arrival of the Europeans to this country.  The Navajo use a vertical wooden frame loom to weave colored thread together.  Traditionally, mothers passed the art of weaving down to their daughters.  A daughter was taught to weave in steps, often starting with the cleaning of the wool to get it prepared for weaving.  After that, they were taught to spin the wool, and then finally began using their own small loom. 

Most Navajo rugs will be great examples of what is known as symmetrical balance.  This means that when the rug is viewed, it looks like each side is a mirror design of the other side.  If the Native American rugs were folded in half, the designs would match up symmetrically.  The design found on the right side of the rug is symmetrical from left to right.  The rug is also symmetrical in design from top to bottom.  The top half and the bottom half appear to be mirror images of each other.  Even those just starting to weave were taught to carefully plan out their design before they began creating the rug.

Although Navajo weaving is steeped in tradition, that does not mean it hasn’t changed.  In the late 1800s, the settlers had an influence of the design, patterns, and even size of the Native American rugs.  At one point, demand was very high and quality suffered.  Rather than lose the art forever, many traders encouraged weavers to use older designs but newer dyes.

Navajo weavings such as Native American rugs and blankets have become very popular lately.  They are one of the earliest forms of true American folk art.  In fact, one Native American blanket was such a prized possession that Sotheby’s sold it for more than $100,000 in 1983.  These Native American rugs and blankets are not for every day use anymore, but used more for decoration in fashionable homes and offices.  One reason these items have become so highly sought after and desired is there is no such thing as a Navajo machine made rug.  There may be imitators who use machines and claim to be Navajo made, but true Native American rugs are all made by hand on a loom.  If you are looking to buy a Native American rug or blanket today, ask the dealer if it is an authentic rug.  In some states, it is even illegal for people to sell items labeled “Native American” but that often does not stop them from trying. 

Many fear that Native American weaving will be lost because it is a lot of hard work and in today’s world; many people would rather pay less for a inferior product.  Most weavers who are still active today are over the age of thirty-five and many of the younger generation do not want to take time to learn the skill.  Because of this, purchasing an authentic Native American rug may be a good investment in the long run.

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