History | Types of Rugs | What Is A Quality Rug?
Since 1536, Navajos have been weaving wool into functional and beautiful
clothing and blankets. They used the resources of their harsh environment,
new materials, and skills learned through trade and contact with other
societies to create not only a functional material, but something with
lasting beauty. As part of Sonachi's goal to create a sustaining market
for this exceptional work, we offer classes to the public, most free of
Through our travels and contact with Internet users, we find there is
a limited understanding of what distinguishes Navajo weaving from many
other types of textiles. In fact, many of the rugs offered in antique
shows and on-line auctions are actually from other sources. Typically
these rugs are created by weavers with significantly less skill or modern
looms that require less effort to create a weaving of this type.
If you are interested in buying a rug, we recommend you spend time learning
about Navajo weavings. This way your purchase can be more than a trinket
that looks good on a wall for the short term, it can represent a significant
and profitable investment in art.
The links at the left represent a brief primer in Navajo weavings. If
you would like more information, please check our calendar or contact
us to find more information. One of our typical classes explains weaving
methods, styles, looms, and the changes in weaving techniques due to the
influence of diverse cultures, materials and trends. During these classes,
samples of early 20th century weavings and modern weavings are presented.
Brief History of Navaho Weaving
Archeologists believe that the Navajos are the newcomers in the Southwest
and they may have learned to weave from their neighbors, the Hopi. The
Navajos say they learned to weave from Spider Woman.
They first wove cotton and flax that grew wild in the region. When the
Spanish brought churro sheep, they began to weave these same intricate
designs in wool fiber.
The oldest pieces of Navajo weaving in existence are dated from 1805.
They come from Canyon del Muerto and were woolen blankets found on the
victims of an attack.
Although the Navajos have embraced modern conveniences such as pick-up
trucks, computers and cell phones, they have not changed their method
of weaving in any significant way since 1536. They continue to use a vertical,
upright loom. They continue to shear their own sheep, spin and dye their
own wool, and weave entirely by hand. Navajo weaving is distinctive and
often includes symbols unique to the culture (please see "What is
a Quality Rug"). Each demonstrates the amazing adaptability of the
people as they incorporated a Hopi loom, Spanish sheep, English bayeta
cloth, German yarns and some American mordants and dyes.
and Styles of Navaho Weaving
The trading post system of exchange was the beginning of regional styles
and designs for Navajo weaving. Lorenzo Hubbell at the trading post in
Ganado encouraged weavers to produce colors and designs he felt would
sell to buyers off the reservation. J.B. Moore produced a catalog that
showed various styles and designs at the turn of the century.
Today, the regional styles are still prevalent, but a weaver may produce
designs from many areas of the reservation, and not just the area where
he or she lives. The most popular styles today are: Two Grey Hills, Ganado
Red, Crystal, Burnham, storm pattern, pictorial, Chief’s Blanket,
and Teec Nos Pos. Each weaver expresses that style with their own touch
and flair, similar to a musician creating a new song within a genre.
This style represents a summer storm with lightening traveling from
the center to the four corners, which represent the Four Sacred Mountains
of the Navaho people.
This rug represents the dancers who perform in Yei costumes. It is
distinguished from a Yei rug by the presence of dancing feet.
Gray Hills: This style typically uses solely the natural,
undyed colors of the wool including white, gray and black. This style
is also noted for exceptionally tightly woven, small stitches.
One of the most well-known styles, this style is predominantly geometric
shapes with a strong red component in the color scheme.
Phase Chiefs Blanket: Taking its inspiration from Chief's
blankets created in the early 20th century, these rugs are distinguished
by their strong stripes and cross patterns as well as a color scheme
of blue, red, black and white.
makes a top quality weaving?
easiest way to obtain a true Navajo weaving is to buy it from a reliable
dealer who provides a tag of origin, description and the name of the weaver.
Beyond this, a key clue is the way the weaving is bound. Navajo weavings
do not have "fringe." There should be no ridges along the top
and bottom and there should be a four-cord tassel at each corner. There
should be side selvage cords. The colors, especially the grays, should
be tweedy or sometimes even streaked. Navajo weavings are tightly packed
and have a close warp to weft relationship.
A rug is not a Navajo weaving if it has:
A loose weave
Uniform color throughout
Ridges along the top and bottom
When choosing a weaving:
Fold it in half first in one direction and then the other. This helps
you determine if the sides are even.
Spread the weaving on the ground and see if it lays flat.
Check the tightness of the weaving. Those with smaller "stitches"
are typically more valuable. Tight weavings are often softer and more
Other factors that typically increase the value of a rug are:
The Weaver -- Experienced weavers who have won many awards in contests
and who are highly ranked within the tribe typically produce more valuable
The Dyes -- Vegetal dyes are more valuable than commercial dyes.
The Wool -- Wool gathered from churro sheep is more rare and represents
a return to the source of the first sheep Navajo weavers used. There has
been a recent resurgence in raising these sheep and harvesting their wool,
but it is still less prevalent than wool from other breeds of sheep.
Intricate Designs -- Some designs, like snowflakes, require incredible
skill and more time for the weaver to create, increasing rug value.
Most important, any buyer should truly love the weaving they purchase.
A beautiful weaving will bring the buyer years of pleasure and can easily
become an heirloom for future generations.