Native American Blankets – Navajo Weaving

Native American blankets are justifiably popular throughout the US and worldwide for their beauty and craftsmanship. Some today are woven by native artisans; others are mass-produced by companies such as Pendleton. Either way, these blankets are intrinsically linked to the Southwest and American Indian tradition.

Blankets in Native American Life

Historically, Native Americans wove blankets from animal hide, fur, and plant fibers. Later, they used wool and cotton as well. Hundreds of years before European settlement in North America, the indigenous tribes used blankets for trade purposes.

Upon European settlement, the locals were happy to trade European-made blankets for items such as beaver pelts. This became more of a necessity as the Europeans decimated buffalo populations; many Plains Indian tribes were displaced by this and had to rely on trade with Europeans for their blankets.

Native Americans of the Southwest give blankets to celebrate events such as births, marriages, and deaths. They are traditionally used as trade items, to pay debts, to depict status, and to show gratitude. They are also y used as awnings, ground coverings, curtains, for warmth, and for adornment – but traditionally, the primary purpose of a Navajo blanket was for wearing. Blankets have traditionally been used for this throughout life – from cradling babies to wrapping the dead for burial.

Navajo Woman Weaving a Blanket c1940

IMAGE: Pinterest

Designers worldwide have been inspired by the patterns that are particular to Navajo blankets. The weaving in these depicts Navajo tradition, belief, symbolism, and lifestyle.

Navajo tradition says that they were taught to weave by the holy ones, Spider-Man and Spider-Woman. According to their legend, Spider-Man created a loom of sunshine, rain, and lightning, and Spider-Woman taught the Navajo how to use it to weave.

The Navajo believed only God was perfect, so all things they created needed to have a slight imperfection as a sign of humility under God. They also believed that the soul is woven into pieces as they are created. As such, every blanket will have a loose thread incorporated, as a sign of humility and to allow the escape of the soul.

Some scholars believe the Navajo initially learned the skill of weaving from the Pueblo as the Pueblo took refuge in Navajo homes during the Pueblo Revolt against Spanish invaders in 1680; today, however, the Navajo are widely considered to be the most adept of all Native American weavers. Traditionally, hand-operated looms were used for weaving, initially the narrow horizontal back-strap loom; later the larger vertical loom.

Navajo weaving is noted for its vivid patterns and these beautiful Navajo blankets are as durable as they are beautiful.

Come back next time to learn more about the art of Navajo weaving. In the meantime, visit Indian Traders for stunningly beautiful Native American blankets.

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