Native American Blankets – Navajo Designs
Native American blankets are unrivalled in terms of quality craftsmanship and beauty. Full appreciation for these pieces of art requires some understanding of the blanket designs and their meanings. This article places a focus on the blanket weaving designs and techniques of the Navajo. The Navajo Nation is the largest Native American Nation in the USA today and is indigenous to the southwest.
Navajo Blanket Design History
Weaving is arguably the most important art form for the Navajo (alongside the artisanship of Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry). Navajo blanket designs are an expression of community, spirituality, and culture.
Navajo lore recognizes weaving as the most ancient, sacred tradition and that the Spider-People gave hemp seeds to the Navajo. (Before wool became available when the Spanish introduced sheep to the region, indigenous hemp fibers were used to weave blankets). Spider-Man taught the people to make the loom, while Spider Woman taught them to weave. The Navajo traded their blankets with other Tribal Nations for many centuries. According to tradition, newborn Navajo girls have spider webs rubbed onto their arms and hands so that they will be blessed to grow up to become good weavers, thereby carrying on Navajo culture.
Every authentic Native American blanket has its own story, and the weaver has determined exactly which motifs, symbols, colors to include in their blanket.
In the traditional Navajo setting, women most often wove blankets. In the early days of Navajo weaving, colors were limited to what was readily available in locally sourced mineral pigments – shades of black, white, brown, gray, and indigo blue. Red was highly sought but difficult to access – and whenever it was accessed, it was used to great effect. Red yarn was usually sourced from traded cloth (from Spanish settlers) that was unraveled.
Most Navajo designs used in weaving are linked to the legendary ancestors of the Dine people and are geometric. For example:
- Crosses represent the Spider Woman, whose symbol was given to early Navajo women to help them remember her wisdom. The cross represents her teachings, spiritual energy, and the entire Navajo culture.
- Diamonds are symbolic of the Navajo homeland (Dinetah) and the four corners of the diamond represent the four Sacred Mountains and the four directions of the Wind.
- Zig-zags symbolize lightning bolts on which the deities who created the Navajo entered the world. Lightning is among the most powerful spiritual forces to the Navajo.
More complex patterns include:
- Step Pattern – represents the steps of the Kiva, the traditional dwelling for religious rituals. Features repeating patterns of flat geometric shapes.
- Eye Dazzler – concentric motifs of serrated diamond shapes, this style of the late nineteenth century represented desert storms, whirlwinds, and renewal.
- Water-Bug – this motif was influenced by Asian patterns and originated at the Crystal, New Mexico trading post. The motif is a repeated X-shape with a horizontal bar crossing the center of the X.
- Whirling Logs – a cruciform pattern resembling the traditional ancient swastika, it depicts a Native hero rescued by the gods from a whirlpool.
Native American Chief Blankets
Chief blankets were created on an upright loom and were only affordable for the Chiefs and other wealthy tribal members. There were historically distinct phases of chief blanket design:
- Phase I – 1800-1850 – brown and white stripes, with wider stripes located at the top, center, and bottom of the blanket.
- Phase II – 1840-1870 – darker stripes at the ends with red rectangles in the center.
- Phase III – 1860-1880 – serrated diamond shapes incorporated at the center and the ends of the manta (blanket). These varied in color.
- Phase IV – 1870-early 1900s – larger diamond motifs used at the ends and in the center of the blanket.
Navajo Blankets at Indian Traders
Indian Traders is very proud to offer a wide selection of top-quality Pendleton blankets, including some featuring Navajo designs. These stunning, meaningful pieces include the:
- Preservation Series Early Navajo Child’s Blanket – this gorgeous blanket is a spectacular example of Navajo weaving from the Classic Period. Smaller in size, Child’s blankets had a high weave and complex patterns. Red variations in the color scheme derived from the red trade cloth the Dine weavers unraveled and rewove. The woven design in this blanket is based on an original weaving from the Durango Collection and the Preservation Series recreates historic weaving. For every sale of this blanket, Indian Traders donates a royalty to directly support Native American Art, Education, and Health outcomes.
- Pendleton Naskan Saddle Blanket – Unnapped – This blanket celebrates Navajo mythology and the legend of Tsohanoai or The Sun Bearer, who moves across the sky on horseback dragging the sun behind him. Sacred blankets or Naskan are beneath this horse’s hooves. The pattern in this blanket depicts the four sacred mountains and the land of the Dine.
- Preservation Series Early Navajo Sarape – This historic Dine design reflects the weaving of the First Phase Chief blankets. Simple stripes and step designs incorporated natural white and dyed blue and green hand-spun churro wool. Based on an original design from The Durango Collection, this color scheme is influenced by the Rio Grande Valley.
Every sale of this blanket donates a royalty to directly support Native American Art, Education, and Health outcomes.
- Pendleton Los Ojos Blanket – This dramatic and striking black and white blanket design depicts Spanish crosses, diamond-shaped ojos (eyes) and the four Sacred Mountains of the Dine.
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