Uncle Bobs Tips: Rug Guide

Navajo rugs

Navajo rugs: Beautiful, hand-woven textiles. Navajo rugs: Master works of art. Navajo rugs: A mirror into the history of the Navajo people. Navajo rugs: A source of Native American pride.

Step onto a Navajo rug and step into a rich, cultural legacy of compelling beauty. Native American Navajo rugs have captured the imagination and the attention of rug consumers with their timeless allure and artistic form. Into each Navajo rug is woven a piece of Navajo history. This article will weave together information on Navajo rugs, and walk you through the steps of creating new Navajo rugs.

Traditional legend teaches that Navajo people were taught how to weave from Spider Woman and that the first loom was made of sky and earth cords, with weaving tools of sunrays, crystal, lightning, and white shell. Navajo rug weaving began approximately 300 years ago. Although Navajo rugs initially mirrored those of their Pueblo Indian weaving teachers, by the end of the 1700's Navajo rugs began to diverge and by 1800 Navajo rugs featured not only patterns of horizontal bands, but Navajo rugs included terraced lines and discrete design elements. Navajo rug makers began to use vegetable dyes to weave brightly colored blankets and rugs of great beauty and intricacy. Spanish influence led to the substitution of wool instead of cotton for Navajo rugs.

Beginning in 1863, the Navajo were hunted down by the United States Army and made prisoners at Fort Sumner. During their years of captivity, the Navajo contact with Anglo traders greatly influenced Navajo rug weaving in the form of heavier Navajo rugs and Navajo rugs with borders around the edges. Navajo rug weavers were also introduced to commercial dyes that made brighter colors. It was during this period of cultural influence that Navajo rug designs shifted once more, from the striped and terraced patterns to the serrate or diamond style.

The railroad, in 1882, also influenced Navajo rug weaving as it established a tangible connection between the Navajos and the wider market. The railroad made travel to the west easier and thus opened the area for tourists, infusing new life into Navajo textile arts and Navajo rug making. By 1920, many regional styles of Navajo rugs developed around trading posts. These Navajo rugs are often known by the area's trading post name.

It takes a long time to weave a Navajo rug, in addition to preparing, spinning and dyeing the Navajo rug wool. It has been estimated that a 3 x 5' Navajo rug takes about 350 hours of work, and longer if plant and mineral dyes are prepared and used. The steps involved in making Navajo rugs include shearing the Navajo rug wool, thoroughly washing the Navajo rug wool and drying the Navajo rug wool. Carding, the process of straightening the wool fibers before they are spun, is the next step in creating Navajo rugs, performed by using two wooden tow cards - flat paddles of plywood made with wooden handles and metal teeth - to comb the fleece. Once the wool is carded into a soft, fluffy pile, the Navajo rug wool is ready for spinning. After spinning, Navajo rug wool is washed a second time, and then dyed using natural plant dyes or commercially bought dyes. Finally, the loom is prepared and Navajo rug weaving begins.

Today's hand-woven Navajo rugs continue the great Navajo tradition. Handspun yarn gives Navajo rugs strength and durability far beyond what is obtainable by commercial processes. Although each Navajo rug is uniquely crafted, common Navajo rug styles and patterns include "burntwater", "eyedazzler", "pictorial", "storm", "tree of life", two grey hills", yei", new lands, and more.

Over the past century, Navajo rug weaving has maintained its importance as a vital Native art. With stronger self-governance and on-reservation financial control, Navajo rug weavers currently have more artistic freedom, and new Navajo rug designs are regularly being introduced. In recent years, Navajo rugs makers have returned to vegetable dyes and traditional patterns, producing fine quality Navajo rugs that are some of the most valued and sought after pieces of Southwestern art.

Fine-quality Navajo rugs are priced according to the skill exhibited by the Navajo rug weaver, grade of wool, fineness of spinning, tightness of weave, complexity of design, colors used and size. Today, you can find both contemporary and traditional/historic Navajo rugs. Collected worldwide for their beauty and exquisite craftsmanship, you can find Navajo rugs on floors, or framed and hanging on the wall.

To maintain your precious Navajo rug, here is what the experts advise. Never shake or wash Navajo rugs. Lightly vacuum Navajo rugs after placing a piece of gauze over the nozzle to reduce suction power. Dry-clean only in an emergency. Avoid direct sunlight that can fade colors and structurally damage Navajo rug fibers. Rotate Navajo rugs regularly. To store Navajo rugs, roll Navajo rugs and place in a dry storage area (most storage damage occurs in garages or storage sheds subject to extreme weather and insects). Roll in the direction of the warp and use acid free tissue paper or unbleached muslin in the rolling process. For long-term storage of Navajo rugs, store alongside mothballs kept in a cheesecloth. For Navajo rug cleaning & for restoration of Navajo rugs, contact a Navajo rug care specialist.

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