Five Things You Should Know About Native American Weavings

Five Things You Should Know About Native American Weavings

Few things are more attractive and meaningful than having an authentic Native American weaving in your home. While weavings take on many forms from wearable sashes, mantas, blankets, and rugs, any of these textiles is a welcome addition to any collection of Native art.

Here are five things to know about Native American weavings from our own expert, Andrew Thomas (Diné/Navajo). A contemporary, self-taught flute player who has performed around the world, Andrew chose the instrument to express his way of life, heritage, and culture. In both his music and life in general, Andrew is dedicated to preserving Native ways as well as spreading awareness for the need to share and communicate cross-culturally.

You’ll find Andrew in the Indian Pueblo Store, often giving educational presentations on items that can be found there. He’s especially knowledgeable about the origins of Navajo weaving, such as the types of dyes and how notable regional styles of weavings developed around trading posts.

1. Color

Most textiles are identifiable by colors – more traditional styles of Navajo weavings, for example, often are the natural color of the churro or sheep’s wool – black, brown, cream, and tan; weavings in black, red, or white are also an indicator of the weaving’s origin. Puebloan weavings oftentimes use black, white, red, and green. Two Grey Hills tapestry by Alfreda Johnson

 Two Grey Hills tapestry by Alfreda Johnson 

 

2. Style and Design Elements

The designs seen on textile weavings are not planned or printed to follow along; instead, they are seen through the eyes of the weaver and expressed through the weave and weft of the loom. Depending on the tribe or pueblo, weavers are either women or men, who have learned from their elders, and in turn teach their children the skill. A weaving can take anywhere from 150-600 hours to create for a smaller size; larger sizes can take up to six months. Sampler Navajo Rug by Mary Shepard

Sampler by Mary Shepard

 

3. Symbolism

Whether the weaving depicts animals, weather, or other meanings based on color, there are many representations of Native American life. Shapes like arrows, triangles, stepstairs, and zigzags signify weather, crops and more; colors also indicate parts of the country where the weaving came from and if it was woven by a man or woman (whose tend to be more colorful).

Two-in-one Design Navajo Rug by Diane Yazzie

 Two-In-One Design by Diane Yazzie 

 

4. Not Just Souvenirs

While you’ll find weavings in various shops and galleries across the Southwest, they are not simply souvenirs. They are fine pieces of art that a Native American artisan spent months or even years creating. Between caring for the sheep and their wool that many weavings originate from, including shearing, carding, spinning, and weaving, the heart and mind of that weaver is rooted into the piece – and for many, selling a piece means food on the table. There are many price points for weavings based on size, time spent weaving, and other elements.

Eye Dazzler Navajo Rug by Angelina Yazzie

 Eye Dazzler by Angelina Yazzie 

 

5. Care and Treatment

While these textiles are meant to be seen and enjoyed, here are several tips to keep them looking their best. First, you don’t have to use the piece as a rug – it could make a striking statement draped over a chair or hanging it on a wall. No matter where it winds up in your home, keep it out of direct sunlight. The best way to control any pests or dust that can damage the wool is a good, occasional shaking. They should never be dry cleaned or even hand-washed by non-professionals, and should be flipped for even wear and if packed away, wrapped in acid-free tissue paper.

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1 comment

  • This is an excellent article and very informative of the beautiful traditions of Dine – Navajo weavings.

    marianne l'H

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