Object: Rug on loom

United States, Arizona
Materials: wool, wood

This partially complete weaving was made on an unknown Arizona reservation as a demonstration piece and was later donated to the museum. It is very likely that the Navajo learned to weave from neighboring Pueblo groups no later than the seventeenth century, though Navajo legends tell of how weaving was first taught to them by Spider Woman. Since then, they have become well known as masters of the craft and their pieces are still highly valued. Nearly all Navajo weavers are women, while men traditionally make the loom and tools.

Because this particular rug is only half-complete, it is easy to see many of the characteristics that distinguish Navajo weavings. All the yarn is handspun wool, as opposed to commercially made or cotton yarn. Germantown style rugs were woven with commercial yarn and occasionally cotton warp (the lengthwise threads), but this in an exception. This piece also has two shades of carded gray, made by blending white and black wool together. While some Navajo rugs, especially those in the “eye dazzler” style, incorporate several bright colors, most have a natural palette with one accent color, usually red. The Navajo maintain strong, straight edges by weaving in a selvage cord as they go, which is often of a contrasting color. Here, a two-ply black yarn is used for that purpose. The top and bottom edges of Navajo weavings are also flat and smooth, rather than fringed. This is due to the warp thread being set up on the loom in a continuous figure eight, eliminating loose ends and allowing the entire warp area to be filled.

A traditional element of Navajo weaving not present in this piece is a spirit line, though it is typically made just before the piece is finished. According to legend, when Spider Woman walked away from the tree where the gift of weaving came to her, she left a line behind her, a line that lead to new things. When Spider Woman shared her gift with the Navajo, she taught them to leave a line that ran out of the pattern and to the edge of the blanket. This was the line that she had left behind her, and it allowed the weaver’s mind to be released from the finished piece and move on to new things [Holly Thompson].

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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