All About Navajo Rugs

All of our rugs are woven by Navajo weavers, most of whom live traditionally on the Navajo Reservation located across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. This is the largest Native American Reservation in the country, some 16 million acres with over 400,000 Navajos. From the inception of weaving by the Navajos around 1700, weaving has provided an important economic benefit to the tribe and a fine outlet for their artistic talents. Their rugs are made in the weaver's home or hogan on vertical looms using the same methods they have used for the past three hundred years. Today in the Southwest, the Navajos are the only Native Americans doing a large amount of weaving. We are presently getting less quantity of weaving than in the past, but the quality is the finest that it has ever been.

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The Navajo Weavers

Too little recognition is given to the Navajo weavers for their creative instincts and artistic talents. Out of their minds, without benefit of pencil and paper, unfold these beautiful designs in the Navajo Rugs. Their spirit, a proud one born through years of adversity, is reflected in their weaving. The rug becomes part of the weaver, and many times we have seen her sigh, taking one last look at her rug and the many hours of labor it represents, as she leaves the rug behind after having sold it to us. Perhaps she is wondering who will own her rug, and will the new owner appreciate the effort she has put into her weaving.

All of the rugs in our stock are Navajo rugs. Since about 1920 the styles of rugs have been identified with the region on the reservation in which that distinct pattern was originally woven. These patterns were usually influenced by the trader in that area.

The major regions are: Two Grey Hills, Teec Nos Pos, Crystal, Ganado, Wide Ruins, Chinle, Burntwater, and Western Reservation.

In addition to these we have other styles that are not identified with a region, such as Pictorial, Sandpainting, Twill Weave, Two Faced, Raised Outline, and Yei / Yei-be-chai.

Read More: The Fascinating History of Navajo Rugs: The different periods of Navajo Weavings

The Wool

  • Native Handspun Wool: Some of the Navajo weavers still raise their own sheep. They shear, clean, card, dye, and spin the wool from their sheep, then weave this finished spun wool into their rug. 
  • Processed Wool Top: Today, much of the wool is sent out to be commercially cleaned and carded. This does a better job than the Navajos can do with their limited facilities. The wool is then spun into warp and weft threads by the weaver. There is also available now a processed prespun one-ply wool, which can be respun by the weavers. 
  • Commercial Wool Yarn: Wool that is spun into more than one ply is usually referred to as yarn. We are seeing more use of this commercially cleaned, carded, dyed, and spun four-ply yarn. This yarn is more symmetrical than handspun, easier to work with, and saves the weaver many tedious hours in preparing the wool for her rug.

The Dyes

  • Natural Wool Colors: The natural colors of the sheep's wool: white, black, brown, and grey, are used in some of the finest rugs such as the Two Grey Hills. The black is often dyed to obtain a more intense color and the grey can be a carded mixture of black and white. These natural colors are also carded together to obtain various shades such as tan and beige. 
  • Vegetal Dyes: Since 1920 there has been a resurgence in the use of coloring obtained from native Reservation plants. These plants are boiled to extract the coloring and a mordant (usually an acid) is added to fix the color fast. The wool is then cooked in this mixture until the right shade is obtained. These native colors generally have soft, pleasingly light earth tones.
  • Aniline Dyes: The aniline or commercial dyes were introduced to the Navajo weavers around 1870. These are the bright colors, the red of the Ganado rug, the vivid hues of the Teec Nos Pos, the contrast of the Yeis and Yei-be-chais. These are the bright colors that made the Navajo rug commercially well known.

Costs of Navajo Rugs

The prices of Navajo Rugs are based on the amount of time required and the skill exhibited by the weaver. This is reflected by the type of wool used, the fineness of the spinning, the tightness of the weave, complexity of the design, color, and size. The compensation for the weaver has been increasing and will continue to increase. This factor combined with the phasing out of the older, more experienced weavers, and the lack of younger Navajo women taking up the craft, reflects why today's Navajo Rugs are truly a good investment for the future.

Purchasing a Navajo Rug

Important Considerations:

  1. Deal with a dependable dealer.
  2. Establish your requirements: style, color, quality, budget.
  3. Select a number of rugs that meet the requirements that you have set.
  4. Eliminate one by one until the right rug remains.

Things to Look For:

  1. Place the rug on the floor; the best rugs lie flat with no gatherings.
  2. The designs should be symmetrical and the lines straight.
  3. Slight imperfections are acceptable; Navajo Rugs are handmade.
  4. Buy the rug that appeals to you most, it is the right one. You will like it even more the longer it is with you.

Care of your Navajo Rug

Navajo Rugs are tough. They will accept a lot of wear and last for generations if given proper care. If your rug is to be used on the floor, a foam mat underneath it will prevent wear and skidding. Vacuum cleaning is normally all that is required. Do not let water sit on the rug; it is wool and will shrink and some dyes may run. Do not attempt to wash the rug yourself; the best cleaning method is to have it hand washed by professionals. If the weaving becomes stained or deeply soiled contact a reputable dealer for their advice.

Read More About the Caring for your Navajo Rugs

Displaying your Navajo Rug

For mounting a Navajo rug on the wall, we recommend 2" wide Velcro with contact adhesive on the back. Simply remove the paper backing from the adhesive side and place the strip of Velcro on the wall. Press the top edge of the rug on the strip; the Velcro will hold it there. Cut 3" long pieces and place under each bottom corner; this will pull the rug smooth. This special Velcro is available from our store. Both sides of a Navajo rug are the same; turn once or twice a year.

Learn more about how to hang your Navajo weaving.

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