History of Navajo Weaving
There are many tales and stories regarding the rich Navajo history in America, but none may be more intriguing and exciting than that of the infamous Spider Woman. A deity that holds a special place in the Navajo culture, it is believed that she is the one that taught the Navajo to weave.
It’s said that the first loom was made from sky and earth cords, and that the weave itself was made from sunlight, lightning, crystals and white shells.
The truth, however, is the Pueblo people taught the Navajo how to create Native American hand-woven blankets. In fact, Navajo artists were influenced in part by the Spanish who had introduced cotton to the Pueblo long before 1650.
Initially, the Pueblo men would weave the textiles; but the Navajo, being a matriarchal society in which the women owned the sheep and were the ones to weave with the wool.
What began with weaving women’s dresses (two identical blankets sewn together), eventually became single blankets (mantas), then Chief’s blankets, and evolved on to different styles and designs of blankets and rugs.
Over time, the Navajo Indian rug scene became more beautiful, diverse and sought after with each passing year. Yarn’s changed, from natural hand-carded, hand-spun, and hand-dyed yarns, to Germantown yarns, to native wool spun in small mills, to some of the prized Navajo Churro wool pieces of today.
Spider Woman’s teachings can still be found in modern-day craftsmanship, as the Navajo weaving is done the same way it now as was on the first Navajo loom: using a hand-made upright loom, with one continuous warp, and each stand of woolen yarn is placed into the warp, by hand, one strand at a time. That is why if a Navajo rug is cut of compromised in anyway – it will not unravel. This is a process that cannot be mechanized – making the Navajo weaving one of the most unique in the world.
From the very first “Black Design Blanket” the Spider Woman created; to the gorgeous Two Grey Hills or historic Storm Patterns weavers craft today, each textile has one thing in common; they are carefully and spiritually created by expert hands who understand the value of earth and the gifts it gives us. Navajo weaving is a transformation of what mother nature offers to us to give life, the Navajo have used this gift to live off of the land and prosper for hundreds of years.