Style: Mantas, Serapes, Child's Blankets, Wearables
Wearing Blankets 1870-1900
Serape, Poncho, Manta, and Child’s Blankets
Wearing blanket and all the terms associated with them can be somewhat confusing. Hopefully we will be able to provide some distinction for you. Chief blankets are very important in the history of Navajo weaving. We've dedicated a page just for them. You can find it here.
The Navajo weaving style began to take it's own form and life in the early 1700s. The weavers learned that the wool or yarn did not need to be taken all of the way across the loom with each pass, and that instead they could stop where ever they wished and created patterns within the colors. These section lines have been called pauses, lazy lines, or hinge points, and are seen as diagonal lines within the weaving. We prefer to call them hinge points - which is what they actually are. These hinge points create depth and design within the Navajo Rug.
Early documents from the early 18th century which described the Southwest discussed the weaving skills of the Navajo. Navajo weavings were used as trade items between the Spanish, as well as Plains and Pueblo Indians.
By the late 1800s the Navajo lived on the reservation. Goods were provided to the Navajo - yarns, indigo and aniline dyes, different kinds of factory made cloth. But soon the woven two-piece dress was replaced by manufactured blouses and skirts. And the appearance of Pendleton blankets soon replaced the handwoven shoulder blankets and mantas. By the final edge of the 1890's there was little need for hand-woven blankets.
Trading Posts began appearing - operated by US Licensed traders. These traders began to change the life of the Navajo by exchanging goods for Navajo products -from the loom, the hand, and from the land. Within a short time, the role of Navajo weaving in the southwest began a new chapter.
Serapes are woven blankets which are longer-than-wide, and wrap around the wearer with an edge folded over to create a warm collar. Serapes are worn by men and women.
In a document from the mid 1800's a traveler wrote that, "a singular species of blanket, known as the Serape Navajo which is of so close and dense a texture that it will frequently hold water almost equal to gum-elastic cloth. It is therefore highly prized for protection against the rains. Some of the finer qualities are often sold among the Mexicans as high as fifty or sixty dollars each."
Where Serapes are designed to wrap around you, Ponchos go over you. They have a slit in the middle that you to put your head through. The weaving then drapes over your shoulders. Master Weaver Julia Upshaw models her 1st Place & Best of Category Poncho from the 2013 Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial. Ponchos are also worn by both men and women.
Yes, there are combination weavings. Poncho/Serapes can be worn around the shoulders like a shawl, or over the head. Shown below are examples of the same weaving displayed in both ways.
The definition of a Manta is quite bland. It is defined as "a rectangular textile that is worn as a blanket or a wrap-around dress." The manta was worn by women.
The manta is traditionally wider-than-long. Master Weaver Julia Upshaw is shown here modeling wearable art - a manta she brought to life on the loom using Churro wool and a Silk/Wool blend.
The two piece woman's dress is called a biil in Navajo. These dresses were made to be worn, not traded. They still play an important part in the Navajo culture.
The earliest dresses were one piece mantas and were worn as the Pueblo wore them. And then sometime in the 1700s the making of the dress changed and the one large piece was divided into two longer-than-wide panels.
When the two identical panels of the dress are lain side by side, you see a manta which is wider-than-long. The pieces would then be sewn together leaving openings for the neck and arms, and held together by a woven sash.
What mother would not think to keep her children warm? Every mom, right? Child blankets are usually seen in a similar size as double saddle blankets around 30" x 50". They are a thin weave. The weaving style is similar, so it can be hard to tell with precision for which purpose it was woven. However many say that the Navajo didn't weave blankets specifically for children and that the blankets called "child's blankets" are actually Saddle Blankets. What do you think?
The Next Phase
In 2006 we held an exhibit at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona. The exhibit was titled: The Next Phase
The entire exhibit featured Navajo Blankets woven in the style of the Classic Blankets, an accomplishment never achieved before. The Getzwiller's commissioned and documented each blanket. The majority of them were woven by one extended family, the Marianito's.
It took 6 years to assemble this extensive grouping of blankets. The weavers sometimes taking over 6 months to complete one blanket. Natural dyes familiar in the history of Navajo Blankets were used; i.e. Indigo, cochineal, and other vegetal dye stuff gathered on the Navajo Reservation. Fibers used were Churro wool, and for the first time silk and alpaca were introduced. The fine and supple blankets exhibited were as fine, if not finer, than any historic Navajo Blanket ever woven.
The original intent of this exhibit was to show contemporary examples of Navajo Wearing Blankets and variations on the theme, to demonstrate how the Wearing Blanket might have evolved had the Trading Post Era not intervened. To see the beautiful weavings and wearable art of this exhibit, please click here.