Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Turn of the Century Navajo Weaving

I'm still out on the road. This time, I'm writing from a hotel room in Gallup, NM. This morning though, we were in Durango, CO, looking at Fort Lewis college for my daughter. Durango is nestled in the Rocky Mountains, in a beautiful territory full of mountain peaks, pine trees, wild flowers, and tumbling streams. The college itself is on a hill above town, giving the students an incredible view. My daughter has pretty much decided that she can get comparable programs closer to home, so she probably won't be applying to the college. But the territory is stunning. We may come back some time for a vacation. I could see spending a week tucked back in the woods, happily treadling my spinning wheel to the music of bird calls and burbling water.

The college does have a Center for SouthWest Studies though, and we got to peek inside one of their display rooms while we were on school tour. After seeing the rug weaver yesterday, it was fascinating to see a handful of weavings from around 100 years ago. Some of the pieces on display were the rugs that I am used to seeing. Some represented other weaving techniques. That plain looking brick red panel in the back is actually intricately patterned with twill weaves, in blocks.

What fascinated me as a weaver though, was that fuzzy orange mat in the front of the display. I had never thought of the Navajo weaving shag rugs!

In the moments I had, I took a closer look at that one, and an even more spectacular example that was hung on the wall nearby. They were made around 1890. The warp is cotton. The weft is native wool and Angora goat fleece. The fleece is pulled through the weave so it only sticks out on one side. The pattern was striking, and it looked really plush and comfortable.

So, what did the Navajo use shag rugs for? These were weaver's mats! If you've seen older depictions of native weavers at their rug looms, they are usually shown sitting on the ground to weave. Now I know what they were actually sitting on. That looks a heck of a lot more comfortable than bare dirt, especially for extended weaving sessions!

Hmmmm. Maybe I need to weave some shag, to pad the weaving bench for my floor loom. I've got some mohair tucked away...


  1. What a beautiful place! Sounds like you've had a nice trip. Thank you for sharing about the Navajo weaving.

  2. I love the fact that the weavers took such care for themselves as well!

  3. Oh, this is a really cool one! I was lucky enough to find one at a Native American art show and buy it. The idea of sitting on it when I weave is exciting, but I am hesitant to use it for fear it will get damaged. That sounds silly. I think I'll get it out and use it. Thanks.

  4. If it gets damaged by use, they didn't make it well enough. But somehow, I don't see that happening! They made them to stand up to wear.

    Ok, the orange one from over 100 years ago had some of the pile missing from the middle, where someone had sat on it for years and years. But they both looked in excellent shape for being over a century old.