Native American Navajo rugs were influenced by the Pueblo Indians and by the Spanish explorers.
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Navajo Rug Weaving
Navajo rugs are handwoven on an upright loom. The wool is handspun and dyed using natural dyestuffs. Black or grey came from the natural colours of the sheep. Yellow was made from turnip roots or sage. Senna gave a rust colour and walnut was used for brown.
Navajo rugs are hand manipulated. Each thread is woven by passing it by hand over and under the warp threads. A few of the techniques, that are also common to other tapestries are described.
In the Slit technique, each colour is woven back and forth, separately. This is generally used in small sections as a slit is created in the rug.
Two colours can also meet by wrapping around the same warp thread. The Warp Interlock creates a jagged edge and is used in diagonal joins.
In the Weft Interlock, the two adjoining colours wrap around each other between two warp threads. It is used on long vertical joins.
Diagonal (or other) shapes are woven using a combination of interlocking techniques. The steepness of the diagonal determines when to change to the next colour.
D. Y. Begay described the process of weaving a Navajo rug. How the sheep are shorn, the wool is carded and spun on a Navajo spindle and dyed using natural dyes such as mistletoe fungus found on juniper trees, yellow from Chamizo stems and flowers, and rose colours from the prickly pear cactus fruit. She also uses black beans, walnuts, cedar bark, blood roots, onion skins and cochineal for her rich palette of colours.
Navajo weavers today such as Lena Ateneare teaching their craft to their children, hoping to pass their knowledge on before it is lost forever. She describes her life as a weaver and her respect for the loom.
Fleecing Navajo Weavers
The popularity of Navajo rug designs has allowed some fair trade businesses to thrive while Navajo weavers suffer. Thousands of Diné (Navajo) weavers face formidable competition as their historic patterns, increasingly reproduced abroad, are imported and sold via sophisticated marketing schemes, including hundreds of websites on the internet.
Navajo Women Artists in Resistance are members of the sovereign Dineh Nation. Their website describes their desire to protect their traditonal lands, language and culture of weaving, silversmithing and agriculture.