Navajo blankets or Diné weavings have been in demand for centuries and are a staple in Navajo society. While some Navajo weavings can run at a respectable cost, custom orders with dyed, colored fine-wool and specialty labels generally run at a premium price. This is due to the Navajo blankets’ design complexity and the beautiful craftsmanship of the Navajo weavers.
Exactly where the Navajo received instruction on how to weave remains somewhat a mystery. According to some experts, records indicate that the Navajo may have herded sheep and made Navajo blankets in the late 1800s. However, descendants of the ancient Pueblo Indian tribe point to much earlier history, dating back to around 1000 AD.
Either way, how did this diverse culture learn to weave so elegantly without modern-day weaving machines? In this lesson, you will learn where and when these techniques were used to make traditional Navajo blankets.
Where Did Navajo Blankets Originate?
At first, the Navajo made blankets and clothing to keep their tribe members warm. Moreover, as trading with outsiders increased, the demand for Navajo blankets as “trade items” skyrocketed, and so did their value. Their origins were first discovered by 18th-century Navajo tribesmen of a slaughtered group of Navajo warriors in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, at Massacre Cave.
Legend says the Navajo warriors sought shelter in the caves of Canyon de Chelly, where the Spanish soldiers hunting them found and killed them. Therefore, the Navajo regarded those remnants as scared and covered them with Diné blankets before leaving the entrance sealed. It wasn’t until 100 years later that a trader named Sam Day would find the precious textiles and remnants of the slain Navajo warriors.
Thanks to modern-day science and carbon dating techniques, these ancient Navajo blankets give us a better insight into the textiles’ quality, colors, pigments, designs, and custom patterns that are woven into the ceremonial burial fabrics.
The Colors of Navajo Blankets
Navajo blankets come in several natural color variations from gray and yellow to black, green, white, and brown. Although most Navajo weavings are made from native plants, ashes and pinion pitch can make a black dye. Other dyes such as indigo and red were very hard to obtain in Western America during the 1800s
Red did find its way via trade routes from an extracted byproduct of the Mesoamerican beetle. However, it wasn’t until the expansion of the railroad system stretching across America in the mid-1800s did colors and wool choices become more available to the Navajo.
How Much Do Navajo Blankets Cost?
During the Gold Rush’s height in the mid to late 1800s, hand-woven Navajo blankets carried a net worth of $50 in gold. Today, ancient Diné weavings can sell for $1000 or more, while some exotic and custom Navajo blankets have a starting price between $5000 and $10,000.
In most cases, the size of the Navajo blanket or rug can impact the overall cost. It’s always best to consult with your Navajo weaver to get an accurate price based on your specific requirements.