Is my rug a Navajo weaving?
This question is one for the ages. Most of all from clients who may have inherited or purchased a weaving at a yard sale with little or no records.
With 27 years in the cleaning and restorations of Navajo Rugs I have a very good eye and feel for different breeds and how a wool may have been processed into weaving yarn. The largest amount of Navajo reproductions come from our neighbors to the south (Mexico).
If you have traveled around in Mexico you will notice that livestock and dogs are very rough looking. This transfers over to the quality of the yarn used and is not of the greatest quality. The wool tends to be clumpy and dull. Mexican weaving from the Oaxaca area of Mexico has a distinct smell. This I believe is from the dying process of the wool where from what I hear is they use Formaldehyde to dye and/or process the rug yarns.
I have dissected a Oaxaca, Mexico weaving (below) to show how a Mexican rug is made to look as if from a Navajo loom. Have you ever heard the term "its hard to teach an old dog new tricks"? The Mexican people and Spain Americans have been weaving on looms brought to the Americas from early Spain explorers. These are European treadle looms. The weavings starts out as continues warp but, when the weaver has finished weaving, the completed rug or weaving is cut off the loom. This leaves a fringed end on both ends. In the pictures below you will see how i pulled apart the fringe that was 3 warps each combined with a second group of 3 then, knotted at the end to make one fringe.
I then sewed the single warp threads up the warp channel next to it about an inch into the weaving. Once all single end warps are sewn up the channels, I then added an end selvedge cords to replicate a Navajo continues warp weaving with end selvedge cords. With all the extra wool from the single warps being up the corresponding warp channel about an inch this will make the Mexican weaving feel thick at the end for one inch or so.
Also, to keep their side selvedge's straight Mexican weavers incorporate two internal side selvedge cords (red) that are very thick. Then move as in the case with this weaving to six sets of doubled warps (green). Then into a single warp. As seen in picture below, i used a colored marker to indicate thickness, not part of original weaving.
The Navajo/Pueblo weavers are one of the only weaving groups to use a continuous warp anywhere in the world of weaving. This means that a navajo weaving is connected to the loom via end selvedge cords (bottom right). Navajo style rug connected to dowel during weaving (bottom left).
All Navajo weavings will have end selvage cords, at least on one end. In Gallup Throw rugs the Navajo weaver would cut the weaving off the loom to save time and finish the weaving fast. In the picture (bottom right )you will see that the one end was cut off the loom, then knotted at one end.
Not all Navajo weavings have side selvedge cords, Somewhere around c.1940, some Navajo weavers abandoned the use of external side selvedge cords and incorporated the internal selvedge cord. In the image (below left) you see this weaving has an internal side selvage cord.
In the picture (top right) you will see a Navajo Rug with side selvedge cords as a woven part of the weaving. Meaning the Navajo weaver wove the selvedge cords into the weaving when it was woven.
In the next picture below, we will see a Turkish weaving in Navajo rug design or visa versa. As you can see it also has an end fringe and you will also, see that a the side has wool sewn onto the edge to look like a side selvedge cord. Also with Turkish made weavings you will see they use a technique known as split weave if you hold it to the light you will see light come through the weaving where two colors come together (bottom right).
Now we will turn our attention to "Lazy Lines". No one knows where the term "Lazy Line" came from. In no way were the Navajo weavers lazy. The Navajo are one of the only weavers around the world to incorporate these diagonal lines as part of the design.
Lazy lines were used for ergonomic purposes so the Navajo weaver could focus on smaller sections of a weaving. In Navajo weaving, the use of a batten to separate the two sheds (stick shed and pull shed) apart is incorporated. The batten is usually around 24" long and you need some space on the side of the weaving to get it in or out.
If you spent any time coming to my studio over the years, this Navajo style weaving I have been working on for years (12). I was going to give it to my son at his birth. Well, maybe for his graduation from High school. Funny how since he showed up I have no time for extra curricular activities.
If you look at the picture below you will see how i used "Lazy Lines" to keep the area I was working on (about a foot and half) right in front of me. This way I can weave the center design then scoot my body over and work on each border after the center design was woven or work on borders then center design.
This next weaving pictured below, is the Gallup throw weaving pictured below. It is 18" across. The weaver had no problem with keeping the weaving right in front of her. There is no need for"Lazy Lines" in a weaving that is small in most cases.
This Gallup Throw rug, I have added a fringed end. This is to replicate a fringe that was added onto the weaving after completed and off the loom. You will find this technique on some Navajo saddle weavings and other types of Navajo weaving. Added fringe by the weavers adds flair to a weaving and may command a higher trade price with a dealer or maybe, they wanted their weaving to look like their New Mexican/Mexican weaving counterparts with the fringed ends?
If you are looking for a great book on Navajo Saddle blankets, I would suggest "Treasures Of The Navajo Horsemen" by, Steve Getzwiller.
I hope you enjoyed this topic and you find it a little easier to decipher between a Navajo made weaving and other made weavings. By all means, I am not the end all be all in Navajo weaving. I enjoy sharing what I have learned and/or experienced through my many years of oral history with my clients and some book read knowledge most of all, doing knowledge. Please email me with any suggestions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org