The weaving of Navajo Rugs is a dieing art. Fewer and fewer young people are learning to weave from their mothers and grandmothers. It is a shame that this traditional art may fall by the wayside. There are a few traders, like Steve Getzwilzer, who are working to keep Navajo Rugs a tradition that survives the future. He is helping young ladies with their weaving, in the hopes that they will keep this art form vital and alive, as well as being able to make a living for their families through their art.
The cheaply made mexican rugs have replaced the traditional Navajo Rugs in many markets. The quality of the mexican rugs, their texture, and the vibrancy of the colors are inferior. Don't waste your money. Save and buy yourself a true piece of art. The Navajo Rugs are more expensive, but you will have made an investment. A truly good piece will only increase in value, while it's mexican counterpart will only be good for resale at a yard sale.
Each area of the Reservation has it's own style of rug. The Klagatoh Red is from Klagatoh Arizona,the storm pattern is from Tuba City, Arizona. Around the turn of the century, many of the local traders encouraged their local weavers to weave rugs of similar colors and patterns to make a standard for their particular area of the Reservation. The most well known of the Traders was John Lorenzo Hubble, who popularized the Navajo Rug in the begining of this century. He coached the area weavers into making patterns that he could sell to the "Beliganas" (whites) all over the country.
Photo courtesy of Potcarrier Traders.
TWO GRAY HILLS RUG, natural colors, woven by Bessie
The Two Grey Hills Rug above, is made from all natural colors. Meaning their were no commercial or vegital dyes used. The variations in the colors is made by expertly spinning different shades of wool into yarn. The black comes from sheep that produce black wool, the white from sheep that produce white wool, and the different shades of grey come from a combination of both. This style of rug is very time consuming for the weaver. She must first raise her sheep, shear them, clean and card the wool, then spin the wool into yarn of the desired shade. Only then can she start the time consuming task of weaving her rug. Some of the women who weave still use an awl to spin their yarn. They spin the awl on their leg, while twisting the yarn to the desired thickness with their other hand. It is fascinating to watch, and the true masters of this art make it look simple. It is not simple, getting each strand of yarn the same size, the same shade, is very tricky, and is why many women buy commercial yarns. The hand spun wool varies in thickness more than the commercial wools, but the hand spun rugs are more valuable. I have spent several pleasurable hours with Suzie Yazzie and her family in Monument Valley watching her work her wool. She still uses an awl to spin her yarn, and her children spend many hours tending the sheep and gathering native plants for her to make her dyes from.
One of the most fascinating things about these rugs, is that they use no pattern. The picture of what they want is in their mind, and comes out into the rug through their fingers. Many of the Navajo Rugs have a spirit string. This is a small piece of unwoven yarn exiting the rug from the top left hand corner. The weaver leaves this yarn loose for a reason, and it is not a flaw. The weaver will have spent months of their lives in front of their loom, and believe that the pattern is one that their spirit has created within themselves. They leave the string unwoven so that their spirit can escape the rug, and find it's way back to their souls. If you are looking for a rug to purchase, look for one with a spirit yarn.