Navajo rugs are the epitome of American folk art. The peak era of Navajo rug weaving was during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During the late 19th century, demand became so high that quality declined because of mass production. Decreasing quality led to low monies for large amounts of highly skilled labor. Traders like Lorenzo Hubbell and J.B. Moore recognized this and revived the practice in the early 20th century with demand for new and evolving patterns that utilized natural plant dyes to create bold colors and vivid geometric patterns.
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Navajo rug weaving is a skill that is passed on from mother to daughter. The entire process is done by hand or the rug is not considered authentic. Mothers first teach their daughters how to shear the sheep, spin the wool, dye it and roll it into balls for weaving. The patterns for the rugs are not created as the rug is made, but rather fully visualized prior to weaving the first row. This involves choosing each color, creating a specific pattern that will not be altered and predetermining the exact size of the finished rug.
Navajo looms are upright. To construct a loom, build a rectangular wooden frame that is stabilized by a wide wooden base. You’ll need two dowels; the one on top will be suspended a few inches from the top of the loom with thick twine and bottom one should be secured to the base with twine on each end. The strings of twine that extend from dowel to dowel for weaving should be the width of your finished rug. The rows of wool are pushed together tightly with a comb, made from whatever you can find. Traditional loom combs are made from wood or bone, but plastic works. If you require help visualizing the loom, check out the resources below for some great photos.
Following your pattern, thread the wool through the loom, tying ends tight when you change colors. Tighten as hard as you can with the comb between each row. Tightening is crucial. Always tighten more than you think you need to because although you will be weaving more rows, it prevents the rug from unraveling after you are finished, resulting in frustration. Weaving a Navajo rug is a difficult and time-consuming job; it might take years to complete.
When you are done, remove the dowels from the frame and the rug from the dowels. Remove the strings completely, there should be no fringes. Secure the corner strings by tying them tightly together and trimming them down. If you use the rug on the floor, be sure to lay a carpet pad underneath it and avoid getting it wet. Alternatively, hang your rug on the wall as a decorative tapestry.