“Michael and I hope visitors consider many different ways of seeing Navajo people. When you see the rugs, it's like gazing into a crystal that you rotate, seeing how we feel and considering how earlier weavers felt. Our words are not what the weaver may have intended, but we find that using metaphors helps us relate to our predecessors as human beings instead of silent faces in a photograph.” —Sierra Ornelas
Tradition & Trade
Navajo Indians—who call themselves Diné, meaning “The People” in the Navajo language—honor Spider Woman and Man, the holy people who first brought weaving knowledge to the Navajos. The Navajo weaving tradition developed in the American Southwest over centuries and emerged as a distinctive Navajo activity by 1650. Generations of weavers used handmade tools and local materials to clothe their families with blankets in traditional and innovative patterns.
Navajo weaving was not isolated. It shared many traits—upright loom, specific techniques, and early blanket styles—with weaving by the Pueblo Indians who lived in neighboring villages. During the 1600s, contacts with Spaniards and Mexicans introduced sheep’s wool and indigo dye. By the early 1700s, Navajos actively traded their blankets to other Indian tribes, and received praise for their tight weaving and bold patterns.