Sarape and poncho are Spanish terms used by scholars and collectors for blankets woven as a vertical rectangle on the loom. Navajos adopted this format in part from the blanket weaving tradition established in the 1700s in Saltillo, Mexico. Navajo sarapes may be solid-woven fabrics or they may include a central neck slit, indicating their function as a Mexican-style poncho.
Most Classic sarapes and ponchos date to 1840-1860 and have a simple color palette of red, white, and blue, accented by yellow and green. Late Classic (1865-1880) sarapes exhibit more colors, shading, and design and a varied layout, with more isolated motifs. Stepped and terraced motifs, originally derived from early Navajo basketry, are prominent in Classic and Late Classic textiles. By the end of the Late Classic period, Navajo weavers adapted Mexican design elements like serrate-edged diamonds and vertical zigzags.
Navajo weavers also made many small sarapes, well-suited as trade items and keepsakes for travelers. Although sometimes called children’s blankets or double saddle blankets by scholars and collectors, they appear too elaborate for children’s everyday wear and too delicate for hard use on a horse.