Prior to the 1880s nearly all Navajo weavings, except for saddle blankets, were made to wear. Chief Blankets are the best known, but other styles consisting primarily of stripes of alternating colors, primarily blue and brown, were also popular. These were called Moki blankets. The origin of the word is not known.
From the late 1800s, to the early 1900s, weavings made of Germantown yarn were popular. This commercial yarn was provided to the weavers by the traders to speed up production and many of the early Germantown weavings had a visual connection to elements in the old wearing blankets.
Beginning in the early 1900s, when Navajo weaving was making its transition to becoming a floor rug, these patterns gradually disappeared, being replaced by the regional styles created at different trading posts.
In the later part of the 20th century, as travel became easier and weavers began to see examples of the old weavings in museums, galleries, and publications, many began to experiment with re-creating the designs and visual effects of the old-style blankets.
Today, there are numerous weavers who create these modern Chief/Revival pieces. They have a connection to the old but are innovative in their interpretations of the designs. These weavings are an important bridge between the past and the present.
Almost all are made with commercially processed and spun wool that is dyed with aniline dyes. Weavers purchase this yarn from trading posts like Teec Nos Pos, Foutz Trade, Richardson’s and others.
One weaver we work with, Bertha Harvey, uses sheep from Churro wool that is offered by Tierra Wool Works from Chama, New Mexico. This wonderful company, which also sells outstanding Hispanic weavings, has a herd of Churro, the original sheep brought from Spain by the Conquistadors.
Tierra Wools uses cochineal and indigo dyes to color some of their yarns. The look and feel of the weavings made from this wool is very close to what the old Navajo blankets would have been.Some weavers make copies of the old blankets, and some create their own interpretations of the styles of the late 1800s. They are striking designs that pay tribute to the weavers of years ago.