The term, “Navajo Chief Blanket” is a little misleading for several reasons. First, the Navajos really did not have chiefs. They did have elders and headmen that people respected, but they were, and still are, an independent people whose primary allegiance is to themselves and their family and clan.

The way I’ve always heard the story is that when the Navajo began making these beautiful blankets, after the man and his wife, the weaver, had theirs, they sold subsequent ones. It was a good source of income.

Some of the best customers for Navajo blankets were the Plains Indians. And, because the blankets were so valued, sometimes trading for as many as 20 horses, the only Plains people who could afford them were the Chiefs.

Hence the name Chief’s blankets.

The original Navajo Chief’s Blankets were woven wider than tall and were decorated simply, with alternating stripes of Indigo Blue, brown, and white. Interestingly, all the First Phase blankets I’ve seen had the same basic spacing and colors. It’s hard to understand because the Navajo are very creative people, but weavers created these nearly identical pattern blankets from about 1800 to about 1840.


Then, with the introduction of red wool fabric which could be unraveled and woven into the weavings, change began to happen. The biggest difference was that the red yarn was used to create rectangular blocks in the patterns. Many people feel that a real Second Phase Blanket must have 12 of these block designs, but there were a lot of variations.

After the 1900s, when the wearing blanket was replaced with the Pendleton blankets, blue jeans, velvet dresses, and “white man’s clothing,” it was not uncommon for women to weave the old wearing blanket patterns into rugs. They were heavier and less adaptable to being worn around the shoulder than used on the floor.

The most common re-creation of the blanket was the Third Phase, which replaced the Second Phase in blankets design about 1870. These featured angular diamond patterns instead of the rectangular shapes found in the Second Phase.

Some women wove the Second Phase pattern into their weavings, and some weavers still do.


Today we are showing a very nicely woven Second Phase piece that was probably woven in the 1930-the 40s, about 100 years after the first Second Phase blanket was made. It’s a beautifully made rug with a heavier but soft spin. It was dyed with aniline blue and red dye rather than the indigo and cochineal of a century before.

I love the simplicity of this weaving.

And then, just to show that some things carry on, with a twist, we have a weaving by Ian Victorino, a young male weaver who works as a home care professional. When the pandemic started, he put up a loom and started this gorgeous Second Phase Revival, but with a twist.


You’ll notice that instead of the red blocks forming rectangular designs, he has the blue taking on that role. This weaving was on the loom for the better part of two years. I’m the kind of person who gets irritated if he doesn’t get his shoes tied right the first time, and the admiration I have for Ian is immense.

See all Chief/Revival Weavings curently in the Gallery