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What is the Southwest Looms Naturals Collection?

In late 2015, we began production of the Natural Collection using only un-dyed wool of ivory, greys, browns and blacks in southwest flat-weave designs. Why would we do such a thing when the Indigenous Indians had such a flair for dazzling color?

The simple answer is that the earliest Navajo Weavings were made in precisely this way. Before the arrival of the European there was no dye, so the Navajo were solely reliant on the natural colors of cotton. Even then it should be remarked that the introduction of wool was also a European notion adopted by the Navajo. Before that time weaving was assumed to have more in common with the very fundamental over and under Pueblo style of simple cotton weaving.

As mentioned in the Rugs 101 entry What is a Navajo Rug? There was a massacre of Navajo Indians in a place referred to as “Massacre Cave”. A group of Navajo were sheltering in a cave to escape Mexican Spaniards who were hunting them down in 1805. In a tributary to the Canyon de Chelly, the geographical heart of the Navajo, the Navajo hid in a cave but were killed by the Spaniards who fired up into the cave and the bullets ricocheted about them until they were dead. Today, this side-canyon is known as “The Canyon of the Dead”.

Canyon de Chelly in Arizona
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

In one of those questionable twists of fate the massacre of the Navajo has afforded us an insight into how they lived and what material garments they possessed. The typical woven garment of the Navajo was the blanket, in plain banded lines of white, black grey and brown sheep wool.

Massacre Cave Weaving
Massacre Cave Weaving

Here are another two examples of old pure wool Navajo Blankets:

Navajo Pure Wool Blanket Navajo Wool Blanket

It is easy to see the development of the Navajo Blanket take off from this point and begin to integrate dyed yarns when they became available through connections with the Mexican Spaniards, perhaps best seen in this Chief Blanket which is made almost exclusively of wool, with newly imported indigo being incorporated into the woven garment:

First Phase Chief Blanket
Chief Blanket Phase 1 with Indigo. c1850.

Even today Navajo weavers still use wool as the preferred fiber for weaving, as may be seen in this photograph:

A Navajo weaver at work

So really, if we want to talk about the most authentic Navajo weaves, then it is these natural-fiber un-dyed wools woven in simple fields and plain bands. We here at Southwest Looms have begun to produce a line of rugs, using these un-dyed wools as in the earliest traditions of Navajo rug weaving, producing these same colors and designs. Look at these two flat-weave examples for comparison!

Naturals Collection NAT-01 by Southwest Looms
Southwest Looms NAT-01
Naturals Collection NAT-03 by Southwest Looms
Southwest Looms NAT-03