Southwestern rugs represent various Native American cultures and frequently portray a colorful and varied cultural heritage through their fine arts and crafts. Many of the designs and symbols prominent in Native American craftwork incorporate religious influences and ideas that are important to their cultures. Images of crops, rain, feathers, lightning, animals and other nature symbols are prominent in Native American artistic expressions.
Southwestern rugs are famous for their hand-woven quality, which are both beautiful and durable. It is the natural lanolin in the unprocessed wool yarn that has given these their reputation for strength and longevity. When the Spanish first encountered Navajo weaving more than 3 centuries ago, they stated that Navajo weaving was more superior in quality than those of most famous Spanish weavers. The art of weaving a fine quality article takes many long hours. The preparation of the yarn alone often takes longer than the task of weaving the actual piece. It is for this reason that processed and commercially spun yarn has now become very popular among many Navajo weavers.
Southwestern rugs and the way they are made has changed little over the years. The same basic weaving technique continues to be used today even though the method of yarn preparation as mentioned earlier, has become more modernized. Some traditional weavers continue follow in the footsteps of their self sufficient ancestors and rely entirely on their own resources, from raising and shearing the sheep, to dyeing and spinning of the actual wool used in weaving.
The art of rug weaving is a large part of the history and culture as well as the economics of the Navajo people. Today, it is difficult for a weaver to survive solely on the income earned from what they weave and sell. But the importance of weaving shown through the tradition and culture of the Navajo people keeps the art alive. And although many believed that traditional weaving would die as an art and be replaced by more modern and conventional methods, many young Navajo women continue to learn the craft.
When shopping, consider the size and complexity of the design. Symmetry and neatness of weave is also important. All true Navajo's are unique and reflect the style and tastes of the individual artist. If you see one you like, buy it. The most important factor is the appeal of the particular one your interested in. Authentic pieces can still be obtained, but numerous (sometimes poor) imitations are on the market as well. A true Navajo is made of wool in a tapestry weave. Some twill weaves and basket weaves are also common. As with Orientals, Navajo patterns are named for the locality or family from which they've originated. Although weaving was part of the Navajo culture at least as early as the 1700's, carpets were not actually made until sometime during the late 1800's.
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