CHAPTER XVI. The Outline Blanket


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BY AN ‘‘„outline blanket„’’ is meant one the designs of which are set forth in lines of another color, as illustrated in the color plate of Fig. 195. This outlining of the design produces a most charming and striking effect, inasmuch as it sets out the design with greater clearness. Just as a frame separates a painting from its surroundings and determines its individualness, so does an outline, if the colors are harmonious, show forth the beauty and striking character of the design.

There are those who deem the outline blanket a recent, or modern, innovation in Navaho weaving. Such is not the case. Many of the older and better blankets are in outline, and it is interesting to discover that long before the Navahos made blankets they were in the habit of using the outline in their sacred dry- or sand-paintings. A full account of these is given in Chapter XII. It should be observed, however, that while the use of the outline is very common in the sand-paintings it is by no means universal. I have examined and carefully studied many of these paintings, both in the medicine hogans and in the pictures drawn by the Navaho shamans, and in some they appear on every figure, in others they are absent, while in some paintings the outlines are placed around some figures, and omitted from others.

From these facts, therefore, it is easy to infer from whence the keen-witted and observant Navaho weaver gained the idea of her outline blanket. Her artistic perception showed her the great improvement and enhancement of beauty the added outlines would afford, and she sought and found the most suitable and harmonious combinations of color for the purpose. Only the real artist, however, would do this. The merely commercial weaver, or the inartistic, could see no reason why she should go to the added labor of outlining her design. Hence it is a general rule that can be relied upon almost to a certainty that an outline blanket is well woven. A weaver whose artistic perceptions demand of her the increased labor of adding the outline would naturally be offended with poor weaving. One who did much to further the development of the art was Mrs. Peabody, an eastern lady who took so great an interest in the Navahos that she went and lived on the reservation for a while. At this time, some twenty-five years ago, she found the outline work almost abandoned. But

Fig. 193. A Fine Germantown Blanket with Delicate Outlines. (Author' Collection.)

Fig. 194. A Fine Germantown Blanket with Good Outlines. (Vroman Collection.)


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her keen eye happening to find a few choice specimens of this type she began, with foresight and inspiration, to urge upon the better weavers, with whom she had influence, that they reintroduce the outline. Encouraged by her intelligent appreciation and the more material fact that they were able to obtain a larger price for outlined blankets, a keen rivalry sprang up between the best weavers of the district in which she worked, and today it is from this portion of the reservation that the major part of the best ‘‘„outlines„’’ come.

Naturally the traders of other sections desired to reap the advantage of these blankets of higher value and they began to urge upon their weavers of the better class the introduction of the outline. To some extent they succeeded; hence, now and again, an excellent and choice outline blanket will come from a region where one scarce expected it.

Fig. 193, described on page 157, is of a fine Germantown blanket in which there is considerable outline work of delicate and artistic skill. Even in the illustration, which gives none of the striking color effects, and where, indeed, the effect of the design on the sides is almost lost, the rare delicacy of the white pencillings which outline the zigzags of color is clearly evidenced.

Fig. 194 is of an exquisitely designed Germantown blanket in the Vroman collection, in which the outline is used in the inside of the oblique, or St. Andrew's Cross, as well as on two sides of each of the four-sided figures which terminate each leg of the cross. This emphasizing of the color of the design within is a powerful device, with wonderful capabilities in the hands of a skilful and artistic weaver.

Fig. 195 shows the white outline zigzag used to set off a heavier line of color.

Fig. 196 is of a blanket in the Fred Harvey collection of modern weave, in which a delicate outline of red around the inner side of the border and the outer edge of the two diamond designs of the center give it a distinction and artistic attractiveness that materially enhance its value. The body of the blanket is in silver gray, which is naturally varied in shade.

A good modern specimen of the outline type of blanket is illustrated in Fig. 197. This was taken up from the floor of my living-room, where it has been in constant daily use for between seventeen and eighteen years. In color it is as rich and striking as the day I purchased it on the Little Colorado River, some fifty miles or so from the Santa F´ Railway at Canyon Diablo. The design is almost entirely of zigzags, arranged in diamond patterns with four other figures, two at each end. The basis of the blanket is red and orange. The two center diamonds contain centers in orange, outlined in lemon yellow. Each of these two large diamonds is


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bordered with black, and the black border, on each side, is outlined in white. Half diamonds treated in the same fashion throughout appear on each side of the blanket. On each side of the center diamonds are lemon yellow centers, outlined in purple, followed with a red border, outlined in rich green. The two half diamonds at each end are in red, bordered with violet, outlined on the outer side with a lighter and a darker shade of the same color, and on the inner side with black. The four figures (two at each end) are in black and green, outlined in yellow.

Fig. 198 is a fairly representative outline blanket, of single saddle size, made of Germantown yarn, in my own collection. Here the center diamond is twice outlined in serrated lines, and the four corner diamonds are also outlined, thus bringing out the colors in striking relief.

There is great scope afforded for artistic and creative ability even in so simple a matter as these outlines, and this not merely in the fineness or coarseness of the weave. The outline may show all the difference between the one slight touch of color change, that gives artistic attractiveness, and the heavy overtouch which is an impertinence and intrusion. It is not good for a careless weaver to attempt the outline.

FIG. 195. Outline Blanket. (Collection of C. C. Manning Co.) Designed by Keh-yez-zhie Be-ma.

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