CHAPTER V. Old Style Native Wool Blankets
WHILE in the main all I shall say in a following chapter on the temporary deterioration of the art of weaving among the Navahos is correct, there were a few stalwart weavers who refused to lower their standard and who continued to do excellent work. It was from these weavers that the later bayeta, and the best of the earlier Germantown blankets came. At the same time a few of them began the weaving of a less closely spun yarn into a softer, and more clinging type of blanket, that was better adapted for use as a personal wrap or sleeping blanket than were the tightly spun, tightly woven fabrics.
From this date, or epoch, there comes to us, therefore, a rarely found soft, yielding, pliable blanket, of native wool and generally of native dyes, now and again mixed with a little soft woven Germantown yarn, and occasionally with an admixture of native yarn, dyed with aniline dyes, but all choice, beautiful, artistic, and highly desirable specimens.
Among the earliest of this class that I was able to secure is Fig. 22. I bought it some twenty-two years ago from an old man in New Mexico. It was in a somewhat dilapidated condition, and the owner said he had possessed it over sixty years. Consequently it is of native dye, wool warp, and native wool throughout.
Another rare and beautiful specimen—indeed in color scheme it is one of the most charming blankets I have ever seen—is of double saddle-blanket size, which I secured several years ago, shown in Fig. 24. The main body is red, with stepped diamond designs of which the outer lines are black and the inner ones a peculiar yellow. The bars are in grays of several shades, with a pale violet, doubtless secured from berry juice. The whole piece has toned down to a restful and attractive softness, and it is much admired by all who see it.
One of the best blankets of this type I think I have ever seen is Fig. 25. This I purchased over twenty years ago on the reservation, and it was an old blanket then. It is of ordinary double saddle-blanket size, the body in red, while the lighter stripes, as shown in the engraving, are of a faded pink, or old rose, the dividing lines being in light green
Two other choice blankets in my own collection, made about this time are worthy of especial note. Fig. 26 is a beautiful, soft piece of weaving, six feet six inches by four feet six inches in size, the body of dark gray, the eight hourglass designs in black and red, and the serrated waves in white and black, outlined in red. The step designs at each end are in red and white. The dark gray of the major portion of the blanket makes a remarkably pleasing background and there is enough of color and design to lighten it up. The weave is rather coarse and not too tightly battened down, hence the blanket is one that can be used as a traveling rug or a bed cover with advantage. It has been in constant use as a lounge cover for several years.
Another blanket of similar soft quality and adaptability for real use as a blanket is Fig. 27. The color scheme, however, is entirely different. It is the same width, but about six inches shorter. The body is in white, with design in red and a pale green, so pale indeed, that it can only be called a shade or tone rather than a color.
A soft beautiful blanket is shown in Fig. 28. This is coarsely and loosely woven, but it has extra strong wool warp, and has a body of white. The stripe-colors are black and deep blue, red and old-gold-green, while the Greek key design is in red, with a filler of white and a light shade of brown. All the colors seem to be native dye, but the blanket has been washed several times, and from the Greek key of the upper and lower border, which is of a deeper red than elsewhere in the blanket, the color has ‘‘„run„’’ somewhat and slightly stained the surrounding white. Nowhere else has the color run, hence the assumption either that the wool for this red was colored with aniline dye, or a strong native red was used with insufficient, or not strong enough, mordant to hold the color.
It will be observed that the design is irregular, and the measurements of the upper and lower thirds of the blanket materially differ, yet, in spite of these facts, I have always been very appreciative of it, and for years have used it over the foot of my own bed. It makes an excellent traveling blanket, or steamboat rug.
In this type, as in all other Navaho types, the constant surprise of the careful observer is the great variety of color and design. Every collection is sure to contain specimens utterly unlike those gathered by other collectors of many years' experience, and the variety is the ever-increasing wonder of the student.
FIG. 25. A Good Specimen of an Old Style Native Blanket. (Author's Collection.) [PAGE 37]