Why Did Indians and Western People Wear Cloaks Like Rugs?
Historically, many Native American tribes have used textiles made from spruce roots, such as spruce root robes and blankets. Various Navajo textile patterns are also hand-passed down, often with geographic origins. Nancy J. Blomberg’s book on Navajo textiles and Lois Essary Jacka’s Beyond Tradition: Contemporary Indian Art and Its Evolution explore the Navajo’s traditional designs. And in The Arts of the North American Indian, edited by Paul Anbinder, Wolfgang Haberland wrote “Ethics and Aesthetics of Native American Art.”
Traditionally, Navajo people produced blankets and cloaks for wearing. These textiles include wraparound dresses, shoulder robes, rectangular panel dresses, semi-tailored shirts, and various belts. However, as textiles became more common and more popular, they also became involved in home decoration. These rugs, or rugs similar to Navajo cloaks, have been widely used to decorate homes around the world.
Historically, Navajo rugs were used for clothing, saddle blankets, and tourism. Before the arrival of Europeans, these blankets were made of hand spun cotton thread. In the 19th century, Navajo textile weavers began making rugs for tourists. These rugs feature strong geometric patterns and are similar to kilims of Western Asia and Eastern Europe.
If you’ve ever wondered why Navajo blankets were used as rugs, then the answer may lie in the way they were woven. The blankets were first used as shoulder wraps, and their construction and design evolved as they were worn. Typically, they’re woven vertically on the loom, but some collectors display them horizontally. Whether a serape is woven horizontally or vertically is determined by the direction of its warp cords, the internal “skeleton” of the blanket. These cords are visible on the exterior of the blanket as small continuous ridges.
Originally, the Navajo used a variety of natural dyes to dye their blankets. However, it wasn’t until around 1850 that they began using indigo. Indigo was made by mixing a yellow from the rabbit brush with a green pigment called merino. This sparse use of colour did not result from a dislike of colour; the Navajo’s love of red colours was well-known. After 1850, white traders set up trading posts across the reservation to sell clothes, processed foods and other products to the local people. These traders brought with them the Navajo’s beloved blankets, which they wore like rugs.
Navajo robes, or blankets, are made by hand. These pieces of cloth are traditionally woven with small-diameter wool, which allows for tight, thin weaves. The traditional Navajo weavers carry on this tradition, and the finest examples are known as tapestry rugs. Earlier, this style of weaving was only used for religious purposes, but revival of these pre-rug designs began in the 1920s, thanks to Anglo collectors and other art enthusiasts.
Weaving began in the 17th century, after Navajo women learned the art of weaving from their Pueblo Indian neighbors. The Pueblos had used cotton for hundreds of years. Spanish settlers brought Churro sheep to the region, and the Navajo began to produce blankets made of wool. Most of the early Navajo looms were used to weave wearing blankets. This tradition was carried forward when the Navajo began to raise sheep for wool.
spruce root cloaks
Traditionally, the Haida wore little clothing, usually going barefoot. They wore bark aprons that reached the knees and were used to protect from the cold. Men wore long bark capes decorated with mountain goat wool. Chiefs often wore capes with trophy heads. Later, people began using clan symbols to decorate their capes. Once the Europeans arrived, the Haida traded their spruce root clothing for blankets. They wore these blankets during the day and wrapped them up at night.
Native Americans used spruce root cloak-like rugs as a means of protection against cold weather. They were traditionally waterproof and often bore a totemic representation. Some of these blankets were also used as storage vessels. The Tsimshian used these blankets for both men and women. Today, some Tsimshians still wear traditional clothing, but they do so with jeans instead of breechcloths.