Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Navajo Chief Blankets - An Abridged History Lesson

First Phase Cheif Blanket on the
Antiques Roadshow in Tuscon, AZ in 2002
I love the Antiques Roadshow.  In 2002, I saw what I still consider to be the BEST episode ever.  A humble looking man brought in an old blanket that he was curious about.  His grandmother had told him that it had been a gift to her foster parents from the legendary Kit Carson, so he believed it might have some value due to the lineage.  When the appraiser saw it for the first time, he nearly hyperventilated!  It was a pristine First Phase Ute Chief Blanket and he gave it a conservative value of $350,000 – Kit Carson or no.  Needless to say, the owner of the blanket was shocked.  To kick off my very own Trash or Treasure Traveling Rug Show, I decided that I should pay homage to the episode that planted the seed: Antiques Roadshow - First Phase Chief Blanket Surprise

An abridged history lesson:

Cheif Blanket as it
Should Be Worn
Blanket weaving was a learned skill.  The Navajo people picked it up from the Spanish settlers and from their neighbors, the Pueblos.  Eventually, their skill far surpassed that of their teachers and the “Classic Period” was born. Even though the Navajo didn't have chiefs of their own, they made blankets for the Ute, Cheyenne and Sioux chiefs to wear. They were expensive and were much lighter than animal hides. The quality was very impressive – almost waterproof because they were woven so tightly, and the bold stripes wrapped around the chief made him look quite imposing. 

This “First Phase” weaving period lasted from approximately 1750 until the internment of 8000 Navajo people at Fort Sumner in 1864.  The 300 mile “Long Walk of the Navajo” killed hundreds while on the journey and even more died in the prison camps. When they were finally released to their homelands four years later, the Navajo people discovered that their homes had been razed, their fields had been burned and their sheep had been killed.
Weaving a Third Phase Blanket
in a Modern Era
By about 1850, the Navajo weavers, aided by the westward trains and a more open trade philosophy, began a “Second Phase” of blanket weaving and then an overlapping “Third Phase.”  These later phases are differentiated from the First Phase by color, design motifs, the use of synthetic dyes, and wool quality. When large trading posts began to dot the region around 1890, the weavers segued from blankets to rugs.  Tourists would pay more money for an intricately patterned, quality rug.  Now there are many different types of Navajo rugs and they are typically valued at more money per square foot than even the finest Persian rugs.

The different Phases at a glance:

1st Phase:
*basic striped pattern

*blue, black, brown, ivory

2nd Phase:
*slightly more complicated striped pattern

*addition of red bars in the center and corners

3rd Phase:
*complex wavy lines hidden in the striped pattern

*addition of serrated diamonds and triangles in the center and corners

If you would like more information on my Trash or Treasure Traveling Rug Show or if you have any questions for me to answer, I can be contacted by email: Lynn@rugadvocate.com


  1. Awesome history lesson about Navajo Rugs. it is a shame that it is a dying art form.

  2. Never wash a chiefs blanket without being very careful. Those stains may be warpaint and can increase the value at auction. If you get one of these in and you might check with an expert first. Also if there are moths or bugs freeze rather than treat with chemicals. A blanket can sell for over 1 million dollars so special care is in order until you prove otherwise.

  3. Very, very interesting history! Thank you Lynn very much for doing the research and sharing this piece of history with us! You write an EXCELLENT blog! That video was really neat, it was nice to see that gentleman get that great news about this blanket. I look forward to your next blog Lynn! :)

  4. It is too bad Youtube got rid of the video :(

  5. That's something I wouldn't want to even attempt to clean! They definitely are beautiful though.

  6. Such a nice blog... Thanks for sharing..
    For further details go to Ruckstuhl or click on the given link in this line.

  7. We found your blog was much handy to me! If u keep up the good job I’ll come back at your website.
    Cleaning Oriental Rugs

  8. Carpet Cow has been one of the largest Carpet and Rug Dealers in the Tri-State area. Find wide selection of Rug. We are dedicated to providing first quality merchandise and service to our customers. In fact, most of our customers come to us by word of mouth.

  9. Thank you for the history lesson. I had been wondering why they said it was a Ute blanket but a fine example of Navajo weaving. Didn't make sense to me.