The Color Red In Early Navajo Blankets

reds of early navajo blankets and rugs

Detail of Navajo Dress Panel, c. 1855 – Raveled Red Bayeta Cloth – Cochineal and Lac Dyes.

The color red found in early Navajo blankets, especially in the Classic and Late Classic periods, played a historically significant role. There was not a good indigenous plant source for red in the Southwest so the color was first obtained through commercially made cloth and yarns dyed with natural protein sources. The strand by strand raveling of commercial cloth for reweaving into textiles was evident by 1788 and expanded throughout the first half of the 19th century, into the 1870’s. By the 1860’s a variety of commercially produced yarns, first with natural protein dyes and then with synthetic aniline dyes became available. In the late 1870’s, as trading posts became sources of supplies, Navajo weavers began using synthetic dyes on their own handspun wool. Below is a brief synopsis of the materials that were destined to become the color red in early Navajo blankets.

Bayeta – A commercially manufactured cloth imported from England, Spain and other areas. It was raveled and rewoven by the Navajo into their textiles. Lac was the first red dye source used in bayeta cloth. It was derived from the Asian lac scale insect. By 1850-60, cochineal, a dye made from the “New World” scale insect started replacing lac. A mixture of lac and cochineal was used through this transition period. Bayeta cloth was used from the 1780’s to the 1870’s.

Saxony – A manufactured three-ply yarn produced in Germany, England, France and New England. Its use was not as prevalent as bayeta but it is found in Navajo weavings between 1830 -1865. Lac and cochineal were typically the dye source.

American Flannel – A manufactured, lower grade bayeta cloth, introduced in the early 1870’s which was also raveled and rewoven. It was a fuzzy woolen, aniline-dyed and typically an orange-red shade. It was utilized through the 1870’s.

Germantown – A commercially manufactured yarn of various colors produced in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The name became a generic term for commercially produced yarns of the period, as yarns of this type were manufactured in New England mills as well as in England. The early yarns introduced to the Navajo around 1864 were three-ply. Both synthetic and natural dye sources were used. These were gradually replaced by four-ply aniline-dyed yarns starting between 1868 and 1870. The use of these commercially produced yarns tapered off towards the end of the 19th century during the transition to the rug period.

Handspun with Synthetic Dye – Native spun wool with aniline dye began to slowly appear in Navajo weavings in the 1870’s though Pueblo weavers in the Rio Grande Valley used it earlier. Packaged dyestuffs arrived after 1880.

Richard Associates Art Appraisals is well versed in appraising early Navajo and Pueblo textiles. Please contact us for a free consultation on your appraisal needs.