Navajo Rug Characteristics

Yei Navajo Rug

The Navajo rug is a cultural textile tradition in the American Southwest. This style of blanket or rug weaving is considered an art form by collectors, curators and the weavers themselves.

Modern day Navajo weavers from the 1990s through the 2000s have incorporated natural and synthetic materials into their artwork while exploring color, geometry, the alphabet, and pictorial imagery.

While many Navajo rugs from the 1900s through today share certain common characteristics; they are not universal. However, the following characteristics from the no-fringe design to tasseled edges are pretty consistent within the tapestry structure of authentic Navajo rugs.

No Fringe

Navajo weavers use vertical looms, where the waft thread is a long, unbroken piece of yarn that is attached to the loom in a continuous figure-eight pattern. With very few exceptions, Navajo rugs do not have fringe. The ones that do are either antique Navajo Germantown rugs from the late 1800s, where fringe is an add-on, or Gallup throws with knotted, one-sided fringe and cotton warp.

Wool or Cotton Yarn

an example of a navajo rug with many triangles and stepped linesMost Navajo rugs are woven using wool or cotton for warp and wool for weft; wefts run the width of a hand woven rug. Warps run the length of a hand woven rug and are the fringe tassels of the rug. Very few genuine Navajo rugs are woven using synthetic yarn. However, there are exceptions in modern day varieties that use a combination of wool and synthetics. 

Selvedges Cords

Typical of Navajo and Pueblo weaving traditions, Navajo blankets or rugs originally had four finished edges, or selvedges, These are yarn cords that follow through the weft loops on the edges of the rug and return into the cloth rather than being cut and fringed. These cords are twined into the fabric resulting in tassel at each corner of the rug. This Navajo weaving method aligns edges and also to adds durability to the left and right sides of the rug.

Tassels

Navajo rugs have tassels at each corner. These are created by weaving the selvedges or cords into the rug during the weaving process. Tassels add a decorative touch that also reinforces each edge.

Lazy Lines

Short diagonal lines or diagonal breaks in a solid color area of a Navajo rug are sometimes called lazy lines or lazy weave. This distinctive weave is also called “lightning design,” “scalloped edge weave,” “pulled warp,” “overstuffing,” and “knock warp”. Lazy lines are by no means flaws. Rather, they are a one-of-kind design feature of Navajo rugs, where weaving is divided into segments. Since Navajo weavers often weaved sitting on the ground in front of the loom, it was sometimes easier and faster to weave from the bottom to the top of a segment and then move over and connect each angle edged segment to the next one, rather than weaving in a continuous edge-to-edge pattern. This type of ingenious weaving creates unique diagonal lines that are particular to Navajo rugs.