What Is a Navajo Rug?

M.C. Huguelet

A Navajo rug is a decorative floor covering which has been hand-woven by a member of the Navajo Native American tribe of the southwestern United States. It is generally made from wool and often features bright colors and bold geometric patterns. Historians believe that the Navajo learned the art of weaving from the Pueblo peoples, and that the tradition of making rugs began largely in response to the demands of European settlers. A genuine Navajo rug tends to be fairly costly, and rug buyers should be aware that there are many imitation products on the market.

Looms can be used to make Navajo rugs.
Looms can be used to make Navajo rugs.

As its name suggests, an authentic Navajo rug is made by a member of the Navajo tribe. It is woven by hand using a large loom which was traditionally wooden, but as of the early 21st century, may also be made of metal. Weaving this type of rug is an extremely complex process, and depending on rug dimensions and pattern intricacy, can take several months or even years to complete. The craft of Navajo rug weaving was once handed down from older generations to younger ones, but in modern times, it is often learned via a formal training program.

An authentic Navajo rug is made by a member of the Navajo tribe.
An authentic Navajo rug is made by a member of the Navajo tribe.

Usually, Navajo rugs are made from wool taken from a breed of sheep called the Navajo-Churro. This wool is spun and then dyed, often using natural extracts derived from plants. While exact designs and color schemes can vary from one Navajo rug to another, most of these rugs feature a bold geometric print that is centered on the rug or repeated regularly across its entirety. Different communities of weavers within the Navajo tribe have historically tended to produce rugs with particular patterns and color schemes. Consequently, some experts can identify a rug’s origins simply by studying these traits.

Despite the fact that the Navajo are renowned for their rug-weaving tradition, historians hold that it was actually the neighboring Pueblo tribe that first taught the Navajo to weave, during the 17th century. When the Navajo initially began weaving, they used cotton rather than wool, and tended to make apparel instead of rugs. Wool displaced cotton in Navajo weaving when Spanish settlers introduced sheep to the American southwest in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The trend for producing rugs was largely driven by the expansion of the American railroad in the 1800s, which brought tourists eager for souvenirs that could be displayed in their homes.

Due largely to the fact that the production of a genuine Navajo rug is extremely labor-intensive, the rugs tend to be fairly expensive. Those interested in buying one of these rugs should be aware that low-priced “Navajo rugs” are often imitation products which may be machine-made using inferior materials. Thus, if authenticity is a priority, buyers should research a rug’s origins prior to purchase.

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Discussion Comments


After reading this article, I'm really glad I passed on a Navajo rug on my last trip west. They tried to talk me into it, but it didn't feel right to me, so I didn't buy it. I'm so happy I decided against buying it, since it probably was a cheap fake. I'm thrilled I didn't waste my money.

It's one thing if you know something is a fake and you buy it for decoration, but passing off a fake as something real is just fraud, in my opinion. I'm glad I didn't fall for what was almost certainly a swindle.


I saw an "Antiques Roadshow" where a man brought in a Navajo blanket and I thought the appraiser was going to have a cow! He was so excited about that rug. He said it was something like a "first phase" rug and that they were extremely rare, especially in such good condition.

The owner said his grandfather brought it back from a trip out West years ago. The appraiser said he and his colleagues conferred over it, and appraised the blanket at USD$300,000. I couldn't believe it! Neither could the owner. I thought he was going to have a coronary right there!

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