One often ignored aspect of the Navajo textile industry is the creation of small weavings whether fancy small saddle throws, saddle blankets or the newer rug samplers.
Early on, during the Classic Period (1860’s and before) weavers made fancy small blankets that were used as saddle throws to add protection and decorum to the traditional horse gear. These saddle throws were of high and classic quality and workmanship, using expensive and exquisite wool yarns such as raveled bayeta and after 1863 the commercial 3ply, cochineal and synthetic dyed yarn manufactured in Germantown, Pennsylvania which became very popular partly due to the wider range of bright and attractive colors.
These fancy saddle throws gave rise to the single and double saddle blankets. In the early 1860’s, soldiers and cowboys used mostly commercial saddle blankets manufactured in the East, but a few examples of Navajo woven saddle blankets have been dated back to the Classic Period. Prior to this time, even Navajo used sheepskins or fleeces under their saddles.
Later, in the 1870’s, ranchers and cowboys near the reservation started to use the Navajo made blankets. The quality and durability of these blankets were quickly adopted by many. Thick, absorbent, with open weave allowing better air circulation on the horse’s backs, they were superior to mass produced blankets.
Early in the 20th century, some weavers started to create “mini” rugs of the different regional designs. These small weavings are great examples of the skill and artistic talent of the Navajo craftswomen and a wonderful way to build a collection of classic regional rugs as well as a collection of beautiful color and abstract fields with saddle throws and blankets.