The Southwestern Vertical Loom

Navajo, as well as Pueblo weavers, use exclusively the upright loom to weave their blankets, rugs and other textiles.

This primitive loom is often set up outside their hogans. Its structure is very efficient and well adapted to the Navajo nomadic lifestyle, easy to build or take down and move to a new location.

In the 1800’s and before, the loom was built mostly of local wood. Two vertical posts, set in the ground, with two horizontal bars lashed to them were the foundation to which the loom proper was attached. This type of loom can be of any size, small for a single saddle blanket, wider than tall for a chief’s blanket or taller than wide for a serape.

The weaving will be contained within the loom, like a canvas in its frame. Coming to life in its own unique space.

A loom is a complex “machine”, apparently the only one invented in aboriginal Americas, that facilitate the manipulation of the material used for weaving.

From basketry using rigid materials, the need for support arose when the weaver used fine and flexible organic fibers of plant or animal origins. The simplest form of support is the single stake, for short and narrow pieces. Wider pieces, such as Chilkat Blankets, require a supporting frame, a wooden rod or stick. Both of these are free-warp frames, the warp hangs down freely, maybe weighted down or balled up and put in bags to protect them.

The complex, true vertical loom, with a continuous rigid warp equipped with heddle and shed rod, was developed as early as AD 1000 in the Southwest region of North America.

The heddle, shed rod and batten allows the “mass manipulation” of the warp, giving the weaver freedom to easily pass the weft across the open warp shed. Speed, quality and fineness are some of the benefits gained.

The prehistoric vertical loom has remained basically the same for centuries to this day. The most significant change was the introduction of the wool, not change to the structure of this amazing “machine”, that has produced thousands of amazingly beautiful textiles.