Published on April 10, 2013 by Carol
Native American crafts
Native American Indians were weaving articles for household use more than 8000 years ago. It is a Native American craft that is known to be one of the oldest and is still highly prized today.
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Different tribes utilized different styles and different materials to make their baskets. Some use grasses, others used pine needles, several used wood that was pounded until it was flexible enough to either braid then weave or just to weave. The Inuit actually started using whale baleen to make baskets.
If the northern tribes made a basket from birch, they were often decorated with dyed porcupine quills. You can see the changes in basket styles as the Native American people moved and learned the customs of their neighbors. Many styles though are still woven today that are still as distinctive as ever.
Styles of basket making
There are four basic styles of basket making: coiling, plaiting, twining and wicker. Each has its’ own form and the designs are extremely unique to each.
Coiling is more along the lines of sewing as the fibers are coiled around each other; they are sewn to the previous coil.
The other three forms are truly weaving.
Twill plaited cane baskets have been around for thousands of years and are predominate in the Southwest.
The wicker weave is the most common, when the basket maker weaves the weft over and under the foundation material. This is often used to make trays and serving baskets in the Southwest.
Twining is more complicated involving the weaving of two or more weft threads around warp rods. The wefts are separated, brought around the stationary warp and then brought together again as that basket progresses.
When speaking of weaving, one must include the Navajo rugs and their skilled weavers. The Navajo attribute weaving in their legends surrounding the Creator. They believe that the Creator is a weaver and that he wove the world into existence.
Rugs and blankets
Native Americans are famous for their weaving of rugs and blankets. Everyone knows about the Navajo blankets that are woven as they were in ancient times. A woman would sit before a wood-frame loom and use a shuttle to weave colored hand-spun cotton thread to create fabulous geometric designs of brilliant color. Today, the same technique is used but instead of cotton, they use wool, as it is plentiful. This changed when the Spanish brought domestic sheep with them. The Navajo rugs are the most celebrated of all these, but they are far from the only ones.
Many tribes today still employ the art of finger weaving. This technique has been extremely important throughout the centuries since ancient times. The Tlingit people make wonderful blankets called chilkat from this technique that you can still purchase today.
Works of art
Each piece of weaving is truly a work of art that takes the artist months if not years to create and complete. They are all one-of-a kind articles and can capture a very handsome price on the market. Today’s market is also showing a trend to turn to newer materials to weave these items from such as silk and alpaca along with a renewed interest in bringing back the traditional
Several tribes learned how to weave sashes and small items, but never did turn that knowledge toward a larger piece for either clothing or habitat use.
Many things that the Native American wove were specifically utilitarian and not meant to be pretty. For example, many wove fishing nets and ropes from plant fibers. These were necessary for survival, but were not made to be decorative.
Useful and decorative
Weaving has been so useful and yet decorative for many cultures since the beginning of time. Native American weavers are rather unique in that their products today still command a high price, one that matches the time and artistry to produce the finished product.