There are contradicting opinions as to whether braided rugs came to North America with the European settlers or whether the Native Americans developed the skill long before the settlers arrived. But there can be little argument as to the beauty of the rugs that the Native Americans have left us. Anthropologists suggest that the Pueblo Indians taught the Navajo Indians the art of weaving, and that they learned it from the Spaniards. The legend is that the Navajo learned weaving from the Spider Woman who weaved with sunlight, lightning, crystal, and white shell. The Navajo quickly developed their skills and surpassed the Pueblos in their weaving styles, creating beautiful designs and vibrant colors.
In the 1500's the Spanish people brought sheep into the territory of the Navajo, and they began to use wool in their weaving. They could make tighter weaves, and their creations became water-resistant and perfect for saddle and shoulder blankets. Other Native Americans, the Spanish settlers, Mexicans, and European settlers were eager to trade the Navajos for the blankets. The Navajos could create dyes for the yarn by boiling certain plants and rocks. Eventually traders provided the Navajos with processed yarns to save time in the weaving process.
When the United States Army imprisoned the Navajo and kept them at Fort Sumner, the Indians met traders who suggested that they make braided rugs rather than blankets. The Anglo traders also preferred a border around the rugs, and they could provide to the Navajo brighter dyes for their wools. The Navajo Indians continued weaving their blankets and rugs, even providing demonstrations for tourists who came to the west.
Contemporary Navajo weaving combines traditional design and symbolic design with designs that are "in demand" of tourists to whom they sell their wares. Even today members of the Navajo Indian tribe weave beautiful blankets and braided rugs, and they are available to the public, though authentic rugs tend to be expensive. The tradition has been passed down generation to generation and duplicated as well so that we can enjoy the beauty and durability of the braided rug today.