Indian Blankets

Textiles and blankets have a long history of use within American Indian culture. Native American Languages and Wake Forest University's Museum of Anthropology give an overview of the types of blankets created by different tribes.

The Navajos have made woven blankets for thousands of years. Navajo blankets are perhaps the most well-known type of Indian blankets due to their beauty and cultural significance. Weaving was such an important part of Navajo female life that the female coming-of-age ceremony (known as "kinaalda") involved the act of making textiles. Traditionally the Navajos shorn sheep to make wool; this was then turned into yarn. This yarn was colored and handspun on an upright loom. Indian Blankets and Their Makers gives a thorough overview of Navajo traditions and customs and tells the history of the Navajo's woven blankets.

Another type of Indian blanket is the star quilt, most commonly made by the Sioux tribes, particularly the Lakota. Unlike Navajo woven blankets, star quilts were commonly made from pre-existing fabric, like satin or cotton. The quilt could either be machine sewn or hand sewn. These blankets were used to welcome a new baby and were used in baby naming ceremonies. Traditionally, tribes people made this type of blanket out of buffalo skin. Points West Online tell the story of Lakota star quilts.

The Tlingit people of the Northwestern US made chilkat blankets, which were five-sided blankets made from cedar bark and goat hair that commonly featured long fringe. These Indian blankets are rarely made today. Chilkats were frequently worn as capes in different ceremonies. The Canadian Encyclopedia gives an overview of this type of Indian blanket. The Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center further explores the significance of the chilkat.

Today many Native American artists sell custom-made Indian blankets on the Internet. There are also many commercially-made blankets available.

The University of Arizona - Arizona State Museum discusses the switch from handmade blankets to trade blankets, which were commercially manufactured by mills and sold to tribes people.

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