Germantown: Navajo Textile

:  Historic Germantown from the Harvey Leake Collection, Formerly the Louisa Wetherill Collection [1877-1945].

“The People’s Tapestry: Weaving Tradition in Navajo Culture” is now on display at the Moab Museum, featuring a variety of styles of Navajo textiles, including the Germantown Blanket. In this column throughout the summer, the Museum team will feature a variety of weaving styles and their associated backgrounds and stories.  

This exhibition is a celebration of the magnificent weavings created by the Diné (which means “the people” in Navajo). The significance of Diné textiles transcends artistic expression; weavers beautify their world through the spiritual act of weaving and integrate their art into the web of everyday life. The Navajo weaver’s song declares, “with beauty, it is woven.”

What are the origins of the Germantown Blanket?

Germantown blankets were primarily woven between 1864 and 1910, with the majority of the weavings made from 1885-90. The name comes from the commercially made wool yarn produced in the region of Germantown, Pennsylvania. Germantown yarns came in a number of bright colors including yellows, reds, pinks, as well as greens and purples, many of which had not been seen by weavers before. Trading post owners began shipping Germantown yarn to the Navajo Reservation, and weavers, drawn to the range of colors not yet utilized in the textile art form, created a new style with it: The Germantown Blanket.

This new creative application of non-Native fibers primarily addressed tourist markets and interests, instead of weavings worn or utilized by the Navajo themselves. Due to the delicacy of Germantown Blankets and their cotton warp, these textiles often hung from beds or walls, instead of being placed on the floor in a rug-fashion, thus preserving their designs.

How to Identify a Germantown Blanket

Germantown Blankets are distinct not only in the coloring of the yarn that is used, but these weavings also utilize yarn that is plied together: the process of twisting multiple strands. Early Germantown yarn was three-ply, but by the early 1870s, four-ply became the standard. When you spot a Germantown, try to note the thickness of the yarn strands. 

This article was originally published in the Moab Sun News on July 21, 2023.