Saddle Blankets & Horsegear

Saddle Blankets

Weavers of the Late Classic and, more especially, Transition and Rug periods produced an interesting array of saddle blankets and similar pieces that were sold for use as small rugs. Single saddle blankets usually measure roughly thirty inches square; double saddle blankets, meant to be folded in half, are about thirty by sixty inches. Some small blankets were used on top of the saddle as a decorative cover; other larger or double ones were used underneath as padding as well as a colorful edging. Fringes and corner tassels added to their decorative quality on the horse’s back.

Navajo weavers favored twill weave to create saddle blankets, maybe because it is stronger and thicker, but also perhaps because of the rich diagonal and diamond patterning that this structure creates. These blankets continued in native use long after handwoven garments became obsolete and at the same time became a popular buyer's item for ranch and home use.

In addition to saddle blankets, saddle cinches were handwoven for use in securing the saddle under the horse’s belly. Cinches were usually woven directly onto heavy metal rings, often in twill tapestry weave. Other than a few narrow sash belts, they are the only Navajo handwoven textile that contains hand-plied yarns (usually 2zS) in both the warp and weft yarns.

Saddle cinch

Saddle cinch, early 20th century. Twill tapestry weave, weft-faced, diagonal joins. 0.14 x 0.735 m; Ring diameter 0.092 m. 28.937 x 5.512 in.; Ring diameter 3.622 in. (incl. rings). Catalog No. E-3444. “Made to secure a saddle to the horse, this diamond twill cinch was woven directly onto metal rings. As decorative as they are functional, fancy cinches like this were used primarily on special occasions. As writer Tobi Taylor notes, such handwoven gear highlights the special place that horses hold in Navajo culture.” —Ann Hedlund

Late Classic single saddle blanket
ca. 1870-1875
Tapestry weave, interlocked joins
0.795 x 0.68 m; Fringe 0.060 m
26.772 x 31.299 in.; Fringe 2.362 in.
Catalog No. 22081

“General John A. Logan, a U.S. senator from Illinois, probably collected this blanket while visiting the Southwest as a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee around 1880-1882.

Early single saddle blankets are rare. Fancy blankets like this were made to use on top of a saddle—for show—and were sold to travelers as curios.

This blanket’s commercial 3-ply yarns were manufactured in Germantown, Pennsylvania, from the late 1860s to about 1875, when 4-ply mill-spun yarn replaced the earlier version. Weavers obtained the yarns from local trading posts.” —Ann Hedlund

Function Fiber Type Ply-Spin-Twist Color Dye Count *
Warp Wool Commercial 3 s Z Gold ? 13
Warp Wool Commercial 3 s Z Purple Synthetic 13
Weft Wool Commercial 3 z S Red Synthetic 46
Weft Wool Commercial 3 z S Orange-Red Synthetic 46
Weft Wool Commercial 3 z S Yellow-Orange Synthetic 46
Weft Wool Commercial 3 z S Forest Green Indigo+Native 46
Weft Wool Commercial 3 z S (Golden Yellow?) Vegetal 46
Weft Wool Handspun -- Z -- Dk Blue Indigo 46
Weft Wool Handspun -- Z -- White None 46
Weft Wool Handspun -- Z -- Lt Blue Indigo 46
Ecord Wool Handspun 3 z S Dk Blue Indigo 2
* threads/inch