These are a few features you can look for in most Navajo rugs:
1. Wool yarn used for weft (the horizontal threads you can see) and either wool or cotton yarn for warp (the lengthwise threads that are covered but you can see them in the loops at the ends.) Navajo rugs can be colored with vegetal or aniline dyes.
2. Selvedge cords that look like they wrap around the sides (but actually go through the loops of weft on the edges.) If a rug has no selvedge cords, check to see if there is a single warp running through the edge; if you find a bundle of threads, it’s probably not a Navajo rug.
3. Cords on the ends, not fringe. A Navajo rug loom is basically a frame that is warped with a continuous warp, creating loops at the ends. Fringe, or warp threads cut and threaded back in, means the rug was cut from a long warp and was made on another type of loom.
4. Tassels where the cords meet at the corner.
5. Lazy lines (see below)
Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Some saddle blankets have added fringe. Some tapestry-quality weavings have no edge cords because they are not intended to be used on the floor. I’ve even seen synthetic yarns used. If you are not sure about a rug, consult an expert appraiser or dealer before you buy it.
Below you will see a beautiful example of “lazy lines,” the diagonal break in a color field or across design elements. This is not a flaw in the weaving nor a repair, it is a characteristic of the Navajo weaving method.
Many rugs are wider than a comfortable arms reach and the weaver sits, usually on the ground, and cannot reach across the entire width. It would be inefficient to get up and move for every row.
Navajo weavers devised a clever method of weaving a section with an angled edge and then moving over to the next section. Usually they try to match the color (obviously not in the example shown) so the lines are very subtle.
The term lazy lines sound like a derogatory term but the weavers are not lazy, they are smart. They have created an elegant solution for a technical challenge. Many rugs are prized for the richness, subtle beauty and surprise of well-placed lazy lines.
Navajo rugs are sturdy and will last for generations with proper care. Use them on the floor with an appropriate pad to prevent skidding and wear. Vacuum regularly (no beater-bar and be careful of the tassels) and occasionally turn and vacuum back side (they are reversible).
Have them professionally hand-washed when they get dirty to keep dirt from abrading the wool when the rug is walked on and so that they are not so attractive to insects. Do not attempt to wash them at home because colors may run and the wool can shrink or felt, causing irreversible changes. Dry-cleaning can dry out the wool and change its texture.
Do not harshly shake or beat rugs.
If your textile hangs on the wall or is displayed some other way, make sure to vacuum both sides regularly, checking for insect damage. Display it away from direct or bright indirect light to prevent fading. If storage is necessary, roll, do not fold the rug, wrap it in clean cotton fabric and store in a dry area with or without moth balls. Check regularly to make sure insects haven’t found it.
If you notice any damage attend to it quickly before a small hole becomes a large problem. Most damage can be invisibly rewoven to preserve the integrity and value of the textile.
Using 2” wide Velcro with an adhesive back is an easy way to display your rugs. Apply the hook side, with the hooks facing up, directly to the wall or to a 3” board that is slightly narrower than the width of the textile (drill a few holes through the board and nail it to the wall.) Then just stick your rug to the Velcro. If the rug is very large or very heavy, you might have to supplement with additional Velcro strips down the sides. Or you might have to sew the loop side of the Velcro to your rug on top of a cotton cloth (don’t allow the velcro or wood to touch the wool because chemicals in these products can harm the fibers.)
Another option is to hand stitch a sleeve of washed cotton cloth to the rug to accommodate a thin board. The sleeve must keep the board from touching the wool. Drill holes through the board and make slits in the cloth so you can hang them on some perfectly placed nails.
As a handwoven work of art, each rug is unique. Damage may come from a variety of circumstances. A rug could be worn down and frayed from years of loving use on the floor or it could have holes in it caused by insects while the rug is stored away. Sometimes pets chew the corners off. There are lots of different reasons a rug could use some attention.
When assessing a piece, I look at the amount and location of the damage, the colors involved, the structure and tightness of the weave, if there are color changes nearby, if there is “mending” or unsuitable restoration to remove, and the general condition of the weaving fibers.
I can get a sense of what’s going on with the rug from good-quality emailed photos but I really have to actually see and touch it to give you a free estimate.
The best way to store a Navajo rug is rolled. But folding it for the short time it is in transit won’t hurt it at all. And it is usually much easier to ship that way.
Business is booming! That’s good news, but the down side is that you might have to wait a while for the restoration. As soon as I receive a rug I contact you with an estimate of the time and cost. After I get your approval, I add it to my “queue” and do the work according to when it got here. An exception would be for very small jobs that I can fit in between larger projects.