Southwest Crossroads Spotlight
The origins of Hopi weaving extend deep in time. For many centuries, Hopi men grew short-staple cotton that they spun into thread and then wove into fabric. They used an upright loom to weave blankets and cloth. The fabric was made into everyday clothing and ceremonial dress for men, women, and children. Hopis traded their weaving among the villages, especially items used for religious rituals and weddings. “Navajo Dress (one half), 1860-1870,” Unidentified Navajo (Artist) “Navajo Blanket, ca. 1800s,” Unidentified Navajo (Artist)
People prized the tightly woven Hopi fabric. Individuals from distant pueblos and other places traveled to Hopi to barter for their cloth. When the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest in the 1500s, they encountered the Pueblo Indians and demanded tribute of food and cloth. The enforced tribute eventually contributed to unrest among the Pueblos that resulted in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
The Spaniards introduced Churro sheep to the Southwest. By 1650 Hopis were weaving both wool and cotton blankets. The Spanish also introduced new colors, particularly indigo blue dye from Mexico, which people prized greatly.
In the 1700s Hopis traveled and traded cloth with Hispanic New Mexicans. In the 1800s, the Rio Grande Pueblos traded commercial red blankets to the Hopis that the weavers unraveled “The Navajos, White Mountain Apaches, and Havasupais traded buckskins, shells, piñon nuts, and mescal to the Hopis for weavings.” so they could use the colored yarn to weave or embroider. The Navajos, White Mountain Apaches, and Havasupais traded buckskins, shells, piñon nuts, and mescal to the Hopis for weavings. Navajo traders and White Mountain Apaches exchanged meat, hides, deerskin moccasins, and bows and arrows for colored yarn, belts, and blankets. Mormon settlers bought the prized Hopi blankets with horses.
The introduction of trading posts at Hopi, the coming of the railroad to the American Southwest, and the establishment of schools in the late 1800s changed the ways that Hopis dressed. Their weaving practices also changed. The trading posts stocked manufactured cloth, the railroad brought new fashions from the east, and school officials made the students wear uniforms. Eventually, men and boys started to wear shirts and pants made from manufactured cloth, and women and girls wore calico dresses.
“Hopi Blanket Weaver,” Unidentified (Photographer)
In the 1930s, museum curator Mary-Russell Colton recorded 213 Hopi weavers, all men. By the 1980s, there were only about twenty active weavers at Hopi. These days Hopis wear traditional styles mostly in ceremonial activities. Today the future of Hopi weaving is uncertain.