How to Evaluate a Rug
Here are some things to consider when you’re considering a Navajo textile:
- Does it lie flat on the floor?
- Is the design balanced?
- Any warps showing, especially at the ends?
- Fold the rug in half. Does the center of the design fall in the center of the rug? Are both ends the same width?
- How complex is the pattern?
- Look at the edges. Are they reasonably straight?
- Is the weaving even, are the lines crisp, are the stripes straight? How many rows per inch are there? This is an indicator of how much time the weaver had to spend working on the piece.
- Is the rug handspun? Handspun rugs are quite rare today, because it will just about quadruple the time it takes to make a rug and most collectors won’t pay a premium for it. If the weaver tells you it is handspun, it may be handspun or respun, which for many weavers is an equivalent process. If the handspun claim is important to you, make the dealer put it in writing and get an expert to take a look at the rug. If you are dealing with the people on my list, don’t worry. They know who produced the rug, and the circumstances under which it was woven.
All of these factors go into the total value of the piece but don’t discount your personal taste. There are some rugs that just “talk” to you.
I encourage people to look at the price per square foot as a way to provide you with a basis to make a decision between pieces. Two Grey Hills tapestries have the highest price per square foot, and Gallup throws are probably the lowest on a price per square footage basis, yet both are typically handspun and handcarded. The difference is that the threadcount in Two Grey Hills tapestries is 80-110 rows per inch, the designs are quite complex, and the weavers are often well known. Gallup thows have a thread count of about 12-16 rows per inch, simple designs, quick finishing methods, and are woven by unknown weavers.
If you are interested in acquiring older rugs, there are some other considerations that you’ll need to keep in mind. Consider the source. How much do you know about the history of the rug? Being well acquainted with the current owner is very different from finding a rug in a yard sale or on Ebay. What claims are being made about the rug? You’ll need to learn to evaulate rugs in line with your knowledge of the history of Navajo textiles.
- Claim: “This Two Grey Hills was made in 1880.” Fact: Two Grey Hills and other regional bordered designs (in fact regional designs themselves) started after 1890. Fact: Before the 1890’s Navajo’s produced clothing, household and ranch items and wearing blankets exclusively. Nothing that is an out and out rug is older than that.
- Claim: This Chief Blanket is just like the one that appraised for $500,000 on the Antiques Roadshow. Fact: If it really were just like that blanket, the seller wouldn’t have it on Ebay. I actually saw an Ebay item that was woven in Mexico with that claim.
Older rugs may be evaluated using many of the same criteria that you would for a new rug, but remember that the conditions that many older rugs were woven under were truly difficult and standards today are very high. Older rugs are more likely to be made with handspun, and the designs are more personal. Uneven carding, faded dyes, and idiosyncratic designs are more common in older rugs. Old Navajo rugs in an antique store always seem to be $1200 (once the origin of the rug has been pointed out). If you are paying a high price for something you’re not sure of, get a second opinion.
Look for moth and other insect damage in older pieces. You certainly want to eliminate any active insect infestations before bringing a rug into your home. See the care section for information on eliminating insects. If a textile is damaged, you may want to consider repairing it. There are two schools of thought on this. One, of course, is to preserve the textile in good condition. Many traditional Navajos believe that the rug, like all things, has a life of its own, and the textile should live that life and be allowed to decay naturally. There’s a point where a rug is just beyond repairs that make any economic sense, but that point differs for each person and for rugs that have a sentimental value. Rugs, like people, can have better and longer lives with competent care and repair. You can read more about repairs at Weaving in Beauty’s Navajo Rug Clinic site.
Old Navajo textiles can be a true bargain. Lots of people don’t recognize their value, and I have even met a couple of people who have had whole collections literally given to them. Perhaps the rugs seek out people who will take good care of them!
Kevin, can you send me a picture of the rug?
I really enjoy your website. Help! My elderly parents want to give away this Navajo rug they had commissioned in the late 1960s..My Dad requested that it have thunderbird motif and be large. It is about 8×4 feet…it could be 9 x 4.5. I am trying to convince them it could be worth several thousand dollars and they should have it professionally cleaned and appraised! Can you give any advice or suggestions?
I don’t know Pauline. There are about 20,000 Navajo weavers so it’s hard to know everyone.
Marie, I am not aware of a weaver by that name. There are about 20,000 Navajo weavers, so it’s hard to know all of them!
Is there a rug maker named Pauline Slowtalker?
Robin, there were not any pictures with your question.
I’ve had this rug for 60 years; never knew much about it. The person who gave it to me was born in the late 1800’s and got it when she was young with her husband on a trip west (she was from Connecticut). As you can see, it has some wear (though never walked on) and has what looks like small holes in one area (moths?)
In any case does this look to be of any value despite the damage?
I don’t see any pictures of the rug, so I can’t comment. You can upload one in another comment, or you can send them to me here.
Last week I “rescued” what I beleive to be a Navajo rug (blacks, greys and taupes, ~ 3 feet by five feet) from a local thrift store — for the phenomenal price of $6.00. This rug has led a very hard life, but my wife and I would like to display it and give it a good home for the rest of it utilitarian life. The thrift shop had it on the floor, but what is better — for us to make a wall hanging of it OR have it professionally framed. In talking with a local weaver, she did tell me that it was made from handspun wool. The rug was filthy, but she told us how to wash it in the bath tub and block it during drying. It was NECESSARY to do this — I hope that we did not do too much harm. Any advice?
Blankets have a slightly wider sett (meaning that the warp yarns are a little farther apart) and they aren’t beaten as aggressively. Most blanket patterns do not have borders.
How do I know the difference between a rug and a wearing blanket? Size?
I would need a picture to tell you anything. You can upload one in another comment or send one to may email address at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been distributing a family estate and hoping not to make mistakes. This weaving, not in grand condition, is 37″wide and 55″ long. At one time it had belonged to my Grandparents who spent much of their time in Arizona and Mexico in the mid 1900’s. I am wondering if you might be able to tell me anything about it.
It is very difficult to get a design to fall exactly in the center of a rug, so while a weaver would not receive as much money for it as she would if the design were perfectly symmetrical, the design can be off of dead center in a genuine Navajo rug.
If you send a picture, I can usually tell whether a rug is Navajo or not.
If the center of the rug does not fall exactly in the middle does this mean it is NOT a Navajo rug or does it mean, if it is a Navajo rug, it is of lower quality.
I have a rug that the pattern is off from the exact middle by about an inch.
Thank you for all of the information!