Through the use of southwestern rugs it is possible to create a unique rustic atmosphere in any room in your home. Of course artwork, furnishings and accessories can enhance the look, but the bold southwestern rug is the decorating anchor that serves to define the rest of the room.
Southwestern rugs often go by other names. It's not uncommon for someone to refer to them simply as western rugs, although technically these are somewhat different. People frequently call southwestern rugs Native American rugs or will even attribute them to a specific tribe such as Navajo or Zapotec. An expert will be able to tell you the subtle differences between the rugs created by the various tribes, but to most of us the generic term southwestern does an adequate job of describing this particular style.
A common characteristic to most southwestern rugs is the combination of brilliant colors with characters symbolizing spiritual or historic aspects of Native American life. The amount of detail in a typical southwestern rug requires an extremely high density of fibers and a top-quality, handmade rug can take upwards of a year to weave. They are works of art like no others!
The designs of southwestern rugs prior to the mid 1800s were very different from what we see today. First of all, they typically weren't rugs, but blankets created to be worn around the shoulders. The fiber of choice was wool from the Churro sheep, which was introduced to the region by the Spanish in the middle 1500s. Designs tended to have many horizontal lines and were not nearly as intricate as those we think of as Navajo blankets today.
When the southwestern tribes began making blankets - and then rugs - for export to the East Coast and Midwest of America, the styles changed considerably. First of all, the items weren't made to be worn any longer, but truly became both functional and attractive additions to people's floors. With most of the Churro herds gone, the artisans turned to commercially spun wool yarn and machine spun plied cotton. The introduction of synthetic dyes also drastically changed the look of many southwestern style rugs.
During the early part of the twentieth century an interesting transformation happened in the design of traditional southwestern rugs. The traders who were buying rugs in large quantities from the southwestern tribes and selling them to wealthy non-Native-Americans throughout the rest of the country, started injecting their own ideas into the designs. More accurately, they started telling the rug-makers what they thought their customers wanted, and insisted the southwestern weavers modify their designs to match. (Someone once compared this to opening a restaurant in France to serve Italian food to Americans and ending up with a fast-food pizza joint!)
As a result, many southwestern designs started looking a lot more like Oriental or Persian rugs. For instance, very few Native American weavers included a border in their designs. But American purchasers seemed to insist on having one. Also people seemed to want a heavier rug than what the Navajos and other southwestern weavers thought was necessary. Some people actually stopped referring to these new hybrids as southwestern and started calling them "regional rugs" or "tribal." For a short period of time - up until around 1950 - sales of southwestern rugs plummeted.
Modern southwestern rugs have gone back to the basics while continuing to show a great deal of diversity in color and design. They tend to be less regionalized than previously, and now incorporate many popular colors that simply weren't available to the original Native American craftsmen. Southwestern rugs have also made another transition, this time from the floor to the wall. More than ever people are actually hanging a southwestern rug as if it was a tapestry, but the effect on a room's overall decor can be truly stunning.
Rugs Direct has approximately 250 southwestern rug styles available at its website. One of the most popular is the Genesis Arizona made by Oriental Weavers. See it and all the other southwestern patterns by clicking here.