This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Blankets. [Said to be derived from Fr. blanchet, meaning a blank piece of cloth, without figure. The name is also claimed to be derived from that of an English manufacturer, Sir Thomas Blanquett, who in 1340 was the owner of a large woolen mill near London]. A large, oblong piece of soft, loosely woven woolen cloth, spread commonly over the sheets of a bed for the procurement of warmth. Sometimes used as a covering for a horse when standing or exposed to cold, and sometimes worn as a garment especially among Indians and other uncivilized peoples.
Formerly the manufacture of blankets was confined exclusively to the New England States, but since 1865 the seat of manufacture has from year to year steadily followed the Star of the Empire, until at present woolen mills for the manufacture of blankets are found dotting the streams throughout the entire West. These mills have every facility and material for making cheaper and better goods than can be made by the Eastern factories for the money. For many years the Mission mills of San Francisco, California, and the mills at Portland, Oregon, have made bed and fancy blankets second to none in the world. Ohio, noted for its growing fine wools, is also famous for making fine blankets, though probably not superior to the products of factories dotting the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota. In the latter state, at Minneapolis, is produced the finest blanket in the world, known as the "Royal Rose," 90 by 100 inches, which sells at wholesale at nearly $40 per pair.
"Eiderdown" blankets have a fine, soft, thick nap on either side, and are tufted and bound with silk, dyed in beautifully tinted and solid colors. They are very warm for their weight, not being so thick and clumsy as the ordinary comfortable, yet having as much warmth as a double blanket.
The Navajo (pronounced Nav-a-ho) Indians find a first claim to fame by virtue of their blankets. The process of blanket construction by an Indian, while in nowise complex, is arduous. All work is performed in the most primitive manner, and with tools of the rudest kind. The Navajoes number some 40,000 people, having a reservation which embraces a portion of both New Mexico and Arizona. They are solely a pastoral people, never under any circumstances building a home twice in the same place. Navajo shearers are the most expert in the world. They used to remove the fleece by a sort of shaving process, but long ago, even in the sixteenth century, succeeded in finding shears, and from that time not even a Navajo's gun is more carefally kept than are his sheep-shears. After washing and cleaning, all of which work is done by the women, the spinners begin their operations. The best of the wool only is kept. Much the larger bulk is sold to the traders, and by them shipped unwashed to the mills of the East. The spindle operated by the women is a simple piece of wood some eight inches long, scarcely larger than a lead pencil, and sharpened to a point. The bundle of woollies on the woman's right side, not made into rolls, but simply cleaned and beaten. She takes up a strand of it, lays it against the spindle and twists rapidly with the left hand. The fibre gradually takes the form of yarn, though it is loose and uneven. As soon as the spindle is full it is unwound and rolled on a ball, after which it is ready for weaving. The loom is simplicity itself. The poles are cut the length required for the breadth of the blanket. One is secnred to the branches of a tree. The other is anchored to the ground with stones. From this lower pole to the upper one the strands of yarn are passed, till the "warp" is all placed in position. Then, beginning at the lower side, the woman begins inserting the "woof." Originally they had but the two colors of white and black, and the figures produced, while varying infinitely in form and outline, were always combinations of these two. Later, however, the women learned to dye the wool, and now they are able to make red, blue, green and yellow. With the savage love of vivid colors they combine these six in an order that is harmonious and complete in each blanket, producing an effect decidedly pleasing and curious. There is no shuttle. The dexterous fingers simply pass the threads back of certain lines of warp, in front of others, and continue that process until they have traveled across the breadth of the fabric. Then with a sort of comb they press the threads of the yarn down firmly. A strand of woof seldom reaches across the blanket. The whole work is done with simple "bits" of yarn. But they are intertwined so dexterously, are drawn backward and forward so firmly, and are beaten into place so solidly, that when the work is done the designs are found uniform, the thickness is the same throughout, and the selvedge edges are secure against raveling. Nearly any Navajo blanket will hold water for an indefinite length of time. Judged by a strict civilized standard, their blankets are not handsome, but they possess a barbaric beauty that is distinctively their own, and go far to answer the question of the red man's origin. Persons accustomed to seeing works of art in a hundred lines, would be surprised at the originality and boldness of some of the designs displayed in this weaving. Some of them display the zigzag lines of vivid lightning, others the suns, moons and shining stars drawn from the heavens. Many present the curves and spirals that could only have been woven by the most patient and cunning of human fingers.
The Government provides nearly all of the Indians in the United States anually with one pair of 6-pound woolen blankets, costing about $3.35. These Navajo Indians as soon as they get a Government blanket, proceed to unravel it and wind the yarn into balls. It is dyed to suit the garish taste of the Indian, and when the yarn from 5 to 15 of Uncle Sam's blankets is accumulated he is ready to make his Navajo blanket. The wool from as many as 15 blankets has been known to be woven and whipped and thrashed by the Navajo process into one of the blankets of that name. They are astonishly heavy, and hold water like the skin of an animal. [See Teasling, Weaving, Wool]