The colors in Navajo weaving can come from a variety of sources. In the 1700-1800s the wool was often dyed with indigo dye (blue) and cochineal (red). The cochineal came in the form of a cloth called bayeta which the Navajo then unraveled and respun to be used for blankets and clothing. Generally the dyes for wool used in Navajo weavings today come from three sources:
- Aniline Dyes: A class of synthetic, organic dyes originally obtained from aniline (coal tars), which were the first synthetic dyes. Today the term is used with reference to any synthetic organic dyes or pigments, regardless of source. These are often the source of dark or very bright colors in Navajo textiles. Some of the new aniline dyes attempt to mimic the subtlety of the vegetal dyes.
Vegetal Dyes: Generally much more subtle and more difficult to achieve consistence in the dying process. The color can come from a single source or combinations of sources of roots, berries, bark, mosses, seeds, roots, flowers, and leaves -- even pine needles. Sometimes a weaver will spend more than a year collecting just the vegetation to create the dyes. A drought on the reservation may keep a particular plant from being available for several years. Vegetal dyed rugs are highly valued for the additional effort in the art of producing consistent and unique colors and vegetal yarns are often hand spun as well as hand dyed.
- Blended Wools: The colors are achieved by carding together variations of natural color sheep and goat fibers to create a third color. For example the black and white sheep wool can be carded to create an almost endless color scheme of greys. The brown and white wools can create a pallette of tans and browns. Look for blended wools in hand spun rugs.