The Navajo people believe that Navajo women were taught the art of weaving by Spider Woman, soon after the creation of the world. Anthropologists believe that Navajo women started weaving shoulder blankets during the late seventeenth century, after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Collectors and dealers of American Indian art believe that Navajo women wove blankets until 1900, when the lack of Native American demand for blankets, coupled with the growing Anglo-American demand for floor rugs, compelled the weavers to stop weaving blankets and start weaving rugs.
The older generation of Navajo weavers did not stop weaving blankets on December 31, 1899, and the younger generation of Navajo weavers did not start weaving rugs on January 1, 1900. The transition from blanket to rug occurred so gradually, it is impossible to state with scientific certainty when the blanket ended and the rug began. Early Navajo rugs pay homage to Navajo blankets. Many Navajo rugs woven between 1890 and 1910 were woven by older Navajo women who had woven mantas, chief's blankets, ponchos, and serapes during the classic, late classic, and Germantown periods. Some of the rugs woven by these older weavers were their final expressions in an art form they had practiced and refined for fifty years. Many of the patterns, traditions, stories, and blessings that lived in Navajo blankets were revived and reincarnated in early Navajo rugs.
The period from 1895 to 1910 was a time of poverty for the Navajo. The range of colors associated with the Germantown yarns and synthetic dyes of the 1880s and early 1890s was no longer available to most Navajo weavers by the time they wove their first floor rugs. However, the lack of bright colors did not translate into a lack of inspiration on the part of the weavers. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Certain Navajo rugs woven between 1895 and 1910 exhibit a level of visual refinement that is hard to find in any other period of Navajo weaving.