It does not matter if an Indian blanket has been made by a traditional weaver, or has been spun using American mass production methods, blankets have been an important part of trade in the American Southwest for centuries. The earliest blankets were made from woven plant fibers or animal hides; later styles were woven by commercial processes. There are basically two purposes that Indian blankets serve: ceremonial and commercial (or practical) purposes.
Ceremonial Uses of Blankets
Many Southwestern Indian tribes use beautifully woven blankets to celebrate important life events. Blankets are handed out at births, at weddings, or at christenings, and may also be given during important rites of passage events such as graduations. In earlier times, all of these blankets were handmade and had particular symbols or images that would represent the maker or the event; modern times have sped up the weaving process and has allowed people to simply purchase beautiful blankets, making them more accessible.
Commercial and Practical Uses of Blankets
Prior to the Europeans reaching the American Southwest, Indians had used blankets as a means of trade for a very long time. They may have given a blanket as a way to alleviate debt, or as a trade for food or other items, therefore it was natural for them to accept blankets from the European traders in exchange for beaver pelts and other goods. White traders designed blankets that appealed to traditional Indian styles and would be desirable by the Indians in the area.
Indian blankets continue to be used as by traditional societies as temporary shelter, for warmth, and to carry children. Their integral purpose and relative availability in Indian society makes them an excellent item for gifts and trading. Today you can find traditional blanket styles in many artisan shops and even in commercial retail stores.
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