The first time any piece of cloth or bedding was called a “blanket” was in 1340, when Thomas Blanquette, a Flemish weaver living in England, developed a heavily napped woollen weave. In the early days, all blankets were made of wool, which provided warmth and was resistant to fire. Thinner, skin-friendly sheets were made of cotton or linen.

These days, though, the term blanket may be applied to quilts, bedspreads, comforters, and duvets. These blankets are made of all sorts of materials, including cotton, linen, silk, synthetic fibers, goose down, and even old clothes.

Blankets have come to serve all sorts of purposes, too. Decorative throw blankets are designed to keep one warm outside the bed, while security blankets or “blankies” give little children comfort. Native Americans would wear wool blankets as coats or robes, and in Mexico, colorful blankets called zarape, or serape, are often worn by men like shawls.

Blankets are also used to spread on the ground during picnics, at the beach, or to protect furniture during moves. Horse blankets are placed on the animals to prevent them from growing a shaggy winter coat of hair; saddle blankets keep their skin from chafing. Firefighters also use specialized blankets to protect furniture from water damage and themselves from flames.

Among collectors, the most popular blankets are those associated with the North American fur trade between Native Americans and Europeans. These include the Hudson Bay Company’s “pointed blankets” and Pendleton blankets. While these “Indian trade blankets” may feature patterns inspired by Native American designs, they were actually made by Europeans and white Americans to sell to the tribes.

In 1670, French explorers Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers, with the blessing the government of England, established the Hudson Bay Company on the north side of the Great Lakes in what became Canada. Native Americans would bring them furs in exchange for manufactured items like knives, kettles, beads, needles, and, eventually, blankets.

European wool blankets were coveted by the Native Americans, who had previously worn hides, stitched fur pelts, and handmade clothes made of wool, down, feathers, shredded cedar ...

It was M. Germain Maugenest who proposed to the Hudson Bay Company’s board in England in 1779 that blankets (non-diseased ones) should be a staple of the North American trade. Blankets had long been exchanged in bartering, but it wasn’t until 1780 that the company received regular shipments of large numbers of wool blankets from Europe.

These “pointed blankets,” first produced in Witney, Oxfordshire, were hugely popular with the Native Americans, thanks to their insulating and water-repellent qualities. Since blankets were felted or shrunk during manufacturing, during the mid-1700s French weavers developed a “point” system to indicate the final size of the blanket, which Hudson Bay Company indicated with indigo lines woven into the side of the blanket. (“Point” is thought to come from the French word “empointer,” meaning to make stitches.)

These were traded in a range of one to four points, in increments of half points. While the number wasn’t intended to indicate how many beaver pelts a blanket was worth, that’s how they were used. A half point, for example, meant half a pelt or an imperfect one.

Hudson Bay’s popular off-white multistripe blankets, which became known as “chief’s blankets,” are characterized by their “headings,” which are bold stripes of bright colors like green, red, and yellow, at either end. The off-white base color made them excellent camouflage in the snow.

Blankets were also offered in solid colors like indigo, scarlet, green, and light blue. The Native Americans would wear them instead of buffalo robes, or sew them into coats. The colors were important to the Native Americans, as variations in shade could telegraph spiritual meaning or the mood of the wearer.

The Navajos had taken up textile weaving in the early 1800s, producing their own stunning, colorful wool blankets with spellbinding patterns in stripes, diamonds, triangles, and diagonal lines that created optical illusions. These blankets were coveted by Victorian tourists, who traveled by train on tours of the Southwest and were in the market for souvenirs.

However, when these tourists got home, they would put the blankets on the floor, using them as rugs instead of bedding or clothing. In response, the Navajo crafted the same patterns in sturdier fibers to be used as rugs in the homes of white Americans. When the Indian Wars ended and the reservation system was established in 1890, the Navajos quit making wearing blankets all together and only sold rugs at federally licensed Indian trading posts.

Pendleton Woollen Mills, which was established in 1909 along the Oregon Trail in Pendleton, Oregon, saw the Native American population as a new market. The company took great care to learn about traditional Native American designs and patterns, the important mythology and spiritual symbols, and the preferred colors of their customers. Company pattern designer Joe Rawnsley, in particular, who was gifted with the jacquard loom, worked with many of the tribes people of northeastern Oregon to get his blankets just right. He also took six months to travel the Southwest and visit with the tribes there and learn about their traditions.

These blankets were embraced and treasured by Native Americans, who used them in rituals and ceremonies, as a part of dowries, in weddings, at pow wows, for gifts and prizes, and even to line coffins of the deceased. As a result, the name Pendleton has become synonymous with “Indian trade blankets,” even though Pendleton was not the only producer of these blankets.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Indian trade blankets grew in popularity with non-Indian interior designers. Hudson Bay Company responded by expanding its blanket manufacturing to Yorkshire and introduced its line of Pastel Tones, Deep Tones, and Imperial Tones to match popular design schemes.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

LACMA Luxury Textiles

LACMA Luxury Textiles

Textile collectors shouldn't miss this microsite from the LA County Museum of Art, a great reference on European an… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1920's- 1930's Trade Camp Blanket Beacon/pendleton Pendleton Blanket Glacier National Park Series 80"x 90" (double Bed) Brand New!New With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa Retired Teepee Blanket Sold OutVintage Hudson's Bay 100% Wool 3 1/2 Point Stripe Trapper Camp Blanket TwinVtg 50s Hudson Bay 4 Point 100% Wool Trapper Camp Blanket Multi Stripe 90" X 70"New With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa Teepee Collection King Size Blanket Brand New With Tags & Box Pendleton Made In Usa Retired Home Of The Free BlanketVintage Antique Pendleton Camp Blanket Chief Joseph Wool W Tag Fringe ReversibleGlacier National Park Series Pendleton Striped Blanket 100$ Virgin WoolVintage Tribal Camp Blanket Indian Design Wool ? Or? Colorful Approx 70"l X 66"wVintage Hudson Bay Four Point Striped Blanket 100% Wool Made In EnglandHorner Vintage Tan & Brown Stripe Australian Wool Camp Picnic Trade Blanket Vintage Red Wool 90"by 94" Blanket With Black Stripe Exc. Cond. Rustic CabinVintage Cotton Camp Blanket,native American Design, Purple Ombre,72"x70" Vintage Hudson Bay 6 Point Wool Blanket Red Black King Size 100 X 92Vintage Pendleton Beaver State Turquoise Western American Wool Camp BlanketPendleton BlanketPendleton Wool Blanket Charcoal W/ Vibrant Colorful Stripes - Well Cared For1920s Early Beaver State Wool Pendleton Blanket Auto Robe - ReversibleVintage1950's Pendleton 100% Virgin Wool Blanket In Box 84"x 64"Vintage Pendleton Wool Blue Plaid Blanket 73 X 53Hidatsa Earth Blanket By Pendleton Wool Indian Curtis 64x80Rare Vtg 60s Hand Woven Kilim Blanket Mexican Peru Textiles Indian Blankets Hudson Bay,4 Point,blanket,multi Striped,wool,excellent Condition,tramper,campVintage Pendleton Beaver State Small Blanket Soft Wool American Indian Southwest~~rare~~nwt Vintage Esmond Mills Cotton "wool Nap" Camp Blanket ~ 70" By 80"Antique Southwest Pendleton Woolen Mills Cayuse Indian Blanket Cutter Or DisplayPendleton Woolen Mills "spirit Quest" Native American Blanket 64" X 80" -retiredHudson Bay Point BlanketVintage Hudson Bay Style Red Wool Blanket, No PointsVintage 6 Point Hudson's Bay Blanket 88" X 96" Very Nice EnglandBeaver State Pendelton Blanket Turtle Island Iroquois Tribe Pattern Trading PostVintage Pendleton Beacon Era Camp Blanket 86" X 82"Vintage Western Camp Blanket Oil Rigs Cowboys Horse Cattle Blue Red Vintage Wool Blanket (hudson Bay?)Pendleton BlanketVintage Chenille Bedspread Orange Hearts King Queen 115 X111Hudsons Bay Company Vintage 70% Cashmere 30% Wool Plaid Throw Blanket 64"x 54"Hudson Bay 6 Point Wool Blanket 1950's Vintage 4 Point Hudson Bay Red Blanket 68" X 85" Sold As Is Hudson Bay Blanket Green W/black Stripes 4 Points EnglandBeautiful Vtg Point Style Cream W/red-blue-yellow-band Wool BlanketGucci Logo Brown Throw Blanket With Fringe Gently Pre-owned Condition Orig.845.Vintage Wool Blanket- Primary Color Stripes On White- HeavyVintage Camp BlanketVintage Hudson's Bay 4 Point 100% Wool Ivory Blanket Made In England 88 X 70Hudson Bay Cream Striped Multi Color 4 Point Wool Blanket 70 X 85 Nice ;)Vintage Canadian Woolen Mills Loomed Wool Striped Blanket Black Yellow Red 88x72Pendleton BlanketHudson's Hudson Bay Point Wool Blanket Vtg 70"x89" For Restoration/repairPendleton BlanketPendleton BlanketVintage Hudson's Bay Wool Four 4 Point Blanket Made In England 88 X 70Vintage Genuine 4 Points-hudson Bay Red Wool .from Smoke Free Home .Vintage Pendleton Beaver State Purple Fringe Western American Wool Camp BlanketWonderful Pendleton Harding Blanket New With Tags Amazing For ChristmasVintage 1920-30 Pendleton Reversible 100% Wool Native Style Blanket SouthwestHudson Bay Wool Blanket Striped Full Large 76x90 Clasic 4 PointPendleton BlanketVintage Early's Witney Point Stripe Wool Blanket Made In England 75x90 4 Point