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    

New Filson Made In Usa Mackinaw Wool Blanket $270 72x90New With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa Tamiami Trail King Size Blanket Chief Joseph Pendleton Blanket 64" X 80" Green New In Box Beaver StateNew Pendleton Made In Usa Yosemite Park Collection Queen Size Blanket Old Hudson Bay 4 Point Multi-color Wool Blanket W Small Red Label 86" X 67"Pendleton Mills "silver Bark" Queen Size Blanket With Suede TrimRare Vintage 1930's Hudson Bay 4 Point Camel Or Tan Blanket Red Label 72x90Vtg 1940s Indian Camp Cabin Lodge Western Design Beacon Style BlanketNew With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa Supernova Collection King Size Blanket Vintage 4 Point Hudson Bay Blanket 68x82 Made In England 100% Wool Orange LabelPendleton Beaver State Wool Blanket & Pillow #229Vintage Pendleton Indian Blanket Wool 68 X 68 Beacon Blanket No Tag Good ColorsNew Pendleton Made In Usa Diamond Desert Collection King Size Blanket Hudson's Bay 6 Point Wool Queen Blanket Multi Stripe Made In England 90" X 96Vintage Hudson's Bay 4 Point Wool Blanket Striped 71x89 Twin Pendleton BlanketNew Pendleton Made In Usa Singletary Box Of Knowledge Blanket Pendleton Chief Joseph Blanket In White 86x90 W/ Matching Throw PillowNew With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa Rock Art Collection Queen Size Blanket Gorgeous Pendleton Native American Tribal Wool Mini Blanket Beautiful Colors!Vintage 1930's Hudson Bay 4 Point Multistripe Blanket Red Label 63x81Large Vintage Handmade Wool Crocheted Granny Square Afghan Blanket ~ 105 X 77Antique 1940's Hudson Bay 4 Point All Wool Blanket; A Large 92" X 74". NiceNew Pendleton Made In Usa Retired Limited Edition Blanket Vintage Pendleton Woolen Mills Oregon Red Blue Green Black Blanket ThrowNew With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa North Star Collection King Size Blanket Vintage Ralph Lauren "indian" Camp Blanket ~cotton~nice!Vintage 1930s Double Red & Black Wool Blanket Uncut Twin Sized Hudson Bay30s 40's Pendleton Blanket, Chief Joseph, Beige, Nice Condition, 60" X 65"New Pendleton Made In Usa Dakota Sioux Robe Blanket New With Tags Pendleton Made In Usa Big Chief Blanket Vintage Nos Never Used Pendleton (usa) Blanket Tartan Plaid (navy/green) 66"x52"Vintage Cowboy And Indian BlanketVintage Wool Baron Woolen Mills Usa Full/queen Blanket Cabin Lodge DecorPicnic Car Camper Camping Blanket Wool Plaid Lap Throw Fringe Vtg Pendleton RedVintage Unmarked Wool Military Style Blanket Gray With Black Stripe 68" X 79"Vintage Hudson Bay 4 Point Wool Blanket Multi-colored Stripes 64 X 88 EnglandFaribo Cream Blanket Wool Satin Trim Vtg 62x88" Twin Full Bed Made In Usa Exc!Vintage Wool Blanket, Navy Blue & White Cream, Large, Good Cond For AgeVintage Wool Gray With Black Stripes Blanket Full Rare Vintage Tidstrand Designer Kerstin Albrektsson Blanket Throw Plaid & StripeVintage Multi Colored Stripe Pendleton Blanket W/black Trim Edges 64" X 78"Faribo Picnic Car Camper Camping Blanket Wool Plaid Lap Throw Fringe Yellow VtgVintage Tidstrand Designer Kerstin Albrektsson Blanket Throw Plaid & StripeBlue Wool Hudson's Bay Point Blanket 92"x 74" Faribo Picnic Car Camper Camping Blanket Wool Plaid Lap Throw Fringe Vibrant VtgVintage Hudson's Bay Company Point Blanket W/ 4 Points AjVintage Crocheted Knitted Afghan Cross Stitched Flowers 61 X 80 Staggered? RowsHuge Vtg Estate Afghan Red Roses Off White 154 Squares 78x91 Full/queenVintage Wool Blanket Bright Yellow 71x57 Bleach Stain Satin Trim Nr Daily ShipNew Pendleton Nike Made In Usa B7 Robe Blanket Large Antique Victorian Homespun Shawl Blanket Coverlet Brown 65" X 130" Lovely!Excellent Beautiful Colors & Diamond Design Pendleton Wool Throw/blanket 61x69 Lot Of 5 Vintage Stadium Throw Blanket Faribo/troy Plaid Green Blue Red WhitePreuvian Alpaca Wool Blanket Hand Made In Peru 80"x 68" Reversible!!Vintage Indian Theme Blanket - Southwest Indians??Nos Vintage Cannon Hempstead Thermal Blanket 72" X 90" Harvest Gold YellowVintage Olive Dark Green Wool Blanket 73" X 59" Military Army?Hudson Bay 4 Point Blanket 100% Wool Brown With Camel Or Lt BrownHudson Bay Ll Bean? Wool Blanket - 66 X 72 - Vintage No Tags