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    

Beautiful Pendleton Wool Blanket with Hieroglyphics design 60" X 58”Vintage Early 1900s Geometric Indian Wool Trade Camp Blanket- 56" X 70"Vintage Well Used Six Point Hudson's Bay Trapper Indian Trade Wool Blanket Vintage Hudson Bay Camp 4 Point Pure Wool Blanket Multi-stripeVtg Used 3.5 Point Blanket Green Wool Trapper Hudson's Bay WitneyHudson's Bay 4 Point Blanket Classic Stripes 91"x76.5"Vintage Hudson's Bay Co 8 Point King Wool Blanket Ivory Multi 92" X 106" MintFilson Pendleton Smokey Bear BlanketHudson's Bay Four Point Blanket Classic Stripes 91"x76.5"Pendleton Circle Of Life Wool BlanketPendleton Glacier National Park Queen BlanketVintage Wool Blanket-grey With Dark Blue/black Stripes 62" X 82"Fabulous Pendleton Round-up “let’er Buck” Wool Blanket #h733.Vtg Used 4 Point Blanket Green Wool Trapper Hudson's Bay WitneyVintage Pendleton Usa Made 100% Wool Plaid Red Fringes Stadium Throw 80" X54 EucVintage Wool Blanket 3 Striped Hudson's Bay Style 84" X 48" Green Red YellowVintage Cayuse Indian Blanket Pendleton Woolen Mill 57" X 66" Purple/greenVintage Antique Wool Blanket Rug Red Black Plaid W Fringe 1940sw Tag Scotland Great Vintage Pendleton Striped Woolen Blanket #h735.Rare ! Pendleton Mr. Smith Rocking Horse 2011 Vintage Wool Indian Blanket & WoodPendleton Indian Trade Blanket Saddle Blanket Hudson Bay? Unmarked Multi-color Stripe Wool Blanket 82" X 69" Pendleton Wool 54" By 73" Wool Stadium Blanket Throw W/leather Carry Strap1950 Cowboy Blanket. 60" X 60" Cotton Vintage Decor Fabric Project MotifWhitney Point Wool Blanket England Approx 62" X 78"Vintage Wool Camp Blanket Cream With Navy Stripe Ec 66" X 77"Vtg. Hudsons Bay 4 Point Red Wool Blanket Distressed / Cutter ? Lodge Decor Vintage 100% Wool Throw Blanket Blue,red And Green Plaid 56"x37" Made In EnglandPendleton Wool Blanket Plaid Design With Fringe 59 1/2 By 65 Inches With FringeHudson's Bay Company Caribou Throw MultistripeVintage Heavy Wool Blanket, Red. Very Good Condition, No Holes.Vintage Hudson Bay 3.5 Point Gold / Yellow Blanket, 60 X 78Vintage Early's Witney Red Black Wool Blanket Full 75 X 88 England 4 PointVtg Fieldcrest Usa Blanket Field Flowers Fine Cotton 72x90 Pink Binding NipVtg~wool~us Military Army Blanket~green Brown Heavy Wool~64" X 88"~eucVintage Camp Blanket Indian Motif Dark Rose Pink Reverse Pattern 50's Beacon?Vtg Cotton Camp Throw/blanket Anchor Rope Nautical 1940s Red Wht Blue 69" SquarePendleton Vintage 100% Wool Throw Turquoise Blue Plaid Stadium Blanket 64 X 41Vtg Marlboro Country Store Wool Blend Red & Wte Bflo Plaid Blanket 48 X 70 In.Pendleton Vintage 100% Wool Throw Brown Plaid Stadium Blanket 69 X 52Vintage North Star 100% Wool Blanket Pink Twin Size[faribo] Faribault Stadium Plaid Vintage Blanket Browns White 100% AcrylicVintage Foxford Connemara Wool Shawl Blank Ireland Providence Woolen MillsAwesome Vintage Ralph Lauren Camp Blanket #h731.Beaver State Pendleton Wool Small Indian Navajo Blanket Vintage Antique Blanket Beacon 1940s Estate Find New In Pkg Plaid Aqua Pink BlkPlaid Herringbone Stripe English Made England Wool Morley Camping Blanket ThrowVtg Pendleton Western Wool Blanket Sz 50x39.5 Hunting Camping Hiking 70sVtg Faribo Faribault Minnesota "100 Years" Olive Green Woven 100% Wool Blanket(10) Pc Vintage Lace Embroidered Baby Clothes, Laundry Bag & BlanketVtg 100% Wool Stadium Blanket Throw 47 X 56 Plaid Red White Blue Green FringeVintage Fieldcrest Jacobean Floral Blanket American Treasures Smithsonian 2 Of 2Vintage Green Orange Tartan Plaid Wool Lap Throw Blanket Robe Miami DolphinsPendleton Woolen Mills Beaver State Wool Blanket 63 X 78Vintage Orrlaskan 100% Pure Wool Blanket 60" X83" Hudson Bay Trapper Type UsaHarley Davidson Blanket Bedroll 2003 Anniversary Motorcycle Faribo Vintage Red Black Yellow Plaid Stadium Blanket Fringe 56 X 44 UsaBiederlack Blanket Green Geometric Reversible Soft Acrylic