For centuries blankets have not only been used for warmth but also as artistic expressions that could be sold or traded for money or goods. Blankets were most commonly worn draped over the shoulders much like a cloak.
Blanket making has been found in virtually all native North American tribes. Even before cotton production was developed in the thirteenth century C.E. , Native Americans in the Southwest made blankets from the feathers of domesticated turkeys. In ancient times mastery of blanket weaving was often transmitted from one neighboring tribe to another. In the 1500s the Navajo tribe of the Southwest learned blanket weaving from the Pueblos, who made blankets from the wool of Spanish sheep. Navajo blankets became known for their bright colors, geometric patterns, and depiction of animals. Made according to the custom of the Tlingit tribe of Alaska, a fringe blanket of cedar bark fiber and goat wool required six months to finish.
Native Americans used blankets for many purposes. Mothers carried their infants by slinging them over their shoulders in a blanket, some women used black blankets for ceremonial rituals, others have used blankets to display animals killed by their hunters. Some Native Americans have also used embroidered blankets to display their story.
Indian blankets were precious trade commodities. A blanket with three beavers pictured on it, for example, meant the blanket was worth three beaver pelts. The Hudson's Bay Company, founded in Canada in the late 1600s, traded North American Indian blankets to Europeans. The establishment of frontier trading posts by white settlers in the 1800s allowed tribes to exchange their products to European Americans for other goods. Although a source of income for Native Americans, blankets retained a deeper meaning. For many tribes blankets were a symbol of wealth and status.