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Dark Wool Mantas (1850s)

In the 1850s, weavers often made mantas of very dark brown wool, sometimes dyed black, with top and bottom borders of either diamond twill or embroidery worked with indigo-dyed blue wool. The makers usually wove the central portions of these wool mantas in diagonal twill. Examples of this type of manta come primarily from the western pueblos of Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna.

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      The styles and colors of the embroidered borders on these wool mantas varied from pueblo to pueblo. Some feature indigo-dyed blue handspun yarn, whereas others have mostly red yarn patterns embroidered on them. In the earlier years, embroiders obtained the red yarn through trade. Artists might ravel a machine-woven cloth called bayeta or purchase a machine-spun three-ply yarn known as Saxony. These European imports were dyed red during the manufacturing process with either cochineal or lac, both made from insects.
      Some evidence suggests that weavers in outlying pueblos, especially Hopi, wove many of the dark mantas. They then traded the garments to the Rio Grande pueblos, where embroiderers embellished them according to local preferences.

This piece is attributed to San Juan Pueblo (1941). It is probable that the dark mantas whose diamond twill borders were subsequently embroidered are also evidence of this trade.

The Acoma Red Mantas

     Acoma Pueblo is the source of most dark wool mantas embroidered primarily in red. These striking pieces incorporate a variety of yarns. In addition to the red yarns, native handspun yarns dyed blue with indigo or green with a combination of rabbit brush and indigo are used. Acoma embroiderers used a countered outline stitch and a chain stitch as well as the stitches used in the blue mantas.

Countered Outline Stitch

Chain Stitch


       Dark wool mantas with red embroidery show more variation in design than the blue Zuni mantas. They follow the convention of having identical top and bottom borders, but the main design area accommodates a range of styles. Embroiderers use negative patterning to feature blocks of color instead of the linear patterning of the blue mantas. The primary design vocabulary is still geometric, but bands of different designs are stacked upon each other. Frequently, floral motifs worked at regular intervals surmount these bands.



Probably woven as a plain black manta between 1850 and 1860, this Acoma piece has diamond twill, indigo blue borders beneath the embroidery.  The curving leaf pattern and small crosses are unusual for Pueblo work.

Border Detail (Enlarge)



In this manta from Acoma (1850-60), the doubled thread used in the Pueblo stitch is twisted, a feature not found in the blue mantas. This manta had plain weave borders specifically designed for embroidering.

An example from Acoma, c. 1850, which has a fancy box twill central section with plain weave borders. The red raveled yarn is lac dyed.

Enlarge | Border Detail

     These old-style dark mantas with embroidered borders were no longer being made by the late twentieth century. The primary reason is not changing design preferences so much as the lack of an appropriate background fabric. Nobody is weaving dark wool mantas on upright looms anymore. For a while a small business called Tewa Weavers, founded in 1938 in Albuquerque, met the demand for dark mantas. Using European-style floor looms rather than the traditional upright looms, the company’s weavers produced an acceptable substitute for the traditional manta cloth until about the mid 1980s. Also, a few men at Hopi continued to weave in the traditional way until the late 1970s, but by the 1990s there were no reports of Pueblo people weaving mantas, either cotton or wool. Only once in a while will anyone weave some dark brown yardage to be used as ground cloth for embroidery on a European-style floor loom.
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