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Diné Biil or Two-Panel Traditional Dress

C4091K-dress.jpg

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Weaver Unknown
  • Category: Navajo Textiles and Blankets
  • Origin: Diné - Navajo Nation
  • Medium: Wool
  • Size: Two panels of 49-½” x 28-½” each
  • Item # C4091K
  • Price: $3,500.00

On August 10, 1680 the Pueblo people of New Mexico staged a revolt against the Spanish colonists. The colonists fled south and remained there in exile for twelve years. When the Spanish returned in 1692 and tried to take control of the Pueblo villages, many Pueblo citizens fled to live with their Diné neighbors to the west. It is believed that it was during this time that the Diné learned the art of weaving. Since Pueblo men were the weavers, it seems natural that they would have taught their Diné wives. The Diné women learned to weave and within decades had mastered the skill of creating some of the most beautiful textiles in the Southwest. By the 18th century, Diné women were weaving textiles that were sought by neighboring tribes as well as Spanish settlers. Weaving for outside sources became a major economic activity for the Diné.

While they wove blankets for trade with outside groups, one item they wove for their own use was women’s dresses. These dresses or “biil” consist of two panels, woven separately but adjacent to one another on a single vertical loom. The two panels were then sewn together leaving room for the arms. Geometric elements were woven above and below a plain mid-section. A woven sash or concha belt was worn around the waist. The two-panel dress began to lose popularity towards the middle of the 19th century when the Diné were exposed to materials and styles that came west— first along the Santa Fe trail beginning in 1821 and then when the railroad came in the 1880s.  By the 1880s, Diné women preferred the voluminous tiered skirts of velvet and cotton but occasionally “biil” were still worn for special occasions.

This traditional-style Diné dress was woven during the early to mid-part of the 20th century. The dress consists of two symmetrical panels of hand spun, aniline dyed red, blue, brown and black yarns. In each panel a solid mid-section of black, blue and brown is bordered by identical areas of red in which stepped terrace motifs, spider woman crosses and stripes are woven in black, brown and blue yarns. The dress, while made during the 20th century, is of very similar style and design to those worn more than 200 years ago by Diné women. Dresses like this are an important part of Diné history and culture and are rarely made today.


Condition: The Diné Biil or Two-Panel Traditional Dress is in good condition. There are a few very small areas of moth damage. There are areas of bleed where the black has faded into the red areas, this is consistent with the age of the piece.

Provenance: From the personal collection of late Santa Fe dealer, Martha Stuever

Recommended Reading: Navaho Weaving: Its Technic and its History by Charles Avery Amsden

Weaver Unknown
  • Category: Navajo Textiles and Blankets
  • Origin: Diné - Navajo Nation
  • Medium: Wool
  • Size: Two panels of 49-½” x 28-½” each
  • Item # C4091K
  • Price: $3,500.00

C4091K-dress.jpgC4091K-large.jpg Click on image to view larger.