The History of the Pavlovo Posad Textile Manufactory and Its Integration into Navajo Fashion
People around the world have interacted with goods created by other societies and cultures for millennia. Integration of foreign objects into local indigenous cultures is something that commonly occurs when two societies have extensive contact and interaction. In Russia, there is a factory that makes floral printed shawls and kerchiefs. These textiles were high value items in Russia & Eastern Europe before industrialization when such items were hand woven. Their popularity spread across Europe with the commencement of the mass production of textiles and at the Pavlovo Posad Textile Manufactory in particular (Kochemazova). Eventually, these feminine and beautifully rendered scarves were exported around the world including to the Americas. Presently, these bright, eye-catching, and intricately patterned works of naturalistic botanical design have become integrated into the traditional dress and regalia of numerous Native American and First Nations peoples. From the laced-trimmed personalization of these floral shawls as capes in Pueblo women’s traditional apparel to the use of kerchiefs as headbands for Navajo medicine men to the integration of the scarves in pow wow regalia, these decorated fabrics have been adopted into indigenous cultures in the Americas in unique ways. The Pavlovo Posad – inspired scarves have been assigned significant roles in various indigenous cultures that ultimately use this integrated object as an accessory to assert cultural identity, survivance, and agency. There is a certain irony when one considers that this item is based in the indigenous art of Eastern European cultures and now it has taken on new cultural contexts with other indigenous groups. In this analysis, the roles assigned to these accessories, and how those roles evolve or change within Navajo culture, will be explored.
The design patterns of Pavlovo Posad textiles are derived from traditional indigenous embroidery patterns of Eastern Europe and Russia. The ferns, various herbs, and flowers depicted in the pixels of the weavings were thought to have protective powers for the wearer. These floral shawls were hand woven from hand spun silk and/or wool. Sometimes they were embroidered or hand painted with individually created designs in the common floral style. They were expensive and high value items; individuals often owned only one in their lifetime. Certain communities were known for their textile and weaving traditions. With the industrialization and labor mobilization in Russia, the textile artists of the Pavlovsky Posad region became employed in the Pavlovo Posad Textile Manufactory and expanded their skill set to include industrialized processes of textile creation and design. Design elements that were previously embroidered or hand painted were now recreated using various layers of block print (Sutton 1). The high production numbers that manufacturing was able to output also changed these scarves from somewhat rare and high-value personal apparel to mass produced commodities. Nonetheless, their high value remained even in changing contexts.
Meanwhile, in the Southwest, Navajo people had their own textiles and woven goods. After contact with Spanish livestock in the 17th century, Navajo people began to integrate domesticated wool, mohair, and the upright loom into their weaving culture. Woolen Navajo textiles made on upright looms were at the forefront of an enormous change to Navajo economy. Wealth accumulation among Diné matriarchs was perpetuated by the feminine relationship of nurturing sheep and goats as a means of livelihood by producing meat, sinew, wool, and other goods (Weisiger 79). The textiles produced by Diné women had high cultural and monetary value within the Navajo world. This high regard extended to trade with other tribes as the Chief style robes became in-demand commodities among neighboring tribes and beyond (Berlo 65). The reputation of Navajo weavings eventually became known and coveted within the Anglo-American circles.
With the industrialization of textile-making in the eastern United States and Europe, cheap machine-produced fabrics entered the scene. These commodities worked their way across the West and into reservation communities. New fiber goods were once again integrated into Diné apparel. The black and red wool manta-style dresses that dominated Navajo women’s fashion up to the turn of the twentieth century became less common in lieu of Spanish-style velveteen collared shirts and tiered skirts. Cotton fabric was also used for such outfits and floral patterns were favored for dresses.
Somewhere in the mix of Navajo textiles being traded and sold out of the community and manufactured textiles being imported into Navajoland, the Pavlovo Posad scarves showed up. The famous Hubbell Trading Post, for example, was one of many outposts established in Navajo country to acquire Navajo products in exchange for manufactured goods. So, in many ways, Navajo women were exchanging their handmade textiles for machine-produced fabric that offered more versatility in personal clothing creation (Wilkins 22).
By the 1930s, the Pavlovo scarves were integrated into Diné women’s fashion (Cut). Photos of Navajo women throughout the twentieth century often included the wearing of the head covering. With the rise of newspaper publications such as the Gallup Independent and the Navajo Times, photographic documentation of Navajo fashion became available to the local community. Over time, this body of media began to influence how Navajo people conceived of themselves and what was considered traditional apparel.
The scarf also was integrated as a men’s headband which carried its own metaphorical and ceremonial significance. The floral design is an acknowledgement of mother earth. When the band is tied around the head to join in the back, it symbolizes the Hogan, the four directions, the duality of the world brought together into balance. When the band is knotted over the left ear – considered the North which is the direction associated with both enemy forces and protection— it symbolizes protection from enemies. (Lewis) This object becomes yet another accessory reflecting Navajo cosmology alongside other traditional handmade ceremonial objects of personal adornment.
When the center of commodity production for American consumers moved from the United States and Europe to China, so too did the production of Pavlovo Posad floral kerchief knockoffs. Today, such items are manufactured en masse and are available in wholesale markets such as the Los Angeles Fashion District. Markups from wholesale to retail in places such as Gallup can be as much as four hundred percent. (Smith) The high price that Navajo people are willing to pay today reflects the perseverance of the high cultural and material value that these printed kerchiefs have achieved in the past several decades.
At the time that imported floral scarves were introduced to the Navajo consumer market, these items did not carry significance other than aesthetic or hedonistic value. The agency of integration that Navajo people demonstrated is what gave and continues to give these objects cultural meaning which in turn supports its continued high monetary value.
The contemporary act of integrating foreign-made goods into one’s fashion customs is still presently being repeated with this particular textile. The large shawls are reworked by Navajo designers into other apparel such as vests, shirts, dresses, skirts, and so on. The visual language of these reworkings conveys a connection to the early twentieth century contemporization of Navajo apparel. Navajo designers, in repeating the process of integration to make this object work within a uniquely Diné context, are creating a tradition of sorts that connects them back to their grandmothers who first wore these manufactured creations. This is a process that distinguishes Diné fashion designers from mainstream fashion creation. The former seek to reinterpret fashion trends from within their own community whereas mainstream fashion often seeks to acquire curios and other cultural tokens from the exoticized corners of the world in an act of imperialism. Rather than this commodity being an infiltration of commercialization into otherwise self-directed indigenous contexts, it is instead a commodity that has been reassigned a role supporting the assertion and perpetuation of an indigenous cosmology. Through the transformative process of recontextualization, this secular item is imbued with spiritual qualities that may not be otherwise achievable had this fabric design not traveled thousands of miles from its origins in Eastern Europe to the Navajo Nation.
Berlo, Janet C, and Ruth B. Phillips. Native North American Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
“Diné / Navajo Nation (Sage) | 100 Years of Beauty - Ep 26 | Cut.” YouTube, uploaded by Cut, 23 November 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRCN1qW-1rM.
Kochemazova, Oksana. “How is the Pavloposadsky Shawl Made?” Olympiáda techniky, 2015.HOW IS THE PAVLOPOSADSKY SHAWL MADE?
Lewis, Eric. Personal Interview. 05 May 2018.
Smith, Kimberly. Personal Interview. 05 May 2018.
Sutton, Ekaterina. “Symbols of Russia: Shawls and Kerchiefs.” Newsletter of the American Council of Teachers of Russian, vol. 41, no. 3-4, 2015.
Weisiger, Marsha L, and William Cronon. Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country. University of Washington Press, 2009.
Wilkins, Teresa J. Patterns of Exchange: Navajo Weavers and Traders. University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.