The History of the Mat

The Pecos Museum was very fortunate in it's recovery of mats and shards of mats. After all the dust had settled, the artifacts were recorded and inspected, came the realisation that the story of the mat was there. We now are very pleased it can be offered to you.

The interlacing of blades of grass, the many forms that can be created, may seem an easy craft to have early man accomplish. As the displays offered by the Pecos Museum will show, the road had a few bumps.

It may have taken no more than an entwining of the fingers to offer the suggestion for making a weaving. But it proved one thing to do it, and a totaly different subject to make use of this new product of man's ingenuity. In fact there would be trials and errors before the weaver would be called a craftsman.

Many of our visitors are familiar with the final form of any weaving. The final step that assures the weaving will retain the efforts put into it. The selvedge is the first step required of all efforts to make a mat. The edge, if not correct, can mean the weaver has accomplished no more than a temporary meshing of material.

This finding of a suitable selvedge for the early mats was a task that would demonstrate the problem solving abilities of man human.

The earliest mats were constructed by interlacing blades of grass, placed at a 90 degree angle, the common form given was a check pattern or check weave. A few shards recovered tell of the weaver attempting to give the mat strength or padding. To accomplish this extra layers of material were placed upon the woven blades.

As stated, to give the new mats an edge, one that prevented the unravelling of the total, became the task for man human. The original idea was to bend back each of the blades a full 180 degrees. To retain this fold the folded ends were inserted back into the pattern. This may have offered a solution at the time of making the mat, but it was destined to fail.

Material used in the construction of the weavings, was commonly strips of Sotol, a common desert plant of the area. Blades of Sacahuisti grass, and on rare occasion, a mixture of the two, were employed. Pliable and strong these blades of plant material offered excellent possibilities to the weaver. The Sotol leaf, after removing the separated edge, it proved to peel away readily, could and often was split into several narrow working blades.

But both materials had a common fault, they dried and became prone to break if bent. Thus a mat with a selvedge accomplished by folding back the loose ends, was at the risk of this fragile fold of the material. A certain failure of the selvedge in a short time.

To overcome this predictable unravelling of the mat, several options were employed. While they aided the weaving to retain an useful life, the final result was extra work and an unreliable selvedge. And possible the end of the value of the mat.

The common remedy employed was to sew the edge, not so unlike a modern day seamstress would do with a bit of sewing. A narrow blade of grass or a twist of fibers, was used to interlace the edge and retain the shape of the weave. The more aggressive weaver often tried cords to sew the selvedge. Clever as this solution seemed, there was to be a discovery of a new form of weaving that eliminated this need of protecting the edge.

We will never know if it was sudden inspiration or the mere observation of the handling of the grass in other uses, that offered early man the discovery to the perfect selvedge. We can only observe the additional artifacts recovered along with the mats, and make suggestions.

One possible clue would be offered by the braids recovered at the site, doodles for the most part, they were the subconscious thoughts of the makers. A few of these may be the clue man was needing to solve the mystery of making a mats that would not unravel. Offered here, we see a braid that is neither flat or box in shape. A round form was accomplished, not a great earth shaker, but is demonstrated that grass could be bent and survive the flexing it would need to endure.

It is this taking the blade and rolling it, then reinserting it that produces a edge needed for the weaving of mats. No longer the 180 degree fold but a 90 degree roll of the material and continuing on with the weave. In truth, weaving had become a glorified braid, only bigger.

The Mats..... Recovered from a bundle wrapped about an infant buried at the site. Along with a few views of both the check and the twill weave.

Twining..... One of the skills we inherited from early man. An overlooked patent due?

The start..... A display of man's first steps in the dust of history and the mat.

The toys..... Were these the work of the human factor, the evidence of man being human?

A full braid display, is listed in the weaving directory. Their story may be part of the story of mat making.

The weaving directory?