Amsden has divided Navajo weaving into four distinct styles. He argues that three of them can be identified by the type of design used to form horizontal bands: colored stripes, zigzags, or diamonds. The fourth, or bordered, style he identifies by a distinct border surrounding centrally placed, dominating figures.
Amsden believes that the diamond style appeared after 1869 when, under Anglo influence and encouragement, the blanket became a rug with larger designs and bolder lines. The bordered style appeared about 1890, and, Amsden argues, it reflects the greatest number of Anglo influences on the newly emerging rug business. The Anglo desire that anything with graphic designs have a top, bottom, and border is a cultural preference that the Navajo abhorred, as evidenced, he suggests, by the fact that in early bordered specimens strips of color unexpectedly break through the enclosing pattern.
Amsden argues that the bordered rug represents a radical break with previous styles. He asserts that the border changed the artistic problem facing weavers: a blank area suggests the use of isolated figures, while traditional, banded Navajo designs were continuous and did not use isolated figures. The old patterns alternated horizontal decorative zones in a regular order.
Amsden’s view raises several questions. First, what is involved in altering artistic styles? Some studies suggest that artisans’ motor habits and thought processes must be revised when a style changes precipitously. In the evolution of Navajo weaving, however, no radical revisions in the way articles are produced need be assumed. After all, all weaving subordinates design to the physical limitations created by the process of weaving, which includes creating an edge or border. The habits required to make decorative borders are, therefore, latent and easily brought to the surface.
Second, is the relationship between the banded and bordered styles as simple as Amsden suggests? He assumes that a break in style is a break in psychology. But if style results from constant quests for invention, such stylistic breaks are inevitable. When a style has exhausted the possibilities inherent in its principles, artists cast about for new, but not necessarily alien, principles. Navajo weaving may have reached this turning point prior to 1890.
Third, is there really a significant stylistic gap? Two other styles lie between the banded styles and the bordered style. They suggest that disintegration of the bands may have altered visual and motor habits and prepared the way for a border filled with separate units. In the Chief White Antelope blanket, dated prior to 1865, ten years before the first Anglo trading post on the Navajo reservation, whole and partial diamonds interrupt the flowing design and become separate forms. Parts of diamonds arranged vertically at each side may be seen to anticipate the border.