Native American Chilkat Weaving: Gorgeous pattern

Native American Chilkat Weaving: Gorgeous pattern

Hello all!

How is everybody’s New Year so far? I do wish you all many moons of happiness, love and tranquility 🙂 I know I am praying for all of this myself. So here we are in 2016, this site being almost a year old! How exciting!! I have posted over 100 articles here about a variety of topics. I have had guest writers and partnerships in writing. I have discussed the traditions, the history, the beauty and trauma of the Native American people, of the Indigenous people of the land. I have also introduced a few art pieces, Native artists as well as reviewed products I bought. And here we are and I still have ideas 🙂 As I have mentioned a few times, I live in the Pacific Northwest, on the West Coast of Canada. I am not only surrounded by the Plains and Prairie people but also by the Pacific Northwest culture. Or cultures, I should say. And one of the most beautiful designs in my eyes is the Chilkat (you pronounce the “t” at the end) pattern. Chilkat weaving is just a gorgeous form of art that stands out. Let’s then explore the origins of the Native American Chilkat weaving.

Chilkat blanket

Chilkat blanket

Where did the art originate from?

 

Chilkat weaving originally comes from the Tsimshian people and later spread to or came to the Tlingit people (Alaska) through marriage or trade. The Tlingit people became known as hardworking weavers. Indeed, the blankets (such as the one above) were sought after long before the arrival of the European settlers. In the mid 1800’s the blankets were selling for $30, a very large amount of money for the time!

The art of Chilkat weaving was traditionally practiced by the wealthy. Both men and women participated and blankets were coveted. Having one was a privilege. Men typically designed the pattern and made the pattern board. They also gathered the goat hides for the wool. The women, gathered the cedar bark (still used today), prepared the yarn and actually weaved the blanket.

L. Yah-Kwan R. Wush-kin-aw, Kagwantan chiefs-1904-Alaska

L. Yah-Kwan R. Wush-kin-aw, Kagwantan chiefs-1904-Alaska

How was it weaved?

Well, it was all done by hand basically! A labor of love if there was ever one. The women would wet the goat hide and roll it, pushing the wool off. They would then stretch and roll the wool by hand. Wool was used to form the weft (the horizontal interlacing threads). And cedar bark was rolled in the strands to make the warp yarn (the vertical threads). A time consuming and labor intensive process! Natural dyes were used for the traditional colors of yellow, dark brown and blue. The yellow was derived using wolf moss (lichen), the brown and blue by boiling the wool with urine and hemlock bark and urine and copper, respectively. Yes not the most attractive ways but they worked with what they had…Those were the traditional ways of the time. However, by the late 1890’s, they were using commercial dyes.

warp weight-single bar loom

warp weight-single bar loom

Although the earlier designs were painted on, later on, blankets were manually weaved. The women followed the designs painted on boards by the men. As you can see from the picture above, a simple loom (2 poles and a cross bar, does not get any simpler than that…) was used. What you see above are warp threads suspended from the cross bar and weighted at the ends with stones to give tension to the yarn (made it easier to work with). Like the woman in the picture, the weaver would sit or kneel in front the whole time, weaving away with her fingers (a process called twining). I can only imagine how their back felt afterwards…So labor intensive.

Here I say blankets, but more than blankets were weaved. Dance aprons, leggings, tunics, pouches were also made. But the blankets remained special. Most of them were ceremonial blankets, worn as robes during ceremonies or special occasions including a potlach (gift giving feast).

Chilkat dancers, Alaska State Library

Chilkat dancers, Alaska State Library

Chilkat designs

So what makes up the Chilkat designs? The meaning of the patterns were truly fully known by the man who designed the blanket. He was the holder of the legend. But typically the patterns represented clan symbols and natural forms and relations in an abstract pattern. Geometrical forms were also used. You will then often see animals, but as though they were laid flat out (sliced down the middle then laid flat out). Therefore, a three dimensional pattern would be represented in two dimensions. You could then see a bear, first his right profile, then head-on view then left profile.

Some say that men were and are only permitted to add and paint designs involving living creatures and animals. Women would then add abstract symbols or spirits associated with the tribe or the robe wearer. Typically, the one painting it would include an easily recognizable feature of the animal. Once you get familiar with Northwest coast designs, you learn to recognize the depicted animals, might it be a whale, hummingbird, wolf or a bear. To see beautiful hand-carved silver jewelry featuring west coast designs, see my friend Randy’s work for sale here!

Below you see a scarf of mine depicting a Chilkat pattern. It is made by Mike Dangeli, a Tlingit artist, I discuss more in details here. I also have a wooden bangle with the same design and colors as well as a leather apron by Mike. Wonderful artist! And that scarf is so big it is basically a wrap. So practical!

Mike Dangeli scarf

Scarf by Mike Dangeli

Scarf by Mike Dangeli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it, Native American Chilkat weaving. A gorgeous art form, rich in history and cultural meaning. I leave you with a short video of Anna Brown Ehlers, an Alaskan Chilkat Weaver, explaining her art.

What do you think of the Chilkat designs? Are you familiar with them? Comment below 🙂

All my Relations

 

46 thoughts on “Native American Chilkat Weaving: Gorgeous pattern

  1. Eliezer

    Wow those blankets look so nice, I’ve always been fascinated with natives american art so thank you for giving some background on it! Do you have any other suggested posts related to chikat patterns or art?

    Reply
  2. Shaz

    Wow – I wonder if I can ship this to Dubai. Or maybe there is a supplier here for this already? We have an annual 4 month long fair called the Global Village where sellers from countries worldwide come, exhibit and sell their stuff. I’m going to check the Canada pavilion and hope there is some Chillkat stuff there!

    P.S What does Chillkat mean..any idea?

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Shaz
      I hope that the Canadian pavilion does have some Native American art. Including Chilkat blankets! They are truly gorgeous. Chilkat is just the name of a member of the Tlingit from southeastern Alaska. A member of the Tlingit tribe.

      Reply
  3. Nusrat

    What an interesting read! I can’t believe how long it must have taken these poor people to have woven one blanket.

    Sometimes it takes a post like this just to appreciate the the more cultural art forms we have around us and their origin.

    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Nusrat
      oh the blankets took a long time! Labor of love for sure. Happy to hear you learned about a beautiful art form 🙂

      Reply
  4. Johnathan Tarter

    Those blankets are definitely products of beauty and creativity! I would love to be able to put these inside my home since they are so beautiful and would certainly light up my house with their awesomeness! Thank you for sharing this beautiful art with us and keep up the great work! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thanks Johnathan!
      The Chilkat blankets truly are works of art! They are a labor of love and so much work goes into them. The Chilkat patterns are truly gorgeous 🙂

      Reply
  5. Billy Hunter

    It’s incredible how they could make such radical looking blankets like the Chilkat weavings. The look of them definitely match my perspective of indigenous native people. Especially in the 1890’s. I never knew how they went about making stuff like this. I mean.. are you serious.. they used pee? That’s just nasty but.. effective obviously. Would you consider sleeping in a blanket weaving made by pee? haha. That makes me laugh but that’s very interesting. Thank you so much for the cool history 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Billy
      I am glad you enjoyed it! I am not sure if I would have slept with the blanket then but then again it was normal for the time 🙂

      Reply
  6. Forrest

    Hi Emily,
    I really enjoyed your article on Native American Chilkat Weaving.
    I have never heard of this before but, the patterns are stunning.
    It is hard to imagine how all of this was done by hand so many years ago.
    Are they still using the same weaving techniques today or, are they mass produced?
    Also, has anything changed with regard to the materials that are used today?

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Forrest
      Most of them done by traditional weavers are still done by hand using the same materials and techniques (other than the dyeing), as shown in the video. It is still a very labor intensive art. But so beautiful and meaningful.

      Reply
  7. Hindy Pearson

    Hi Emily, What beautiful works of art they create, and what’s so special is you get to, literally, surround yourself with such beauty. Through you we get to learn about a rich and fascinating culture, and of course find unique products that anyone would be happy to own – and not factory made!!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Hindy!
      Such unique and beautiful pieces indeed. Very much labor intensive but so gorgeous. I love the history behind it and the passion of the people making them 🙂

      Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      well thank you Den. The Chilkat designs and patterns are gorgeous and very unique. One can easily recognize them from afar 🙂

      Reply
  8. Yvonne

    Hi Emily,

    This is the first time I’m seeing Chilkat designs. Thanks for sharing with us the history and makings of these lovely Chilkat blankets. It looks like a labour of love and a unique craft. It’s great that commercial dyes have now replaced the traditional way of dyeing with urine at that time!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Yvonne
      The blankets are indeed so lovely! A true labor of love even today. But I am with you that the use of commercial dyes is for sure more modern. They worked with what they had and were ingenious for sure in their ways of doing things!

      Reply
  9. Damien

    You’ve been a great help. I’m collaborating pieces of Tsimshian art and clothing with a little history. You’ve provided much of what I needed and glad you mentioned its connection with Chilkat weaving. Thanks for the info and you’re right, it’s full of history and cultural meaning.

    Reply
  10. Nnamdi

    Hello Emily,

    I know that the Native Americans have always got a great culture and indeed beautiful Chilkat weaving. The fabric has the unique art of the Native Americans on it. I must tell you the commitment you have about the people of the Native Americans and on this website in particular is awesome. You have truly proven to be proud of your culture which also makes me to think of mine too. You virtually champion the cause and culture of your people with pride. No wonder you have lots of success and likes from Facebook.

    Keep it up Emily…

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thanks Nnamdi for your comment, it touches my heart 🙂 it is a commitment for the cause and the people, as there is so much trauma but also so much beauty to share!

      Reply
  11. Eloah

    Hello Emily,

    I love your site. There is always a wealth of information to be found here. This post includes pictures that truly depicts how beautiful Native American weaving is. It makes me sad that now a days everything is made by machines and artisans are becoming hard to find. Thanks as always for sharing!

    Reply
  12. Jason

    Hi Emily
    Another fabulous post.
    Its a year? Wow how the time flies…and may you have many more years of inspiration and writing.
    I am amazed how much some of these designs remind me of the Maori weaving patterns here in New Zealand. The symmetry and geometric shapes are remarkably similar and equally beautiful.
    So glad to have been introduced to this
    J.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Jason!
      yep a year has gone by! Crazy 🙂 And you are absolutely right, the designs are similar to the Maori designs. All Indigenous people of the land certainly have similarities.

      Reply
  13. Jason

    Emily,

    Even thought this is the first time hearing of the Chilkat blanket, I must say that it is a beautiful thing to behold. I see where you say they were sold back in the 1800’s for $30; that is a large sum of money. I wonder how much they cost today?

    You always have the most interesting things to write about on your website. I love it. Congratulations on the progress of your website.

    I look forward to reading and engaging a lot more time on your website. I wish you only the very best Emily.

    Best,
    Jason.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thank you Jason for your kind comment 🙂 The blankets are awesome and just gorgeous. Today, you can expect to pay over $100 for one but it is so well made.

      Reply
  14. Mulry Shah

    It is my first time reading about Chilkat but those blankets look pretty and wow it must take a whole lot of effort and time to make one of this beautiful blankets. Thank you for sharing. I be sure to come back here to read more on a different culture.

    Reply
  15. Yvette

    Wow Emily, what beautiful pieces and what an amazing culture. You’ve done so much research and the traditional origins of the patterns are so interesting. It’s hard to conceive in our extremely fast-paced time, of a culture taking such pain-staking care and undertaking such intricate work, it must have taken such a long time to produce one item. But what wonderful significance they had 🙂

    Reply
  16. Marc Parsons

    Hey Emily

    Thanks for sharing more of this wonderful culture.

    I have to say, Native American Chilkat Weaving is an art form all on its own. I can only imagine the love and passion that goes into making something that is that beautiful and would take that long!

    I especially love the colors they uses. It’s none of the hip, bright neon type things we are so use to being exposed to on an everyday shopping outing.

    The colors almost bring a calmness to the space you would display them in… And I did mean to say display, I couldn’t imagine hanging it up in a closet and keeping it out of site.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    Cheers,

    Marc Parsons

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thanks Marc for visiting!The Chilkat blankets truly are works of art! I agree that the colors are soothing and the blankets should certainly be displayed in one’s house 🙂 I know my house is filled with Native art!

      Reply
  17. Farshid

    Hi Emily,

    Another fascinating post! Chilkat blankets truly are works of art! It demonstrates how native Americans were so resourceful to boil wool with urine to create color! It must of taking a long time to gather all the stuff and start weaving the blankets. I wonder how much one would cost today?

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Farshid
      It is a labor of love no doubt about it. It still takes a lot of time and effort today to make. But the ancestors were resourceful! Depending on the blanket, it will be over $100 if not more.

      Reply
  18. Michael Kenny

    Hey. A fascinating history of the native Indians on how they woven those beautiful designs. Very distinctive and unique, They have kept to their old traditions without any technology and still do today, Thank you for passing this to me and the education you sent me, a lovely story 🙂

    Reply
  19. Neil

    Hi Emily, I have been reading your blog last few days and feel that you are doing an amazing work of bringing the Native American history to people like me. I have loved reading all the 2016 blogs of yours and also ended up buying some stuff from Etsy. Thanks for the dream catcher recommendations, I so love the idea of dreamcatchers. I feel you are such a beautiful person and I can understand your feelings and thoughts so well, esp. about spirituality and religion. Can’t agree more with you. I too belong to an ancient culture which is looked down upon as old, backward and underdeveloped but nobody understands our roots, traditions, life meaning, morals and ethics more than us. I am glad there are still people out there who respect traditions and don’t get sucked into the so called modern, materialistic world. Keep the good work going and keep inspiring us with stories of the brave Native American leaders.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Neil
      thank you so much for your comment. It touched me deeply. I love dreamcatchers too. I have them everywhere in my home and in my office. I am so happy to hear that you are enjoying my articles. That’s the goal of this site, to share the true history and the beautiful traditions, beliefs and people. The traditions of the ancestors, those before colonization. The ancestors were warriors, medicine men/women, spiritual men/women, helpers, healers. They had so many beautiful roles. And somehow we survived. The resiliency is just incredible. Keep visiting my site and commenting 🙂

      Reply
  20. Joyce

    Is there a way to commission a full ceremonial blanket? Or is that not an acceptable thing to ask for? i.e. cultural appropriation. I saw a full commissioned blanket/cape ceremony danced and sung into being. It made me weep. I’m a former weaver. The 2 hr lecture by the Haida Gwaii artist that brought her commissioned blanket to the museum at Kansas University, was so rich and detailed in information and her lifestyle as a traditional weaver helped us understand the meanings of the symbols and the people.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Joyce
      thank you for your question. Are you asking to commission a chilkat blanket for yourself? I am assuming it would not be used in a ceremony? Not all Chilkat blankets are used in ceremony. I think there is a way to ask (offering tobacco for example) and ask how you should take care of the blanket respectfully. Not everyone will want to make one in this context but I have seen blankets sold. It depends on the purpose of the blanket when it is made. Ask and really come from a place of respect by asking about the protocol (as it might vary from person to person). Each blanket has its own meaning and each is unique.

      Reply

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