‘Chilkat Dance Blankets’ – as they are commonly known – are a product of an old weaving tradition practiced by native peoples of the Pacific coastal areas of Alaska and British Columbia. Their structure is a surprisingly complex mix of twining, plaiting, and weft wrapping used skillfully to create complex curvilinear designs.
These blankets were woven on ‘warp weighted looms’, with warps fastened to a top cross bar horizontal to the ground. The warp was coiled into weighted leather bags that hung down to provide tension. The loom had no side posts or bottom beam. It is an ancient technology that has almost disappeared in other weaving traditions. Older blankets were made of entirely ‘found’ materials that were collected, and not a product of farming or animal husbandry. The inner bark of cedar trees and mountain goat fleece were spun together to make the warp. Design wefts were mountain goat fleece typically spun into a two-ply yarn. Goat fiber was collected from fleece shed in the spring, or from the remains of dead animals. A leather strip was often inserted as a structural support in the top selvage.
The blankets were worn for ceremonial purposes and were clearly objects of prestige and power. We have been fortunate to work on many of these weavings. This particular blanket was sent for cleaning and restoration. The first image is prior to cleaning; nylon screen mesh covers the fragile warp fringe.