Chilkat weaving is a traditional form of weaving practiced by Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast peoples of Alaska and British Columbia. Chilkat blankets are worn by high-ranking tribal members on civic or ceremonial occasions, including dances.
The name derives from the Chilkat tribe in Klukwan, Alaska on the Chilkat River. The Tsimshian are reputed to have invented the technique, according to some Tlingit weavers, though this is not attested in Tsimshian sources. Chilkat weaving can be applied to blankets, robes, dance tunics, aprons, leggings, shirts, vests, bags, hats, and wall-hangings. Chilkat clothing features long wool fringe that sways when the wearer dances. Traditionally chiefs would wear Chilkat blankets during potlatch ceremonies.
Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world. It is unique in that the artist can create curvilinear and circular forms within the weave itself. A Chilkat blanket can take a year to weave. Traditionally mountain goat wool, dog fur, and yellow cedar bark are used in Chilkat weaving. Today sheep wool might be used. The designs used Northwest Coast formlines, a traditional aesthetic language made up of ovoid, U-form, and S-form elements to created highly stylized, but representational, clan crests and figures from oral history—often animals and especially their facial features. Yellow and black are dominant colors in the weavings, as is the natural buff color of the undyed wool. Blue can be a secondary color.
Looms used in Chilkat weaving only have a top frame and vertical supports, with no bottom frame, so the warp threads hang freely. The weaver works in vertical sections, as opposed to moving horizontally from end to end. Consequently, many designs are broken into vertical columns. As with most Northwest Coast art, these columns are bilaterally symmetrical.
In the 1990s only an estimated six people still practiced true Chilkat weaving, but today the technique is enjoying a revival. Jennie Thlunaut (1891–1986) was a celebrated Chilkat weaver, whose knowledge of formline design was so thorough, she was able to create her own designs following the traditional rules. Clarissa Hudson and Anna Brown Ehlers are both Tlingit weavers who apprenticed with Jennie Thlunaut and are active Chilkat weavers today.
These tribes also create ravenstail weavings and button blankets.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chilkat weaving.|
- Brown, Steven C. Native Visions: Evolution in Northwest Coast Art from the Eighteenth through the Twentieth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998. ISBN 0-295-97658-6.
- Dubin, Lois Sherr. North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment: From Prehistory to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999. ISBN 0-8109-3689-5.
- Shearer, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2000. ISBN 0-295-97973-9.