swoqw'`elh (Chief's Blanket)

About this object

History of use

Mountain goat wool blankets worn as robes or used as bedding were marks of high social status. The blankets were objects of wealth, and were presented as gifts on ceremonial occasions. Presentations were made in the exchanges that accompanied weddings. They were also used to compensate shamans and other specialists for their services. They were distributed to those who witnessed weddings, naming ceremonies, and memorial rituals. The dead of wealthy families were wrapped in blankets. By the 1850s, Hudson's Bay (Company) point blankets, and other trade blankets were beginning to supercede the ones woven locally. Women underwent ritual purification before beginning work with mountain goat wool, and some had guardian spirits who gave superior skill in weaving. Sto:lo weavers note that this blanket can be identified as a swoqw'`elh (chief's) blanket by the fringe that hangs down along the edge. Every family had its own designs, which were used to identify the wearer.

Cultural context

ceremonial; wealth; status

Specific techniques

The weaver of this blanket used burlap inside and some cloth for the warp. She dyed the cloth or she cut a Hudson's Bay Company blanket into strips and wove them in. The fibres are all double spun.
Mountain goat wool was gathered from bushes or from prepared hides, and a clay-like material was mixed into it. Dog hairs and other animal hairs, as well as various plant fibres sometimes supplemented the goat wool. In general, wool was spun on a large spindle which was inserted into a disc-shaped spindle whorl. Earlier blankets use natural dyes to create brown or black stripes when desired; later ones often contained stripes of brightly coloured material from trade cloth, such as this example. Blankets were produced on two-bar warp frames; yarn was wound around the two bars to produce a continuous warp. Twill weave was used for the blankets: the weft is carried over and under the warp threads at different intervals, creating a diagonal texture, which may be varied to create different patterns.

Physical description

Large loosely-woven twill-weave blanket of undyed, handspun wool, with three stripes of black woven across the blanket width, two red, blue and black interwoven stripes on each end of the blanket length, and two black, tan and pink interwoven stripes at center. A widely spaced fringe hangs from the bottom edge of the blanket.