ḵa̱ngex̱tola (Button Blanket)

About this object

History of use

The traditional crest-style button blanket ceremonial robe proclaims hereditary rights, obligations, and powers through the depiction and display of family crests. The design becomes the property of the family and cannot be copied. The documentation for each crest is known and recited at feasts where those attending verify its prerogatives and obligations. Before Europeans introduced manufactured cloth to the coast in the 1700s, the indigenous peoples made their ceremonial robes from animal skins and furs. Button blankets were used increasingly from the latter part of the 19th century among the coastal Indian nations, from Vancouver Island north to the Alaska Panhandle. The only Northwest Coast groups that did not use the button blanket were the Salish-speaking peoples of southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Washington State. There are differences in use from group to group, and generation to generation.
Men usually design the robe patterns, and women make them.

Narrative

Probably made by Nellie Seaweed as it was her style to put arrow shapes in the corners of her button blankets (according to her son Henry Seaweed, 2012).

Cultural context

ceremonial

Iconographic meaning

Emblems or crests distinguish different social groups (lineages, phratries, or moieties) and symbolize their privileges. They can be shown on any material possessions, such as totem poles or robes, and each group owns the right to display specific crests. Within each group, families or individuals have the right to show the general crests is specific ways. The crest design on this blanket represents a copper: tlh!aqwa. Coppers were made from a large sheet of beaten copper, cut in the shape of a shield, with a t-shaped ridge imposed on the bottom half. They were brought out as the climax of a potlatch, and were particularly associated with the marriage transfer of privileges, with a wife's gift to her husband, and with naming ceremonies. Used as a decorative motif on garments, staffs and crest carvings, they had a clear meaning of wealth.

Specific techniques

People may go to an artist and commission him to design a blanket. They tell him a story, and the artist draws a design. For contemporary blankets, the design is applied to a template which is used to cut out the applique material. The applique is then sewn on to the background blanket material and decorated with buttons, sequins, or embroidery.
A border of the same colour as the applique design is usually sewn to the top and along both sides, but not at the bottom. The border may break at the back of the neck, and a lighter weight material inserted. Small buttons are often used to outline the design, and large buttons sewn along the borders.

Physical description

Large green button blanket made from a twill-weave commercial blanket with black bands at both ends. A wide red cotton band is sewn to both sides and across the top, except for a section cut out at the neck, which is lined on the reverse with blue woolen fabric. The border is decorated with buttons in double triangle designs. The crest design is of a copper in red appliqued cotton outlined with blue bias tape that has been machine-stitched to the applique. The copper is outlined with buttons.