swoqw'elh blanket (Chief's Blanket)

About this object

History of use

Mountain goat 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. Women underwent ritual purification before beginning work with mountain goat wool. By the 1850s, Hudson's Bay (Company) point blankets, and other trade blankets, were beginning to supercede the ones woven locally.

Narrative

This blanket is thought to have been worn by Chief Calpaymalt, in 1906, when he traveled as part of a delegation of Coast Salish chiefs to present a petition to King Edward VII in London, England, declaring that aboriginal title had not been extinguished, that their land was being taken without permission and that treaties had not been negotiated. The blanket was inherited by his daughter, Monica George, of the Koksilah Reserve; it was purchased from her by Howard Roloff. The National Museums of Canada purchased the blanket from Roloff using their emergency purchase fund, then gifted it to the Museum of Anthropology.

Cultural context

ceremonial; status; weaving

Specific techniques

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; this textile has commercially spun and dyed wool. 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. The twill weave in this textile is an over 2 under 2 pattern, changing the order to alternate the direction of the diagonal ridges four times on the main body of the textile. Both the weft and the warp on the twill weave has only one yarn of 2-ply, s-spin, undyed, handspun wool. The warp on the border combines 2 warps of 2-ply, s-spin, undyed, handspun wool, and the weft is woven in a twine? weave using 2 strands of commercial single-ply wool. The weaving outline defines the shapes by twining(?) 2 or 3 rows of plain weave across the entire width of the textile; individual triangles may be defined in the same way in order to smooth out the stepped edges. The side borders are joined to the main body of the textile by two techniques. Firstly, the rectangular blocks of weft-faced design are joined to the main body of twill weave by alternating the warps around which the weft-faced weaving turns. Secondly, between each weft-faced block is a section of twill weave which is a continuation of the main body taken to the outer edge of the textile.

Physical description

Rectangular woven blanket with an undyed handspun twill weave in the main section, and a weft-faced woven border in black, red, yellow, and light green commercial wool around all sides. The border on the top and bottom edges consists of zigzag and triangular motifs; on both the sides, five rectangular blocks of coloured zigzag motifs are intersected with bands of undyed twill weave. The top edge has an undyed basket weave band right up to the selvedge, the bottom edge has an uncut warp fringe. The back has been lined with a linen fabric, and small sections of the top and bottom border have been repaired with different shades from the original.