Posted by R. John Howe on 10-07-2003 09:01 AM:

Did the Chilkats Also Use Dog Hair?

Dear folks –

As I was composing the salon essay, there was on another board (rugtalk) that I watch, a mention of the Chilkat dancing blanket. I chimed in, indicating that we were about to have this salon discussion, and mentioned the unusual cedar-covered-with-goat-hair warps of the Chilkat dancing blanket. Someone on this other board wrote me on the side, indicating that she had heard that the Chilkats also sometimes used dog hair.

I looked about, but could not find a mention of this usage.

But recently I have run into another book that treats North American Indian weaving more comprehensively. It is by Frederick Dockstader and is entitled “Weaving Arts of the North American Indian,” New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1978. Dockstader is a metalsmith, not a weaver, and has written a number of books about various North American Indian crafts.

Dockstader mentions another Indian tribe, the Salish, who lived to the south of the Chilkats and who did use dog hair in their weaving. Here are a few passages and images.

First, Dockstader says, the Salish, like the Chilkats, did use cedar bark in some of their weavings. Here is what is described as a partly finished “mat” woven entirely of cedar bark.

Notice that this Salish mat is noticeably coarser than is the all cedar bark Chilkat dancing blanket in the initial salon essay. This is apparently characteristic of Salish weaving, although I will show you some seemingly much finer examples below.

“Closely related to the Chilkat weave is the standard blanket of the Salish and Kwakiutl peoples of British Columbia and northern Washington (ed. that is, south of the Chilkats). Woven from mountain goat or dog hair and shredded, twisted cedar bark, these people have developed several types of textiles…

“The use of dog hair has often been mentioned in connection with Salish weaving, and although we do not know the precise breed of animal involved, there is no doubt that these people domesticated and bred a small, white dog, especially for its wool. Some authorities have suggested that the breed was related to the pomeranian, or spitz, family. Early European explorers frequently attested to the herds of small dogs kept by the Indians, and examination of early textiles reveals canine hairs in the fibers.

“Early designs of these blankets were colorful and complex and, unfortunately, none have survived from the pre-European period to our knowledge, so that the actual color palette used by prehistoric weavers is not clear. But by inference, plus the few sketches, and the earliest dated samples, there were three primary types of blankets: the plain diagonal-weave textiles, usually intended for everyday use, the twined-weave textile which provided the “nobility blankets,” and the twilled-weave which yielded a decorative design.” Some of these Salish weavings were “plain white with a few bands of contrasting color.” But the nobility blankets had “complex patterns…in which geometric combinations” were woven “in panels.”

Here is an image of a Salish “nobility blanket.”

It is 42 inches (107 cm) by 46 inches (117 cm) and is estimated to have been woven, 1800-1825.

And here is a detail of another.

This is an approximate 18 inch square and is estimated to have been woven in 1875.

Notice that these designs are purely geometric and do not resemble at all the form-line usages of the Chilkats.

I noticed another thing about these two Salish examples: the fibers in them have what macrame people call “good definition.” My wife bred and exhibited collie dogs for awhile and the collie is a double-coated. Some raked out this undercoat and spin and knit items with it. This wool is very soft and the items knitted with it have, what is for me, an unattractive “matted” look. These yarn fibres do not have “good definition.” But the fibers in these Salish weavings seem well defined. So if these two pieces are made from dog hair, the Salish seem to have found a way to maintain good fiber definition, while using a very soft, prone-to-matting wool.

To sum up, I think, the answer to the lady who suggested that the Chilkats might have used dog hair in their weavings, is that while their neighbors to the south, the Salish, did, the Chilkats seem not to have done so.

There is, though, this one small basis not saying “never” about such Chilkat usage. The Salish “held a monopoly on the interchange of goods in the greater Columbia River region and the adjoining coastal area. What is less clear is the specific situation with regard to weaving in that trade…Salish weaving seems not to have had the same prominent place in trade relations as with the more northerly Tlingit.” If the Salish were the traders, then dog hair might sometimes have been offered to Chilkat weavers. But there is no evidence in the literature I have examined that dog hair has been found in Chilkat weavings.

Here are some links that discuss Salish weaving that apparently is being revived nowadays.


R. John Howe

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 10-31-2003 12:39 PM:

Go figure...

Hi John,

I was re-reading this thread and THIS TIME picked up on the
reference to the Spitz breeds. As it happens, there is one sitting
at my feet as I type this reply. So, here's a picture of Dusty,
our 13 year old Japanese Spitz, with his head up and locked,
and on station atop one of our Baluchi rugs:

As you can see, they're like small Samoyeds, with a lot of
very downy medium to long fur. It could very easily be spun into
yarn, I think.

Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner

Posted by R. John Howe on 10-31-2003 03:58 PM:

Hi Chuck -

A nice old "puppy" you have there.

Here's a link that may be a version of the U.K. standard for a Japanese spitz.

If you go down to the second reference to "coat" you will see confirmation that this is a double-coated breed and the undercoat could be raked out and spun for knitting and weaving.

So, yes, this is likely the sort of dog (this particular breed was established quite recently) the Salish bred and kept.


R. John Howe