Throughout the history of Coast Salish Tribes, textile weaving has held an honorable position. This traditional art form took on a long apprenticeship to master relationship. Typically, a young girl was “given” to an esteemed family of weavers to apprentice with. She would then take many years to learn the entire process of weaving from gathering, cleaning, processing, carding, spinning, and finally weaving animal and plant fibers. The master weaver family was held in high esteem because textile weaving was, and still is, in many regards, a time-consuming endeavor. Therefore, very few families in a tribe would hold the position of textile weaver and would also be very selective of their apprentices.
Amongst all Coast Salish People blankets made from mountain goat wool, and subsequently plant fibers, are a symbol of wealth and status.
The status of woven garments comes from the relative scarcity of fiber and the lengthy process of producing it. For example, mountain goats shed once a year in the spring. The family would then need to time their yearly activities to gather wool off of the bushes at high elevations. During times of trade with neighboring tribes sometimes wool was available for trade as well.
After collecting enough wool, which may take more than one year, it would need to be cleaned, carded, and spun prior to weaving. The entire process, of course, would be secondary to the business of everyday living. Thus, when potlatches or ceremonial gatherings occurred, to see four or five blankets stacked in thesmokehouse would be equivalent to viewing a vault full of gold.
These potlatches took place for many reasons such as namings, weddings, births, memorials, and other highly spiritual activities. The giving of a mountain goat wool blanket would bestow prestige upon the donor and much honor upon the receiver for the very reasons mentioned above. The distribution of wealth was a common practice among Coast Salish People.
The types of materials used in weaving were: mountain goat wool, canine wool from specially bred dogs, Indian hemp, fireweed fluff, milkweed, head of cattails, cotton grass, yellow and red cedar bark, stinging nettles, and down from waterfowl. Each would need to be gathered, prepared, and stored at different times of the year. The yellow dye was obtained from the bark of Oregon grape; lichens produce a yellow-green to lavender color; red was derived from alder bark; and black came from a black mud found in salty marshes.
Coast Salish textile weaving is currently a relatively unknown art form. Traditionally, weaving was as highly esteemed as carving, if not more so, because of the time consuming nature of gathering and preparing the materials. Our hope and intention is to educate our people and the public at large about Coast Salish weaving in order to preserve, not only the art form, but also the many teachings that coincide with the process.