Chilkat weaving is a traditional form of weaving practiced by Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, and other Northwest Coast people of Alaska and British Columbia. The name derives from the Chilkat tribe in Klukwan, Alaska on the Chilkat River. Chilkat weaving can be applied to blankets, robes, dance tunics, aprons, leggings, shirts, vests, bags, hats, and wall-hangings. Chilkat clothing features long wool fringe that sways when the wearer dances. Chilkat blankets are worn by high-ranking tribal members on civic or ceremonial occasions, including dances. Traditionally chiefs would wear Chilkat blankets during potlatch (gift giving) ceremonies.
Chilkat weaving is one of the most complex weaving techniques in the world. It is unique in that the artist can create curvilinear and circular forms within the weave itself. A Chilkat blanket can take a year to weave. Traditionally, mountain goat wool, dog fur, and yellow cedar bark are used in Chilkat weaving. Today sheep wool might be used. The designs use traditional ovoid, U-form, and S-form elements to create highly stylized but representational clan crests and figures from oral history, often including animals and especially their facial features. Yellow and black are dominant colors in the weavings, as is the natural buff color of the undyed wool.
Looms used in Chilkat weaving only have a top frame and vertical supports, with no bottom frame, so the warp threads hang freely. The weaver works in vertical sections, as opposed to moving horizontally from end to end. Consequently, many designs are broken into vertical columns. As with most Northwest Coast art, these columns are bilaterally symmetrical. This particular piece dates from the early 20th century. It is woven from mountain goat wool and cedar bark in a classic form line pattern on a pale yellow ground, incorporating animal parts relating to a clan’s crest animal.