• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Get control of your email attachments. Connect all your Gmail accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize your file attachments. You can also connect Dokkio to Drive, Dropbox, and Slack. Sign up for free.



Page history last edited by Melissa GRan 11 years, 1 month ago

Chilkat Weaving


A quote from Suzy Vaara Williams Essay “The Essence of Chilkat Weaving”

“The Robes speak of the before-time when balance with the environment meant the life and death of the clan.  The Robes were brought out at times of ceremony, naming, dedications, funerals, and rites of passage.  Always the witnesses were recompensed and the Robes would be packed away carefully from the light and damp until next time the presence of history was required.  The Robes were intended to have their own life so the weaver refrained from mixing up her life with its life.  She was not important except as a channel, the dancer or weaver of the Robe only represent a channel; the Robe itself is also a channel.  And the message is continuity of life.  In this way the Chilkat Robes represent the heart of our culture.”



Chilkat is a traditional form of weaving, developed by the Tsimshian in the 19th century and also practiced by the Tlingit, Haida and other Northwest Coast Tribes

Chilkat robes were made specifically for chiefs to wear during ceremonies and at potlatches.

      When wearing the robe, it was as if lineage’s history, wealth and power was embracing the chief, who became one with the lineage’s crest. It as was like the man and the robe became a new hybridized being that shared a body, with a man’s face on the front and his crest at the back.



Traditionally Chilkat robes were made from mountain goat wool and yellow cedar bark. Today commercial wool is also used.

The process of making Chilkat robes is extremely labor intensive and can take over a year to finish. The weaving is done vertically, with a loom that only has top frame and vertical supports.




It is the only weaving technique in the world that can weave curvilinear and circular forms within the weave.

  Traditionally the fringe was one of the most important aspects of a Chilkat robe. In the Tlingit language the name for the robe was Nakheen and in Tsimshian the name was Gus-halai’t. Both of these words make reference to the action of the fringe as the chief dances.


The side braids end with a tie-off that is unique to each weaving and was believed to represent the weaver or her clan.





The main design motif is called form-line design and can be seen in many other formats like totem poles, bent wood boxes and house-fronts. The only colors used in the robe are black, white, yellow and blue. Traditionally, men would create the design and women would do the weaving.

Chilkat robes were danced by chiefs as an expression of identity and lineage which could include representations of clan, house, moiety or animal crests.


Comments (1)

boselw@u.washington.edu said

at 6:33 pm on Jun 3, 2009

Great page Emmy! Good mixture of analysis and description, and yet totally readable. I think the thing I found most interesting was the fact that this sort of weaving was not really supposed to be the essence of the wearer, but rather that the robe had its own power, one that the weaver was supposed to sublimate him or herself to. The fact that the weaver "refrained from mixing up her life with its life" is such a different concept from the artist today, which is so often about expressing voice and opinion in that way. It does however leave room to question then how much of the design was influenced by the artist,and how much by other factors.

You don't have permission to comment on this page.