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´╗┐Title: Aboriginal American Weaving
Author: Kissell, Mary Lois
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Aboriginal American Weaving" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive/American Libraries.)

                      Aboriginal American Weaving

                             ---- BY ----

                        MISS MARY LOIS KISSELL,

                  American Museum of Natural History,

                            NEW YORK CITY.

 A Paper Read before The National Association of Cotton Manufacturers
  at their Eighty-eighth Meeting at Mechanics Fair Building, Boston,
                       Mass., April 27th, 1910.



 MISS MARY LOIS KISSELL, American Museum of Natural History, New York

Wonderful as is the development of modern machinery for the
manufacture of American textiles--machinery which seems almost human
in the way it converts raw materials into finished cloth; just as
surprising are the most primitive looms of the American aborigines,
who without the aid of machinery make interesting weavings with only a
bar upon which to suspend the warp threads while the human hand
completes all the processes of manufacture. Modern man's inventive
genius in the textile art has been expended upon perfecting the
machinery, while primitive man's ingenuity has resulted in making a
beautiful weaving with very simple means.

No doubt could we know the history of primitive loom work in America
prior to the coming of the white man, we would find an extended
distribution of weaving, but all early textiles have been lost owing
to the destructability of the material and the lack of climatic and
other conditions suitable for their preservation--conditions such as
are present in the hot desert lands of the Southwest and the coast
region of Peru. However, so many impressions of weavings have been
found on early pottery as to assure us that beautiful work of this
kind was made in eastern, middle and southern United States. In
western British Columbia at the present time there are tribes carrying
on certain forms of weaving which show four interesting types.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 1.--KWAKIUTL SQUAW, WEAVING.]

The simplest type is the cedar bark mat woven of flat strips in
horizontal and vertical lines. In beginning wide strips of the inner
bark are hung from their centre over a crossbar of wood which is
supported at either end by an upright beam. The halves of the strips
hanging in front are then split into strands of the desired width and
a line of fine twining woven across to hold them securely. The checker
weaving of the mat is now begun at the left edge by doubling the weft
element over the last warp and then weaving with the doubled element
over and under one warp until the right edge is reached where it is
turned back and slipped under an inch of the weaving just completed.
Figure 1 shows a squaw at work on such a mat, and when she has
completed this half of the mat the second half will be undertaken. She
finishes the edge by turning up the warp ends below the last line of
weft and binds them with a row of twining just above this last weft.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 2.--MAT WITH CHECKED DESIGN.]

In their industries, primitive people always utilize the materials
found in their environment, because no means is afforded them, as in
modern life, for the transportation of materials from a distance.
British Columbia is rich in cedar trees, so it is not strange that
material from this tree enters so largely into the weaving of this
region. Cedar bark lends itself very delightfully to the technic of
these mats, and its golden brown checked surface is at times crossed
by black lines or broken by a group of black checks in simple designs.
These vary greatly, but only one example (Figure 2) can be shown here.


The second type of weaving, also of cedar bark, is begun like the last
mat, but the elements are so placed as to cross the surface
diagonally--alternate strips passing diagonally downward to the right
and left as in Figure 3. These strips are not woven but plaited over
and under each other without the addition of a weft element as in
weaving. When the side edge is reached the strips turn over at right
angles and continue to plait in the changed oblique direction. The
lower edges are finished by bending the elements at right angles and
plaiting them obliquely back for an inch into the completed surface.
Checked weaving and plaiting is employed in a variety of ways, for
aside from mattings it enter into the construction of baskets,
pouches, bags, sails, raincoats, baby's hoods, and a number of other

    [Illustration: FIGURE 4.--ANOTHER TYPE OF LOOM.]

Cedar bark which has been softened and shredded plays an important
part in the clothing of this region, especially in blankets like that
in Figure 4. The blanket here, however, is not of cedar bark but of
goat's hair for a number of materials are made use of by this technic.
In this weaving the warps are not thrown over the crossbeam as in the
other loom but are supported on a cord which itself is bound to the
beam by another cord. Neither are the warps united by a strip of weft
running over and under but by a two strand weft element which twines
about the warps. To my knowledge this form of weaving has never been
reproduced by machinery as no machine can make threads twine. The
blankets of cedar bark are undecorated, but those of wool frequently
have strands of another color passed across the surface and caught
into the weaving from time to time, producing similar designs to that
in Figure 4. As observed in the illustration the lines of weft are not
driven home but are set some distance apart, the space between varying
on different garments. At the lower edge, however, there is frequently
found a band of closely woven twining, at other times a band of fur,
or a long fringe may complete the edge.


The most beautiful weaving of western British Columbia is the Chilkat
blanket, Figures 5 and 6, a weaving which is unique in technic and
design, both in primitive and modern textile art. It is a ceremonial
garment and the gorgeous designs in white, blue, yellow and black are
of totemic significance and relate to the ceremonial life of the
Indian. In earliest times this blanket was undecorated, a plain field
of white; then color was introduced on the white field in stripes of
herring-bone pattern typifying raven's tail, because similar to the
vanes of the tail feathers; and later the elaborate geometric designs
of present day blankets developed. These designs are first painted
upon a pattern board the size and shape of those which are to appear
upon the blanket, and it is from this pattern board that the squaw
weaves her pattern. But although the woman (Figure 7) does weave the
blanket, the man also has his part in the process as he furnishes the
loom, the pattern board and the skin of the goat. The squaw prepares
all the materials and collects the bark, for the warp is of shredded
two-ply cedar bark wrapped with a thread of wool, while the weft is
entirely of the soft wool of the mountain goat.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 6.--OLD CHILKAT BLANKET.]


Lieut. G. T. EMMONS tells us that the goat of this region abounds in
the rugged coast mountains from Puget Sound to Cook's Inlet, but is
unknown on the outlying islands. Its preference is the glacial belt
and snow-fields of the most broken country and the terraced sides of
the precipitous cliffs. It is gregarious in habit being found in bands
of from ten to fifty or more. From September until April the skin is
in prime condition with an abundance of soft wool under a heavy
covering of long coarse hair; but the hunting is only done in the
autumn. To prepare for the plucking, the skin must be kept wet on the
underside so it is moistened and rolled up for several days, thus
loosening the hold of the fleece. With thumb and fingers of both
hands the squaw, seated upon the ground, pushes the fleece from her,
procuring by this process great patches of wool and hair. Then the
hairs are plucked out and thrown away and the wool is ready to be
spun. During the spinning the woman also sits upon the ground with
legs outstretched, with the crude wool by her left side within easy
reach. This she draws out with her left hand and feeds to her right,
in the amount necessary to form the required size of thread. As it is
received between the palm of the right hand and the right thigh, it is
rolled from the body and falls to the side in loose, connected thread.
This soft thread is next spun between the palm of the hand and the
thigh to form a single tightly twisted strand; and by the same process
two of these strands are rolled together to form the weft thread for
the blanket. In technic the blanket is related to the last one
described for it is a twine weaving, but a twilled twine as the two
strand weft encloses two warps at a move and with each succeeding line
of weft advances one warp giving the surface a twilled effect. It is
interesting that the small blocks of design are woven separately
something as a tapestry, and later the blocks are sewed together with
a thread of sinew from the caribou or whale.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 8.--A THIRD TYPE OF LOOM.]

    [Illustration: FIGURE 9.--NAVAJO LOOM.]

The weaving from this region which most nearly approaches machine work
in process of making is the dog-hair and goat's wool blanket. It is
woven upon a loom of two revolving cylindrical beams, supported by
upright posts at either end (Figure 8). The end of the warp thread is
attached to a staying cord stretched from post to post about midway
between the revolving beams. The warp then encircles the loom, catches
under the staying cord, then turns and travels back to its starting
point, there to catch under the staying cord and repeat the operation.
The weft moves across the warps as in twilled cloth, over two, under
two, with an advance of one warp at each line of weft. Dog's hair,
duck down and goat's wool are the materials used, especially the
latter. These materials are spun in two-ply thread twisted partly upon
the thigh of the weaver and finished on a spindle.

Leaving this weaving area in western British Columbia we pass to the
other locality of note in North America where primitive weaving is
practised,--in southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Here
the loom work is at a more advanced stage of development than that of
the northern area, the weavers making use of a loom frame, sheds,
healds, batten and an improvised shuttle. The Navajo Indians are the
most skilled weavers north of Mexico and a description of their
weaving is fairly typical of this area. As the warps are of soft
pliable threads they must of necessity be stretched between two beams.
These are suspended vertically if the weaving is to be of any great
size, the distance between them being that of the proposed length of
the blanket (Figure 9). The warp threads are not stretched across the
beams with an oval movement but are laced over them, forming two
sheds, the upper of which is held intact by means of the shed-rod, and
the lower by a set of healds passing over a heald-rod. A wooden fork
serves as a reed and a slender twig as a shuttle. Upon this twig is
loosely wound from end to end the weft thread. The shuttle at one move
crosses less than half of the warps as the batten--a flat stick of
hard oak--is too short to open more than that length of the shed for
the passage of the shuttle.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 10.--HOPI BLANKET.]

    [Illustration: FIGURE 11.--HOPI WEAVING.]

    [Illustration: FIGURE 12.--MEXICAN SERAPE.]

In Figure 10 only a portion of a blanket from the Hopi Indians is
shown, that the delicate design may be better seen. A number of Hopi
patterns have this fine white line of tracery upon the dark background
and it is this play of the fine line pattern on the fabric which is
one of the chief beauties of Hopi weavings. The sparkle of white is
even more brilliant in Figure 11, another smaller weaving from the
same people. They make constant use of the diagonal or twilled
technic, a weave which requires that the warps be divided into four
sheds, the upper supplied with a shed stick, the three lower with
healds. The sheds are shifted in a variety of orders for the
construction of different patterns.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 13.--HUICHOL WEAVING.]

One of the most beautiful weavings the writer has ever seen from the
southwest is that pictured in Figure 12, which is, however, only a
small center portion of the beautiful sirape from Mexico. The pattern
in two colors of indigo upon a tan colored ground is especially
effective, while the tiny blue dots sprinkled upon the tan surface and
the tan dots over the blue design add a subtle and delightful charm
not frequently met with.

The last two examples, Figures 13 and 14, are also from Mexico, the
first a bit of weaving with animal designs from the Huichol Indians,
and the last a belt loom from the same people. In making belts and
other narrow fabrics the loom is either horizontal or oblique in
position, stretching from some post or tree to the weaver and there
attached to a loop which passes either about the waist or under the
thighs and rendered tense by the weight of the weaver. These belts may
be woven with two or four sheds according to the style of weaving
desired, while another method of pattern work on two shed weaving has
the addition of a round stick run into the warps so as to raise
certain threads while the weft passes two or three times underneath
producing a variety of damask weaving.

The stretch between these simple methods of primitive peoples and
machine methods of modern life is great indeed and we will long
continue to wonder that with such crude devices these people could
produce results which compare favorably with our modern weavings.

    [Illustration: FIGURE 14.--MEXICAN BELT LOOM.]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Aboriginal American Weaving" ***

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