The History And Artistry of the Coast Salish Indian Knitting

Published on January 3, 2014 by Amy

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Interior Coast Salish Weaving
Interior Coast Salish Weaving

Thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans, to battle the harshness of the North American coastal winters, the Coast Salish women had established a strong tradition of weaving woollen and cedar clothing for their families.

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Pre-European, and primarily before the easy access to domestic sheep wool, the Salish women wove clothing and blankets using the hair of a now extinct breed of small wool dog, mixed with mainland mountain goat wool, and goose down.

The Coast Salish wool Dog was a special breed of dog that was mainly owned by the women of the village, and they were kept separate from the hunting dogs. The Dog became extinct around the time the gold rush swamped the country in 1860.

Early explorers say that these dogs were small and white, sometimes brownish black, and they resembled the Pomeranian or similar breeds of oriental origin.

When their fleece was sheared off with a mussel shell knife, the hair was so thick you could lift it up by one corner like a mat. The shearing was usually repeated two or three times during the summer.

The mountain goat wool was an ideal source of wool because it was fine, straight, and very soft.

Prior to the introduction of money, trading items was equivalent to buying and selling. The Salish Indians along the Fraser River hunted the mountain goats, and traded the hides with the Vancouver Island Salish Indians during their fishing seasons along the banks of the Fraser River. The Nanaimo, Cowichan, and Saanich Tribes all owned traditional fishing sites along the Fraser River, mostly around Lulu Island (which is now the site of the Vancouver International Airport), Steveston in Richmond, and Boundary Bay; these regular fishing sites allowed access to the resources found on the Mainland shores.

It should be noted that even to own and fish these traditional sites along the shores of the Fraser River in a peaceful relationship, the Vancouver Island Salish would have had to have very strong family ties, originating them from or strongly connecting them to the lower Fraser River Salish tribes. Some of these lower Fraser River tribes consisted of the Chehalis, Chilliwack, Coquitlain, Katsey, Kwantlin, Matsqui, Musqueam, Ohamil, Scowlitz, and Sewathen.

The beautifully hand-woven blankets that the Coast Salish women created held a high degree of significances with the Coast Salish people, and it was quite sought after by all the Coast Salish tribes.

The woven blankets represented a high cultural status amongst the Salish people, and it was a strong form of main currency in the traditional Coast Salish Long House economy.

With the arrival of the European settlers to Vancouver Island around 1860, came a simple form of knitting, and the introduction to the domestic sheep. The Coast Salish women adapted and combined centuries of weaving skills to this simple knitting style, and in turn transformed it into a very distinct cultural art form.

The beautifully hand-woven blankets that the Coast Salish women created held a high degree of significances with the Coast Salish people, and it was quite sought after by all the Coast Salish tribes.

The woven blankets represented a high cultural status amongst the Salish people, and it was a strong form of main currency in the traditional Coast Salish Long House economy.

With the arrival of the European settlers to Vancouver Island around 1860, came a simple form of knitting, and the introduction to the domestic sheep. The Coast Salish women adapted and combined centuries of weaving skills to this simple knitting style, and in turn transformed it into a very distinct cultural art form.

For the last 150 years the Coast Salish women have created these distinctively patterned, hand-knitted clothing in the form of sweaters, toques, mitts, and socks.

Each piece of Coast Salish Indian clothing is very unique, incorporating traditional designs of animals, birds, sea creatures, and geometric shapes.

The designs are traditional Coast Salish designs that have been skilfully designed specifically for the traditional knitting pattern.

The majority of traditional clothing designs have been passed down from generation to generation; generally from mother to daughter, but there are, and have been some excellent male knitters.

The hand knitting of the traditional Coast Salish Indian sweaters, and the various other woollen clothing involves a lot of difficult work even before the actual knitting begins.

Source: joejack

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