Button Blanket

Button Blanket

Button blanket with red sun appliqué

Black interior with red border on left and right sides. Both left and right border contain images of crows stylized in traditional Tlingit style. Top red border breaks in the center for black background to show through. No border at the bottom of the blanket. Dark blue wool, red appliqué and pearl-white buttons . Sun resembles a human face with a circle around it and surrounded by five rays. Five abalone shell pieces are in the design: three in the sun face, and two at the beaks of the crows. Artist's initials 'AE' on bottom left and 'EAS' on bottom right.

The design of the button blanket, made by Allen Edzerza (Tahltan First Nation), reflects the legend of the crow giving light to Mother Earth. Button blankets were worn for dancing and singing at potlatch ceremonies. Both sexes could wear button blankets but they were worn mainly by women. The weaving of blankets was done by women.

Before the advent of non-native trade when blankets, cloth, or yarn were more readily available, blanket making was a painstaking endeavor. Freshly killed goat skin was rolled up and sweated until the hairs could be removed easily. The wool would be hand separated and bundled into convenient sizes. Then the wool was spun into thread by rolling it between the hand and the leg. The yarn would be produced by twisting two strands of wool thread together. Then the yarn would be twisted around thin strands of bark to thicken the wool. The wool had to be hand spun many times to make a cohesive string and it would be worked until it reached its desired thickness. Once the wool achieved its desired thickness it could be dyed different colours depending on the design. A type of hanging weaving loom would be made. The weaver would sit in front of it, in order to hang and weave the blanket. Woven blankets of that sort are often referred to as Chilkat blankets. They differed in that the design was patterned instead of displaying a central figure.

There is little information about button blankets before non-native contact. Some insist they were made the same way, while certain people ascertain that the button blanket existence coincided with Russian traders. The ceremonial button blanket, like the Chilkat blanket was worn for special occasions. Button blankets were worn over the shoulders with the central figure or crest prominently displayed on the back. Of course, it is doubtful that the button blanket was indigenous to the inland culture. More likely is the possibility that they were adopted through trade relations and intermarriage of the Coastal Tlingit peoples. In fact some scholars believe that before non-Native trade, blankets were received only through trade leaving the weaving to the Chilkat or other coastal Tlingit. As trade relationships forged, the Tahltan and Tagish people adopted more practices of the Tlingit. Today, Inland Tlingit, Tagish and Tahltan peoples display their crests on button blankets as wall hangings and ceremonial dance clothing.

Traditionally, the blankets were worn at potlatch for ceremonies and dances. The dancer wore the blanket around their back, slightly off the shoulders and fastened with toggles. For generations these robes have served as insignia of family and clan histories, duties, rights, and privileges. They are powerful statements of identity. This button blanket, made from the typical black wool with red appliqué and pearl-white buttons, was made for the purpose of display at the George Johnston Museum and has never been worn on ceremonial occasions. The design of this button blanket captures the legend of Crow giving the light to Mother Earth.


George Johnston Museum, Teslin

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