Button Blanket

Photo by Kyra Kordoski

Button Blanket
Maxine Matilpi (Kwakwaka’wakw; Ma’mtagila / Tlowitsis)
1995
Mother of pearl, abalone, plastic beads, melton wool, fabric
On loan from the artist

In the late eighteenth century, wool cloth was traded and a highly valued item among the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people living along the Pacific Northwest Coast. Wool was worn as an everyday item that kept people warm and wicked moisture away from the body. Wool blankets replaced the cedar bark, animal hide and fur covered clothing.

Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw women began to design the blankets with beaded applique borders that displayed their family crests that were further embellished with shells, and mother of pearl buttons. Kangextola which means, “sewn on to,” is the applique technique Maxine uses to create her button blankets that she made with her late partner John Livingston.

The images sewn onto the button blanket, tunic, and dress have been designed by John and sewn by Maxine. The crests of the Thunderbird, Killer Whale, Kulus and the Butterfly are ancestors of her family and each has a special place, meaning and story related to Maxine’s family history and identity as a Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw woman. Both men and women wore button blankets for ceremony. The blankets are draped over the shoulders of the wearer as they dance to beat of the drum around a central fire in the longhouse.