Baby Chilkat Robe Mentor Apprenticeship
Grantee: Bunnell Street Arts Center, Story and Photos by Sydney Akagi

In the fall of 2021 I began weaving a baby Chilkat robe as an apprentice under weaving mentor, Lily Hope. This would be a significant and crucial next step in my journey as a weaver, as it would be the largest woven Chilkat piece I had taken on at that point. In the weaving of this robe, I would acquire robe specific skills and techniques. Following its completion, and with the knowledge gained, I’d be able to advance independently into weaving full size ceremonial robes.

The first steps of this project was planning the robe design and determining how it would be executed. Lily and I had attended The SWAY (The Spirit Wraps Around You) woven textile exhibit at the Alaska State Museum. During that show, I became very drawn to the Beaver Chilkat Tunic on display, and it was within that tunic that I found inspiration for the design of my baby robe. I began by drawing the size of the robe to scale, adding the correct size of the borders and then began filling the center field with the design. As I advanced through the robe, I made alterations to the initial design, finding that some shapes ended up larger than anticipated and adjusting so that the bottom of the robe would curve correctly. 

Weaving the border went smoothly. The repetition and tension that I had practiced many times before in my smaller weavings, allowed for me to complete the top borders as well as take them down the sides about eight inches, relatively quickly and without technical support. Afterwards I began weaving the center field design. I started weaving the patterns in both the top right and left corners to keep them consistent. Chilkat robes are bilaterally symmetrical, meaning they are vertically mirrored in the center. Looking back, and after some discussion with Lily I should have begun at the center, weaving the Ancestors Face first and then moving towards the corners. The Ancestors Face was my first full woven face. I had participated in a Chilkat Protector Mask workshop in October 2020, weaving the nose down, but this was my first attempt at eyebrows and eyes. Lily constructed a face diagram that helped me complete each section with the correct scaling between each element. I was incredibly pleased with the final outcome of the Ancestors Face, owing it all to the diagram and the workshop the year prior.
The final shapes in the robe were all relatively basic. However, since completing them I feel I have perfected even better techniques to create sharper points within my split U-shapes, edges of any square shapes, and the corners of the eyes. I will use these techniques in all future Chilkat pieces. 

Lily and I worked closely after I completed the central design, as I needed a lot of assistance with the corner of my borders as well as bringing them down and closing in the design. It was important to me to remain consistent and this meant avoiding weaving over repeating warps too often. We were able to minimize this as much as possible when turning the corners, but found that there weren’t a lot of options to keep this from happening without adding in warps. 

The robe was finalized with the addition of side braids that run the length of the robe’s sides using warps on each end of the robe to make a folded plait. This process took a few attempts, but Lily and I were able to find the perfect number of working strands versus center strands and the braids are the perfect size in comparison to the rest of the robe. Because of the way the warps twine together and the constant need to count strands, I found it was easiest to do this all in one sitting without any distractions. 

I am incredibly pleased with the final outcome of this robe. Just like all of my pieces in these beginning years of my weaving journey I learn so much with each piece and advance my knowledge and skills. Because of the lengthy amount of time that it takes to weave a piece I find that the moments in time, history, and healing are all woven in. I can look at this robe and see different milestones of my newborn son, I see my hands learning to move in different ways and adapt new skills, I see the healing and connection to my culture. Weaving has been and continues to be such an important part of my story.