How to Make a Northwest Indian Button Blanket

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Button blankets are traditionally used by Native Americans from the northwest United States, specifically Alaska. These blankets are usually made of wool in two colors, with one color being the background and the other used for the design. Shiny buttons, usually abalone shell, are sewn onto the outline of the design and used as eyes for animal and human figures. Popular figures include salmon, turtles, eagles, whales and stylized human warriors. Button blankets are mainly worn by dancers at Native American celebrations and ceremonies. The shiny pieces of shell catch the light of the sun or fire as the dancers move, adding to the visual interest of the dance.

Things You'll Need

  • Wool or thick fleece
  • Chalk or chalk pencil
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Needle and thread
  • 300 to 500 abalone shell buttons
  • Choose one color of cloth to be the background and one for the design. You will need three 5-by-5-foot squares of wool or thick fleece in two or three colors. On the cloth for the design, use chalk to sketch several stylized animals or human figures.

  • Cut out the design and pin it onto the background cloth. Push each pin down through both layers of cloth, then upward through both layers so the head and point of each pin is visible.

  • Thread the needle and sitch the design to the background.

  • Sew the abalone buttons to the edges of the design. Space them close together, so that they are almost touching. Sew abalone shells where the figures' eyes would be.

  • Flip the whole blanket over so the underside of the background fabric is showing. Pin the third square of fabric to the background fabric and stitch the two together around the edges.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always grip the body of the needle when pushing it through the fabric; never push down on the end. Push slowly and firmly on stubborn areas to avoid slippage and injury.

References

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