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Makah men didn't usually wear clothing at all, though some men wore breech-clouts. Women wore short skirts made of cedar bark or grass. In the rain, the Makahs wore tule rush capes, and in colder weather, they wore tunics, fur cloaks and moccasins on their feet. Later, after European influence, Makah people began wearing blanket robes.
The Makahs didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Instead, both men and women sometimes wore a basketry hat made of finely woven spruce root. The designs and patterns of these hats often displayed a person's status and family connections. Whalers' hats were especially elaborate. The Makahs painted their faces different colors for war, religious ceremonies, and festive occasions, and women often wore tribal tattoo designs. Makah women usually wore their hair in either one or two long braids, while men sometimes coiled theirs into a topknot. Like other Northwestern Indians, Makah men often wore mustaches and beards.
Today, some Makah people still have a blanket cloak or basket hat, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths.
Among the textiles developed by the women of the Northwest Coast tribes were many adapted from their basket designs, made with either cedar bark or spruce roots. The first clothing used on the Northwest Coast was made with cedar bark, shredded until soft and then woven into garments. Roots and bark were used for a range of items that were intricately woven in the fabric of life. From cradles to death shrouds, the choice of material was plant-based rather than animal-based.
The farther north (upper Canada and lower Alaska), the colder the winters, and the more animal skins and fur were integrated with the bark fibers. For instance, Chilkat robes have a heart of cedar bark and are woven with mountain goat wool.
Though cedar seems an unlikely raw material for making cloth, the Coast Salish developed ingenious ways to twist the bark into thread. When woven, the bark thread produced a soft, warm cloth. Women fashioned it into aprons for warm weather, cloaks for the cold, and long dresses which were wrapped by a belt and trimmed with fur. Men wore cedar bark robes for ceremonial occasions. Cedar rain ponchos, woven from strips of unshredded bark, were uncomfortable but efficient.
A cedar bark robe was one of the classic outer garments for both men and women when Europeans first visited the Northwest Coast. Weavers used the same twining technique for cedar bark robes as for basketry.
Makah Cedar Capes and Skirts: Just like all native people, the people of the Pacific Northwest dressed in materials found in the region where they lived. In hot weather, men wore breechcloths made of animal skins or woven grass or reeds. When it got cold and rainy in the winter they added animal skin or woven cedar shirts and leggings.
Women wore skirts and capes of woven cedar strips. In the winter, clothing was made of animal skins. Even in winter, people often went barefoot.
Material: The inner bark of both the western red cedar and Alaska yellow cedar is used in weaving. Cedar bark is harvested from the trees by removing only a small strip of bark from a tree, so the tree can easily heal and continue to grow. For weaving, as soon as the bark is removed form the tree, the inner and outer bark are separated. The inner bark is then dried and stored in a dry place for later use. No part of the tree is wasted.
Preparation: The two types of cedar bark are best suited for different uses, and require different preparation. If using western red cedar bark for diapers, towels or clothing, beat the dry bark with a blade-type beater, placing the bark over the sharp edge of a board. As you beat the red cedar bark, move the bark over the sharp board edge, making the bends every 1/8 of an inch.
For yellow cedar, soak the bark for five to seven days, and then beat the bark with either a hard wood or bone bark beater on a hard surface (such as a flat rock). Yellow cedar bark is better suited for making clothing; it beats much finer (heavy thread size), and does not break or come apart like red cedar bark.
Skirts, Shawls & Robes: Both types of bark are incredibly warm, and are good at repelling water, though yellow bark has more oil and sheds water better than red. Often cedar bark skirts would be woven in two layers, with a very fine inner layer next to the skin and a heavier outer weave. A circular loom, which was made by tying three poles close to the top in a tripod, was used to allow continuous weaving with no seam. Shawls and robes would be woven on a freestanding loom, much like wool weaving, and cedar bark items were sometimes lined with down or fur.
Wool Weaving: The most common materials for weaving wool Coast Salish blankets, shawls or dresses came from the Mountain Goat and from the wool dogs that were kept by the Coast Salish people.
The wool dogs were raised for the value of their wool. No one now knows where the wool dog breed originated; but it is known that wool dogs were kept separate from other tribal dogs, because mixing with common dogs would weaken and shorten their wool. Wool dogs are described as small dogs with long, fine, soft hair. Both the dogs and mountain goats were sheared, and the wool was combed, cleaned, bleached, dyed, spun into a yarn, and woven - in much the same way as other cultures all over the world came to create yarns and cloth.
The Northwest Coast Tribes were a fishing/hunting/gathering society, not an agriculture society, but raising wool dogs as domestic herd animal means that the Coast Salish practiced a form of agriculture. After contact with non-natives, the use for dog and mountain goat wool changed and the dogs were allowed to become extinct as a separate breed. There are only a few dog wool blankets known to exist, and they are in museums in Europe.