Chilkat Face Spruce Root Basket

This basket was made by Emma Mayeda a master weaver from Hoonah. It is made of split spruce root with false embroidery using maidenhair fern and dyed grass.

Spruce roots were selectively gathered by harvesting techniques taught by experienced weavers. Trees of a certain age were selected and the ground where the trees grow were also considered before any harvesting would begin. Trees about 30 years old were preferred, and sample digging would give the weaver an idea if this was what they were looking for. When harvesting certain qualities were monitored and the more uniform in size, length and to be free of defects were top considerations.

Once the roots were collected, they were bundled in such a way so that during the cooking process you could untie them quickly. Next a fire was made so that it would produce a nice hot bed of coals. Once the coals were ready the bundled roots were placed directly into the coals, when the roots made a sizzling sound the root bundle was quickly removed from the hot coals untied then pulled through a restrictive area usually a V-shaped notch formed by partially splitting a branch. The friction of pulling the spruce root through the notch was enough to separate the outer protective layer of the root. When done correctly you should have a nearly white, clean spruce root ready for splitting. The intense heat of the hot coals causes steam to form between the root and its protective layer, and when this happens they separate and it’s imperative that you remove the bundle quickly or it will burn and be ruined.

When the roots have been cleaned then they must be split. Looking at the end of the root in cross section the root is divided into equal fourths. Once split, then each fourth will be split again, and maybe again after that. Some baskets have spruce roots into weavers that are just a little larger than course human hair. When the weaving begins, grass and maidenhair fern will be false embroidered into the weave to make a design. This basket has a butterfly pattern along the bottom with a Chilkat face design above it, both classic weave patterns.

Cultural Narrative: 

Tlingits were renowned for their basket weaving. This basket is an example of Tlingit weaving where spruce roots the diameter of a pencil or smaller are split multiple times to get the proper size warps and weavers. The tightness and uniformity were difficult skills to master and look and took many hours of practices under the tutelage of a master weaver.

Traditional Knowledge: 

The use of natural materials had a very spiritual effect on the artists and weavers. Blessings were given to the trees and grasses before harvesting began. Harvesting was a controlled and highly selective process. Overharvesting was not allowed and was a skill passed down to apprentices. In addition to that, the area that was disturbed needed to be arranged back to the way it was found before harvesting began, and thanks were given to those living things that provided the materials for human use.


Basket of twinned spruce root, larger warp size on bottom, false embroidery with dyed grass (pink, yellow, and brown) of 2 animal motifs, yellow triangles and band of flat zig zag maidenhair fern; 2 holes in bottom.

Dimensions: 11.4 cm x 13.2 cm