Spinning Cedar: Tlingit Weaver Lily Hope

Lily is an artist and educator passionate about sharing Chilkat and Ravenstail weaving near and far—including at this year’s SOAR.

Kate Larson Mar 18, 2024 - 7 min read

Spinning Cedar: Tlingit Weaver Lily Hope Primary Image

Lily at the loom weaving a raven blanket. Photos by Sydney Akagi Photography

About a decade ago, I saw a Chilkat dancing blanket for the first time as I slowly walked through the textile exhibits at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada. This wide sweep of woven textile took my breath away—the movement of shapes and colors, the long fringe that allowed a curious handspinner to get a better look at the two-ply yarn.

The inclusion of cedar strips in some of the woven textiles I saw was something I knew about but had not seen. Later, I would learn that Tlinglit weaver Lily Hope boils yellow cedar and then adds strips while spinning the singles for two-ply yarn.

Lily is thigh spinning Merino and yellow cedar.

She uses her Merino thigh-spun yarns (with and without cedar) for weaving Chilkat and Ravenstail textiles. Lily is based in Juneau, Alaska, and apprenticed in both of these Northwest Coast weaving traditions that use finger-twining techniques. Watching Lily’s hands twining weft and warp as the weaving slowly grows is fascinating!

I’ve been following Lily’s work for a number of years through social media and the networks of museums she works with. Her enthusiasm and commitment to helping others learn about the weaving traditions she carries forward keep me watching for where she will head next. I’m absolutely delighted to share that she will be teaching thigh spinning and Ravenstail weaving at SOAR (Spin Off Autumn Retreat) 2024 in Pennsylvania—I hope you will join us!


I wanted to share a bit more with you about Lily’s work, and below you will find an excerpt of an article by Sherry Taylor published in our sister publication Handwoven.

Lily Hope: Tlingit Weaver of Chilkat and Ravenstail

Originating in the Pacific Northwest, Chilkat weaving is a complex finger-twined weaving style requiring a great deal of expertise, time, and dedication. A single Chilkat ceremonial robe—also called a dancing blanket—can take one to four years to weave. These magnificent dancing blankets are worn for ceremonial occasions by dignitaries and high-ranking tribal members of the Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit, and other Northwest Coast indigenous peoples of Alaska and western Canada. They are symbols of wealth and endow clan leaders with great prestige. Chilkat blankets are sought by museums, art collectors, and cultural leaders alike.

Last summer, I took a trip to Juneau, Alaska, and while I was there, I had the opportunity to meet Lily Hope, one of the few remaining traditional Chilkat weavers. She graciously met me at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum with her loom and her charming, warm personality. She openly shared her love for her art, her techniques, and her spirit.

Some of the traditional materials Lily uses in her weaving

Growing up in Juneau, Lily Hope learned to weave in the traditional way, watching and learning from her mother, the late renowned weaver Clarissa Rizal (1956–2016). Lily is Tlingit Indian, of the Raven moiety. Her mother’s mother’s clan, the T’akdeintaan, originated from the Snail House in Hoonah, Alaska. Lily’s mother was one of the last living apprentices of the late master Chilkat weaver Jennie Thlunaut (1891–1986). Now Lily is one of fewer than a dozen Chilkat blanket weavers preserving the fidelity of this traditional heritage as she teaches both Ravenstail and Chilkat weaving nationally and internationally. Her weaving has won many awards. Lily’s work is collected at Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Portland Art Museum. In addition to teaching and weaving, she lectures on the spiritual commitments of being a weaver.

Chilkat dancing blankets are woven on an upright wooden frame with no tools other than a tapestry needle to tuck in braids, and small design templates traditionally made of cedar bark and now printed on transparent papers. The warp is fastened only to the top of the vertical frame so that the bottom of the warp hangs free. The weaving proceeds by finger-twining small vertical sections, as opposed to moving horizontally from side to side as with a floor loom. This gives Chilkat weaving its unique personality. For example, it is the only textile tradition in the world in which a perfect circle can be woven. This construction allows for the beautiful representation of clan crests and animals of the area including whales, eagles, ravens, wolves, and frogs. Chilkat robes feature long fringe of thigh-spun wool and cedar that sways when the wearer dances. The woven fringe rows are vital to the life of a robe as they bind the long warps to keep them from tangling. Dance handles of soft spun leather are often sewn inside, so the fringe moves magically when the robe is danced.

Shown left to right: Lineage Robe, woven by Lily Hope. Lily wove this mask, titled Chilkat Protector, after seeing a call from First American Art Magazine asking indigenous artists to design face masks. It took about 60 hours to weave and features merino wool weft, cedar-bark warp, and two ermine tails.

Weaving a Chilkat blanket includes the gathering and preparation of traditional materials. Traditionally the division of labor was very clear in these weavings. Men provided the materials for the weavings and carved the pattern boards that were placed to one side of the weaving frame. Only the black color was shown on the pattern boards, as experienced weavers had artistic control for where to place the yellow and blue. Women prepared the materials, spinning mountain-goat hair and yellow cedar against their thighs to create the warp fiber. Merino wool replaces mountain-goat hair in many contemporary robes, as it takes upward of five fleeces to create a full-sized robe.

Excerpted from Sherry Taylor’s article, “Lily Hope: Tlingit Weaver of Chilkat and Ravenstail,” published in Handwoven September/October 2020. Read the full article at

Join us at SOAR 2024 on October 6–11, 2024, at Heritage Hills Resort in York, Pennsylvania.