When her husband-to-be Michael Pavel took her home to the Skokomish reservation in the summer of 1996, it was revealed that Susan Pavel (photo, center) couldn’t cook.
“The attitude,” she says, “was, well, let’s teach you some useful trade. Like weaving.”
And with that, Susan Pavel (’99 Ph.D.) joined the revival of Coast Salish weaving.
Susan and Michael, a Washington State University faculty member in education, were living with his uncle, Bruce Miller, a master weaver.
“He started me at the beginning, carding the wool, spinning the wool, dyeing the wool, working up the loom. Actual weaving was maybe a third of the process.”
Susan spent the whole summer, working six to eight hours a day, weaving her first piece, which she gave back to Uncle, her teacher.
“The tradition is, when you learn a new craft or new skill and produce something, you give it away.”
Weaving is an esteemed occupation within the Coast Salish tribes. However, in what was both a result and cause of cultural upheaval, the Salish joined the industrial revolution around the turn of the 20th century, turning to industrially woven blankets and cloth. For a period of more than 40 years thereafter, says Pavel, only three people in Washington were actively weaving within the style she now practices. Now an accomplished weaver, Pavel estimates she has taught her craft to more than 500 people.
Traditional weavers used a variety of materials–cedar, various plant fibers, and hair of the wool dog, which has now disappeared. But the most prized fiber was the wool of the mountain goat, which, due to the goat’s habitat, is enormously time-consuming to gather.
At some point, says Pavel, Michael had gathered enough mountain goat wool to begin work on a dress modeled after one worn by Annie Williams, photographed for the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago.
“When I wove it, I just wove it,” says Pavel. “I didn’t measure it to anybody’s body.”
But when she discovered that it fit her niece, Shelby Pavel, and further, that Annie Williams was Shelby’s distant aunt, Pavel named the dress “She’s Home.”
For more information and photos of Pavel’s work, click