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Waabooyaan – the original blanket

Waabooyaan – the original blanket

I have always thought that it was interesting that in Ojibwemowin, the word for blanket is waabooyaan or waabowayaan.  Literally this translates as rabbit skin.  This refers to the tradition of making blankets of rabbit skins, but the word continues to be used for wool blankets during the fur trade and even for modern blankets today.

Rabbit skin blankets were an ingenious use of an otherwise minimally useful hide.  Rabbit skins are thin and small, but it was found out, thousands of years ago, that if they were cut into a spiral to make a long cord of rabbit fur (which would twist upon itself when drying, making fur all around); that cord could be woven into a blanket that would have fur on all sides.  Rabbits (snowshoe hares) were usually abundant and provided fresh meat in winter.  While the men were out hunting and trapping; women, children, and the elderly added to the soup pot by snaring rabbits near camp.  The hides of these rabbits could then be converted into warm blankets.

Francis Densmore, in Chippewa Customs, mentions that the Ojibwe made these blankets using two different methods.  One method she describes appears to be a sort of twining, which is seen on many rabbit blankets across North America.  She describes the other method as “woven like the netting on snowshoes.”  I assume that this is a simpler form of netting.  E.H. Kreps shows a version of netting for rabbit blankets in his book, Woodcraft.  His method is a bit excessive and seems to be somewhat wasteful of fur.  I prefer a simpler method of knotless netting.  Additionally, the word waaboozekon is sometimes used in Ojibwemowin specifically when referring to a netted rabbit skin blanket.

This past summer, we started collecting rabbit skins from a neighbor that raises and butchers them.  Using a simple trade knife, I cut the hides into strips (about 10-14 feet long each) and dried them.  While presenting at the Madeline Island Museum, Hilary wove them into a small blanket.  We are now collecting more skins and will be making a larger blanket.


2 Responses to “Waabooyaan – the original blanket”

  1. Excellent article, thank you.
    Regards, Keith.

  2. sue says:

    way cool! Would love to try and make one.

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