Cattail Mat Creaser Coast Salish c. 1860-1880 Hardwood 5" Long The small hand tool known as a mat creaser is a wonderful example of Northwest Coast functional artistry. This completely utilitarian object, is almost invariably found decorated with some degree of representational and sculptural design. This lightly embellished mat creaser features the head and tail of what is most likely a sea-bird, which may have been the owner’s guardian spirit. The bird’s head and neck reach out from the rounded body represented by the form of the creaser, and a small tail shape representing raised tail-feathers nestles on the rear of the tool. The creaser was employed in the making of cattail or tule-reed mats, which were used as bedding and windblocks inside the grand cedar-plank houses of the southern coast, where cattails grew abundantly in huge wetland tracts. Mats were also used to cover frames built wood poles to create temporary shelters fishing or traveling to resource-harvesting camps. These served like portable tents with canvas covers, which in turn became available in the late nineteenth century and replaced the use of the indigenous reed mats. Cattail stalk and tule-reed mats were not actually woven, but were sewn together with a two-strand twine made from twisted cattail-leaf fibers. using a wooden needle and 32-38 inches long and just over one-half inch in width, with a cross-section of low triangular shape. The bottom of the mat creaser was made with a wide V-shaped groove along its lower edge which matched the inverted V-form of the needle’s top surface. Large numbers of parallel reeds were attached in this way and as each reed or row of stitching was pierced by the needle, the creaser was run along the top of the needle to bend the reeds over the needle’s top ridge. This created a tidy appearance and arrested any vertical tearing of the reeds, which kept the stitches in symettrical rows. The oval hole in the creaser was for the user’s fingers to grip through, and the curved bottom of the tool made it easier to slide over the rows of stitched reeds. The finished mats were thick and had a slightly cushy feel to them, making them ideal for bedding and as insulation on cedar-plank walls which could be very drafty in any season. Mats could easily be rolled up for storage and transport via canoe.