Kettle cloth

A Chinuk Wawa expression unique to the Kamloops, BC area is:

kitl sil, 

literally “kettle cloth”, as in this interesting passage:


     Alta wik saia mokst Sondi naika mitlait kopa
For nearly two weeks now I have been at 

ShKX pi kanawi Shushwap tilikom mitlait
Shhkaltkmah [village], and all of the Secwepmc people are 

kanamokst kopa ShKX. Wixt ayu tilikom kopa
together at Shhkaltkmah. Many more people from 

KM, kopa SShB kopa Xlawt kopa Kwawt kopa
Kamloops, from St John the Baptist [Chu Chua], from Hallowt, from Quaaout, from 

Iastaln*, kopa RM, kopa MSh*, pi kopa Nkamap 
Iastaln [unidentified place], from Salmon Arm, from Mission [?], and from Inkameep,

tlunas wik saia <500> tilikom, klaska chako
maybe close to 500 people, have come 

kanamokst kopa ShKX. Ilip klaska mamuk kopit
together at Shhkaltkmah. First they finished 

klaska Sondi xaws, pi klaska mamuk wik saia
their church [here], and they nearly 

kopit ukuk tintin xaws: pi klaska iskom ayu
finished the belfry: then they got a lot of 

kandls, pi klaska mamuk ayu kakwa kitl sil
candles, and they made many sort-of kettle cloth

kandl stiks klaska mamuk nim “Shaina lantirns”.
candlesticks called “China [Chinese] lanterns”. 

Kamloops Wawa #031b (26 June 1892), page 154

“Kettle cloth” stands right out as an expression we haven’t seen in the Jargon literature before.

As I’m accustomed to doing with new Jargon finds that involve words from English, I went searching in 19th-century anglophone books for clues.

And there weren’t many!

Google Books mistakenly sent me into an 1883 “Illustrated Dictionary of Words Used in Art and Archaeology“, which turned out to be an entry on page 225 for:

Nettle-cloth. A material made in Germany of very thick cotton, used as a substitute for japanned leather, on the peaks of caps, &c.

Nettle cloth was a muslin/linen woven indeed from nettle, having the comparable German name Nesseltuch or Nesselstoff. We know from Pacific Northwest indigenous cultures that this is a fantastically strong fiber (I’ve found nettle cording impossible to break). The proverbially resourceful Swiss Army knew this:

Nettle cloth 1950s Swiss Army patrol pack

Nettle cloth 1950s Swiss Army patrol pack

(Image credit: Pinterest)

Following this lead, I find an 1851 “Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue” from a textile trade show that portrays “nettle cloth” as a new import from Germany:

37 Minoprio & Hohwiesner, Bingen— Manufacturers. (Agent, F. Kellermann, 94 London Wall, City).

Black japanned calf-skins; calf-skins with the hair, for coach-makers, for trunk-makers, and heifer-skin (Raupenfell), for saddlers.

Sheet nettle-cloth (Nestelstoff), japanned in three colours, black, green, and yellow.

Pair of boots of japanned calf-leather. Pair of shoes with the hair on the inside. The employment of japanned leather, with the hair upon the inside of the skin, for boots and shoes, is intended to preserve the feet against wet and cold.

[The new material called nettle-cloth” consists of a very thick tissued cotton, so prepared as to become durable and compact, and it is stated that it may be substituted for leather, particularly for the peaks of caps and waistbands, and at a smaller cost. It can be manufactured of various degrees of strength.]

Anyway, aside from the above 1883 false positive–or is it? read on–I found no 19th-c. examples of “kettle cloth”.

There were plenty of hits for popular books of “The Adventures of Captain Kettle”, cloth-bound. See how that works? But those don’t count.

kettle cloth

Kettle cloth

(Image credit: Fashion Fabrics Club)

It isn’t until 1977 that I find the exact phrase “kettle cloth” used, in the Federal Register, for a variety of greige (grey-beige) fabric. That’s much too late to be connectible with Kamloops Wawa.

So: was kitl sil in Chinook Jargon from a folk etymology / eggcorn “kettle cloth”  in English, by native French-speaker Father Le Jeune of Kamloops Wawa, for “nettle cloth”?

That’s the best hypothesis my research lets me make. I can only speculate on the reasoning involved.

  1. Confusion of the definitely familiar word “kettle” (in English and Jargon both) for the probably unfamiliar “nettle”
  2. Maybe this durable fabric, “nettle cloth”, was commonly used by 1892 as a kind of potholder — a “kettle cloth”? This could naturally have led to an extended use as a candleholder or candlestick.
candlestick Chinook Bryant

Chinook Bryant candlestick!

(Image credit:

What do you think?