Howdy! Oki Napi! Han Kola!
I’ve been hesitating to make this post, only because I am not talented as a seamstress, and so there are many things about it that I don’t understand. But I have many friends who sew — and actually like it — I rarely sew because I’m so bad at it — and I poke myself so often, that I usually give up in frustration. This post is inspired by a couple of friends that I talk with almost daily on the interent. They both sew and one quilts. And so I thought I’d tackle this subject, because it is one dear to a woman’s heart. What to wear and how to look as beautiful doing it as possible. I’ll also be giving away a book today to some lucky person who leaves a comment here today. The give-away, however, is limited to the 50 states in the United States, or to Canada. Void where prohibited.
This is a picture taken a few years ago with friends (I’m on the left). This is pow-wow regalia that we are wearing. Both Elaine and I are wearing fancy dance regalia and Patricia on the left is wearing Northern Traditional dress. This is the more modern way of dressing for the pow-wow circuit. However, some things haven’t changed since the days of the long-ago. On our feet are decorated moccasins and coming up from them are leggings that match and fit into the moccasins . There are feathers in our hair and we are all wearing our hair in braids — and there is much beadwork, particularly on Patricia’s outfit. As a note, when I was beading my choker for this outfit, Patricia helped me. Interestingly with her help, I was actually able to bead. But to this day, left on my own, I must admit that I’m lost.
But let’s go back to the days of yore. Without needle and thread, how did the Indians make clothes? From the book, Tradition Dress by Adolf Hungry Wolf, the tools of the Native Americans were “a knife for cutting, an awl of pointed bone for making holes, and strips of sinew to sew the materials together…”
On the plains the common material for clothes was buckskin. But what exactly is buckskin? It’s actually deer hide, which is considered the best leather because it’s not only durable, but it’s soft, yet wears very tough. But probably one of its best features is that it’s easy to sew with — or so says Adolph Hungry Wolf in his book, Traditional Dress.
In the old days, Indians used the brains of animals to tan their hides. While I can’t tell you the exact process, I can tell you that “Indian-tanned” hides — even today — feel smooth and like velvet to the touch — not only that, they dry soft and flexible, a good point, since many a man or woman lived and worked in the rain…or swam across streams.
The picture above and to the left is called a three-hide dress. Over to the right here is the modern version of a three hide dress. The woman in the above picture is Cheyenne. The three hide dress was made originally with two hides making the skirt and an overlay on top much like a poncho. At first the poncho wasn’t sewn to the dress, but in the more modern age, they are often sewn to the dress. As a note, the hides of the animal were often kept in their original shape in order to honor the animal. These dresses were mostly ceremonial dresses, but they became well known on the Plains. These dresses were — and still are — works of art.
The picture here to the left is of an Iroquois warrior, painted by George Catlin. At the time that Mr. Catlin painted this picture, he tells the story that he found this man living in the West, instead of with his people in the East. But by this time, the Iroquois had been displaced from their homes, and so perhaps it is to be expected that he found this man living with a Western tribe. Now interestingly, the Iroquois, who had a lot of contact with the Europeans, soon began to make their clothing from cloth, rather than from buckskin, thus we see this man wearing cloth leggings and cloth breechcloth, as well as a cloth blanket over his shoulder.
Moccains were made from material that was tough, yet pliable and able to withstand the rigors of continual wear. Many or perhaps most were smoked to make them sturdy. The two-piece style of moccasins was used by many of the Plains tribes, yet each tribe had their own distinctive trait. So much was this the case, that warriors could tell from the mere footprint and outline of the moccasin, what tribe had made it. In cold weather, the fur side of the hide was turned inward to help to warm the foot. And warriors on the trail often carried extra moccasins or hides that could be made into moccasins, since they often wore through their shoes. As an aside, it was a custom to discard one’s moccasins at the side of the campfire so that others could tell what tribe it was who had camped there.
To the left here is a Brule Lakotah war shirt. It was made of buckskin and its owner was clearly well-to-do to own such a manificent shirt. A word about leggings. Imagine wearing a soft, pliable leather day in and day out. These clothes were made to fit a particular person, and as such they fit his figure very well. It is well noted that these leggings worn by the men were often skin tight, yet still flexible and pliable. It must have been an act of love that created these clothes that I look upon as works of art.
I’ll leave you with these beautiful images from artist Geroge Catlin:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post today. I wish I could add more to the knowledge of how to do it and sew it. But for that I’ll refer you to the book once again by Adolf Hungry Wolf, Traditional Dress.
And don’t forget, if you haven’t already picked up a copy of my latest effort, Black Eagle, please do so today.