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Decorating Original Buckskin Clothing
(& Accessories)

Euro-American Frontier Buckskin Clothing Prev Page in Series Next Page in Series How We Make Buckskin Clothing

eagle feather Another Difference In Cultures
Native Americans often used a great deal of bright colored decoration to express and identify themselves, and as an expression of their spirituality.  In contrast, Euro-Americans generally used very little decoration, thinking bright colors may expose them to game or an enemy.  Except those that adopted some of the Native American attitudes, they saw no significance in such decoration.

eagle feather Eastern Decoration
Eastern Indians seldom painted their clothing as the western nations did.  They did use earth minerals for paint, but primarily on themselves and household or religious utensils.  Many decorations were made using quills from bird feathers and the porcupine, as well as the long hair of the moose, buffalo, and other animals.  Early quillwork and hair designs were thin lines outlining floral patterns.

Eastern people used the appliqué (overlay) method for beadwork.  Beads small enough for beading designs were hand made from bone or shell, and required much time and effort to produce.  Very early designs were simply outlines of geometric shapes, due to the size of the beads (about 5/0 or 6/0) and the time it took to produce them.  Early traders to Turtle Island brought similar sized glass beads called "pound beads".  Women had more beads with which to decorate more items, but still used mainly outlines.

More artistic floral patterns were developed as traders brought smaller and smaller beads.  By 1750 the native women east and north of the Mississippi River were very skilled in decorating with small seed beads (about 10/0 size).  The smaller beads allowed more delicate patterns to be made, many of them with their central areas filled in.  They also continued to use moose hair and quills. Even today native women produce exceptionally delicate artwork using all these materials.
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eagle feather Western Decoration
Painting and quillwork were the primary means of decorating clothing and accessories on the western plains until the late 1800's.  Most decoration was done by the women as a matter of pride.  A Woman could display her artistic talents, as well as express how much she cared for her husband, uncle, father, or brother by beautifully decorating his buckskins.  A man would feel the pride of knowing how much the woman cared for him.   Designs were of geometric shapes using the lazy stitch method.

Men did not bead or quill (they were women's societies), but they did use paints made of earth minerals.  The outsides of tipis, shields, bonnet cases, and other such items were painted by a man as an expression of his identity and status among his people.

French Canadians traded Pony beads (5/0 and 6/0) westward by 1800.  These beads were used mainly for edge beading or narrow lines, but a few articles have been found with large, bold beadwork patterns of lazy stitched pony beads.

8/0 seed beads reached the plains in the mid-1830's, and allowed women to produce finer geometric beadwork.  Tiny 11/0 and 12/0  seed beads became more readily available by the 1870's.  By then access to quills was severely limited by confinement in concentration reserves, and the women began to predominantly use beads for decorating.  The Euro-American government occasionally provided fabric for basic clothes (as per treaties).   Less time was needed for tanning buckskin, and more time could be spent in producing beadwork.
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eagle feather Loom Beadwork??
French traders once gave beading looms to a few nations in the great lakes region - well outside the sphere of the American fur trade.  They hoped to increase beadwork production for more profits back in France.  Most native women never used the looms, except as firewood.  Those that tried them discarded them almost immediately.  Their bead weaving methods produced a better product.

Our native people considered their crafts and skills as gifts given to them by Creator.  To produce less than your best work would be insulting Creator.  Many native People still feel this way.

With the few, short-lived exceptions mentioned above, the only looms used by Native Americans for bead weaving were those used by eastern nations for weaving wampum.  Therefore, except for wampum, loomed beadwork is NOT authentic for either eastern or western American fur trade, or Native American personalities until well after the turn of the 20th century.  It is barely authentic for the French-Canadian trade.
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Euro-American Frontier Buckskin Clothing Prev Page in Series Next Page in Series How We Make Buckskin Clothing

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