Feather work was one of the most remarkable arts of the natives of Mexico and other southern countries at the period of the conquest. The feathers were sometimes woven in with the woof and sometimes applied to a network base after the fashion of embroidery. Rarely, it may be imagined, were either spun or unspun fabrics woven of feathers alone. Very pleasing specimens of ancient Peruvian feather work are recovered from graves at Ancon and elsewhere, and the method of inserting the feathers is illustrated in the Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. In few instances has such work been recovered from mounds or burial places, but there can be no doubt that the mound-building tribes were experts in this art. Frequent mention is made of the feather work of the natives by the earliest explorers of the Mississippi valley, and the character of the work may be gathered from the extracts already given and from those which follow.
John Smith, speaking of the feather work of the Virginia Indians, says:
Lawson mentions a "doctor" of the Santee nation who "was warmly and neatly clad with a match coat, made of turkies feathers, which makes a pretty show, seeming as if it was a garment of the deepest silk shag."
In another place the same author says:
Their feather match coats are very pretty, especially some of them, which are made extraordinary charming, containing several pretty figures wrought in feathers, making them seem like a fine flower silk shag; and when new and fresh, they become a bed very well, instead of a quilt. Some of another sort are made of hair, raccoon, bever, or squirrel skins, which are very warm. Others again are made of the greenpart of the skin of a mallard's head, which they sew perfectly well together, their thread being either the sinews of a deer divided very small, or silk grass. When these are finished, they look very finely, though they must needs be very troublesome to make.
Du Pratz thus describes the art in Louisiana:
If the women know how to do this kind of work they make mantles either of feathers or woven of the bark of the mulberry tree. We will describe their method of doing this. The feather mantles are made on a frame similar to that on which the peruke makers work hair; they spread the feathers in the same manner and fasten them on old fish nets or old mantles of mulberry bark. They are placed, spread in this manner, one over the other and on both sides; for this purpose small turkey feathers are used; women who have feathers of swans or India ducks, which are white, make these feather mantles for women of high rank.
028Butel-Dumont describes feather work of the natives of Louisiana briefly as follows:
They [the women] also, without a spinning wheel or distaff, spin the hair or wool of cattle of which they make garters and ribands; and with the thread which they obtain from lime-tree bark, they make a species of mantle, which they cover with the finest swan's feathers fastened one by one to the material. A long task indeed, but they do not count this trouble and time when it concerns their satisfaction