Native American Hemp Rugs and Carpets
Formerly, the Indians made very handsome carpets. They have a wild hemp that grows about six feet high, in open, rich, level lands, and which usually ripens in July: it is plenty on our frontier settlements. When it is fit for use, they pull, steep, peel, and beat it; and the old women spin it off the distaffs, with wooden machines, having some clay on the middle of them, to hasten the motion. When the 024coarse thread is prepared, they put it into a frame about six feet square, and instead of a shuttle, they thrust through the thread with a long cane, having a large string through the web, which they shift at every second course of the thread. When they have thus finished their arduous labour, they paint each side of the carpet with such figures, of various colours, as their fruitful imaginations devise; particularly the images of those birds and beasts they are acquainted with; and likewise of themselves, acting in their social, and martial stations. There is that due proportion and so much wild variety in the design, that would really strike a curious eye with pleasure and admiration. J. W—t, Esq., a most skilful linguist in the Muskohge dialect, assures me, that time out of mind they passed the woof with a shuttle; and they have a couple of threddles, which they move with the hand so as to enable them to make good dispatch, something after our manner of weaving. This is sufficiently confirmed by their method of working broad garters, sashes, shot pouches, broad belts, and the like, which are decorated all over with beautiful stripes and chequers.
The women are the chief, if not the only, manufacturers; the men judge that if they performed that office, it would exceedingly depreciate them. * * * In the winter season, the women gather buffalo's hair, a sort of coarse, brown, curled wool; and having spun it as fine as they can, and properly doubled it, they put small beads of different colours upon the yarn, as they work it, the figures they work in those small webs, are generally uniform, but sometimes they diversify them on both sides. The Choktah weave shot-pouches which have raised work inside and outside. They likewise make turkey feather blankets with the long feathers of the neck and breast of that large fowl—they twist the inner end of the feathers very fast into a strong double thread of hemp, or the inner bark of the mulberry tree, of the size and strength of coarse twine, as the fibres are sufficiently fine, and they work it in manner of fine netting. As the feathers are long and glittering, this sort of blankets is not only very warm, but pleasing to the eye.
The extent and importance of the art among the Gulf tribes are indicated by a number of early observers. The Knight of Elvas speaks of the use of blankets by the Indians, 83 degrees west longitude, and 32 degrees north latitude, or near the central portion of Georgia:
These are like shawls, some of them are made from the inner barks of trees, and others from a grass resembling nettle, which, by threading out, becomes like flax. The women use them for covering, wearing one about the body from the waist downward, and another over the shoulder, with the right arm left free, after the manner of the gypsies: the men wear but one, which they carry over their shoulders in the same way, the loins being covered with a bragueiro of deer-skin, after the fashion of the woolen breech-cloth that was once the custom of Spain. The skins are well dressed, the color being given to them that is wished, and in such perfection, that, when of vermilion, they look like very fine red broadcloth, and when black, the sort in use for shoes, they are of the purest. The same hues are given to blanket