Tuesday, March 8, 2016

About Native American Clothing and Use of Colors

About Native American Clothing  and Use of  Colors

     In the eastern states and on the Plains the dress of the Indians was largely composed of tanned and dressed skins such as those of the buffalo and the deer. Most of the Indians were skilled in dressing skins. The hide when fresh from the animal was laid on the ground, stretched as tightly as possible and pegged down all around the edges. As it dried it became still more taut. A scraper was used to remove the fat and to thin the skin. In old days this scraper was made of a piece of bone cut to proper form, or of a stone chipped to a sharp edge; in later times it was a bone handle, with a blade of iron or steel attached to it. Brains, livers, and fat of animals were used to soften and dress the skin. These materials were mixed together and spread over the stretched skin, which was then rolled up and laid aside. After several days, when the materials had soaked in and somewhat softened the skin, it was opened and washed: it was then rubbed, twisted, and worked over until soft and fully dressed.

The men wore three or four different articles of dress. First was the breech-clout, which consisted of a strip of skin or cloth perhaps a foot wide and several feet long; sometimes its ends were decorated with beadwork or other ornamentation. This cloth was passed between the legs and brought up in front and behind. It was held in place by a band or belt passing around the waist, and the broad decorated ends hung down from this something like aprons. Almost all male Indians on the continent wore the breech-clout.

The men also wore buckskin leggings. These were made in pairs, but were not sewed together. They fitted tightly over the whole length of the leg, and sometimes were held up by a cord at the outer upper corner, which was tied to the waist-string. Leggings were usually fringed with strips of buckskin sewed along the outer side. Sometimes bands of beadwork were tied around the leggings below the knees.

A jacket or shirt made of buckskin and reaching to the knees was generally worn. It was variously decorated. Buckskin strip fringes bordered it; pictures in black or red or other colors were painted upon it; handsome patterns were worked into it with beads or porcupine quills, brightly dyed; tufts of hair or true scalps might be attached to it.
Over all these came the blanket or robe. Nowadays these are got from the whites, and are simple flannel blankets; but in the old times they were made of animal hides. In putting on a blanket, the male Indian usually takes it by two corners, one in each hand, and folds it around him with the upper edge horizontal. Holding it thus a moment with one hand, he catches the sides, a little way down, with the fingers of the other hand, and thus holds it.
Even where the men have given up the old style of dress the women often retain it. The garments are usually made, however, of cloth instead of buckskin. Thus among the Sacs and Foxes the leggings of the women, which used to be made of buckskin, are now of black broad-cloth. They are made very broad or wide, and reach only from the ankles to a little above the knees. They are usually heavily beaded. The woman's skirt, fastened at the waist, falls a little below the knees; it is made of some bright cloth and is generally banded near the bottom with tape or narrow ribbon of a different color from the skirt itself. Her jacket is of some bright cloth and hangs to the waist. Often it is decorated with brooches or fibulæ made of German silver. I once saw a little girl ten years old who was dancing, in a jacket adorned with nearly three hundred of these ornaments placed close together.

All Indians, both men and women, are fond of necklaces made of beads or other material. Men love to wear such ornaments composed of trophies, showing that they have been successful in war or in hunting. They use elk teeth, badger claws, or bear claws for this purpose. One very dreadful necklace in Washington is made chiefly of the dried fingers of human victims. Among the Sacs and Foxes, the older men use a neck-ring that looks like a rope of solid beads. It consists of a central rope made of rags; beads are strung on a thread and this is wrapped around and around the rag ring, until when finished only beads can be seen.
Before the white man came, the Indians used beads made of shell, stone, or bone. Nowadays they are fond of the cheap glass beads which they get from white traders. There are two kinds of beadwork now made. The first is the simpler. It is sewed work. Patterns of different colored beads are worked upon a foundation of cloth. Moccasins, leggings, and jackets are so decorated; sometimes the whole article may be covered with the bright beads. Almost every one has seen tobacco-pouches or baby-frames covered with such work. The other work is far more difficult. It is used in making bands of beads for the arms, legs, and waist. It is true woven work of the same sort as the famous wampum belts, of which we shall speak later. Such bands look like solid beads and present the same patterns on both sides.

The porcupine is an animal that is covered with spines or “quills.” These quills were formerly much used in decorating clothing. They were often dyed in bright colors. After being colored they were flattened by pressure and were worked into pretty geometrical designs, color-bands, rosettes, etc., upon blankets, buckskin shirts, leggings, and moccasins. Very little of this work has been done of late years: beadwork has almost crowded it out of use.

The moccasin is a real Indian invention, and it bears an Indian name. It is the most comfortable foot-wear that could be devised for the Indian mode of life. It is made of buckskin and closely fits the foot. Moccasins usually reach only to the ankle, and are tied close with little thongs of buckskin. They have no heels, and no part is stiff or unpleasant to the foot. The exact shape of the moccasin and its decoration varies with the tribe.
In some tribes there is much difference between the moccasins of men and those of women. Among the Sacs and Foxes the woman's moccasin has two side flaps which turn down and nearly reach the ground; these, as well as the part over the foot, are covered with a mass of beading; the man's moccasin has smaller side flaps, and the 
only beading upon it is a narrow band running lengthwise along the middle part above the foot.
The women of the Pueblos are not content with simple moccasins, but wrap the leg with strips of buckskin. This wrapping covers the leg from the ankles to the knees and is heavy and thick, as the strips are wound time after time around the leg. At first, this wrapping looks awkward and ugly to a stranger, but he soon becomes accustomed to it.

Not many of the tribes were real weavers. Handsome cotton blankets and kilts were woven by the Moki and other Pueblo Indians. Such are still made by these tribes for their religious ceremonies and dances. Nowadays these tribes have flocks of sheep and know how to weave good woollen blankets. Some of the Pueblos also weave long, handsome belts, in pretty patterns of bright colors. Their rude loom consists of just a few sticks, but it serves its purpose 

well, and the blankets and belts are firm and close.

The Navajo, who are neighbors of the Pueblos, learned how to weave from them, but are to-day much better weavers than their teachers. Every one knows the Navajo blankets, with their bright colors, pretty designs, and texture so close as to shed water.
Some tribes of British Columbia weave soft capes or cloaks of cedar bark, and in Alaska the Chilcat Indians weave beautiful blankets of mountain-sheep wool and mountain-goat hair. These are a mass of odd, strikingly colored, and crowdedly arranged symbolic devices.
Among some California Indians the women wore dresses made of grass. They were short skirts or kilts, consisting of a waist-band from which hung a fringe of grass cords. They had nuts and other objects ornamentally inserted into the cords. They reached about to the knees.