My Two Hide Dress Assembled and Fitted

Side Placards Created for closure
I struggled for some time on the type of side closure I wanted to have on this dress, it was typically closed in recent times with:

A) Leather thong ties, (which would eventually stretch and tear the hide with use, as well as need constant re-tightening and create a rumpled look when sitting or bending)

B) Whip stitched or running stitch down the side seam from under the arm using sinew or hemp thread, (creates a bunched up look that impedes dress movement and changes the outline and seems to be a later invention post contact)

C) Lacing the side seams with wide, crude leather thongs, which I can find absolutely no documentation of any kind, anywhere. It seems the heavy leather lacing we see on leather garments was an invention of the "Western Romantics", who envisioned the Native Peoples as being so bereft of sewing skills that they could only close their garments with crude leather laces in a horrible running stitch that makes real Native Women cringe, (note: these are the same people who insist Native Women never wove and wore cloth undergarments, when Mound excavations over one hundred years ago clearly show burials with woven hemp and flax cloth garments going back a thousand years or more).

D) Belted with a girdle like leather belt about 4 inches wide. This is documented as being worn at time of first European visual contact, but has not accurately been described by any worthy scribe of the times and may have made its appearance long after western influence. (See note "C" above).

Side placard glued into place on the inside
Since I decided to make this dress a pre fringe garment (also a European influence exaggeration) and also designing on the documentation from early Native oral history that the original two hide dress was made with as few cuts made to the hide as was necessary, (the hides left as whole as possible), I was left with a garment with draping sleeves that attach to the body, therefore, no place to put a belt without cutting slits in the hide on either side.

I also foresaw that sewing down the side seams would alter and impede the movement of the garment in a way that would detract from its appearance and prevent me from having as clean a canvas as possible for ornamentation.

This left me with only one option that came to me in a dream state early one morning, (as most ideas for this dress have come to me), namely, to add to placards to the inside of the hide at waist level and lace these two together to form a closure.
Both placards in place

This allows a smooth unbroken canvas on which to place bead work, it also compliments the under corset I created to wear underneath, the dress will float closely to the corset waistline without being attached in any way should I decide to wear the dress without the corset, (Not likely, but an important consideration).

I initially glued these placards into place using hide glue, (which is fully documented as an important pre contact tool), and I will eventually invisibly tack the corners using sinew or hemp thread to reinforce.

Placards pinned in place to check placement
Perhaps at this time one would venture to say that I have departed from documentation as far as we have it, but any given seamstress of former time would wrestle with these problems and most likely come to the same conclusions about how to build this particular garment. 

Native women showed a remarkable ability to understand and implement design changes that would enhance the appearance in any given garment. Any seamstress with fundamental knowledge of how a garment works would be able to come to the same conclusions I have.

Is there documentation? No. But there also aren't any pre contact garments available to study. All we have are a few sketches and paintings made by early explorers, who were men who had no true understanding of a women's garment structure.

Even with the documentation at hand, there is still little known about what was worn in the TRULY pre contact era, (Before European Influence). By the time explorers met the women of the plains who actually wore the two hide dress they had already been influenced, some 200 years or more beforehand by items that had reached them through remote trade with early Spanish and French explorers who left a legacy of dogs, horses and beads that were well entrenched in the Native world before the later Documenting Explorers ever reached their domains.

I base my research on what has been found in the burial mounds of the genuine pre contact era. I have discovered a talented and civilized people who made pottery, carved effigies, wove cloth and grew crops. They made and adorned themselves with both cloth and leather garments, availing themselves of the large Elk hides available to them at this time of plenty and seeming affluence.

They used pearls, bone and clay beads, porcupine quills, wooden buttons clad in hammered Native silver and copper to adorn their clothing. They made finely formed beads from pipe stone and other natural stone that they fancied, including but not limited to: native jasper, green stone, quartz and obsidian. They had hammered copper plates and tools, including needles and awls. They traded extensively enough that freshwater pearls and shells from the distant western and eastern ocean shores are included in the ornamentation of their burials.

Their burials were greatly formal and showed that ceremony and care were taken in the interment of their loved ones even to placing objects that had great value in daily use as well as objects of wealth within the ground where their use was lost (supposedly) forever from them.

These were not the backward and ignorant stone age people portrayed by early historians, (and I use that term very loosely here). They deliberately rushed to judgements made to make easier the displacement and eradication of a once noble people who's society could, in truth, be compared to that of the ancient Greeks or any other "Cradle Civilization".

It was easier to displace a savage and crude culture, filled with backward vice and hatred, than to admit the people they were destroying had value and a place in the "New World".

The Plains people encountered by Explorers had left their placid agricultural environment  and had recently become a mobile and warlike nomadic people, due in a great part to the forced movement of tribes from the East to the West, displacing tribes from their hereditary homelands and depriving them of their ancient skills they had before this movement, as sudden migration will tend to do to a cultured people.

As Europeans flooded the shores of the East Coast in the 1500's, Eastern Tribes such as the Ojibway, (from which I descend), and many others, decided to move Westward and came to fight for and occupy lands that were never theirs before, displacing the tribes who had a thousand years or more occupied them in relative peace and harmony. In this action was the Plains Native reduced to the state we find him in at later "discovery" in the 1800's by Europeans. This by no means was the first and only reason for tribes moving West and displacing others such as the Mandan, but it was the final blow for Midwestern Tribes having a long time established homeland where they were born, lived and subsequently buried in formal fashion.

It is horrible in deed to think that in a few short years a once noble and ancient people were reduced by Europeans with much less "morality" to a disease decimated and war torn  population who were and are still a powerful Nation, though having lost much of their original heritage as the cost of conflict in the interim.

Good enough, I will leave off my tirade for now as I think I have made my point that these Peoples had a culture, civilization and the ability to make good clothes. My designs reflect that inherent knowledge, any given seamstress given any good hide would be able to reach the conclusions I have and be able to implement them.

Front view with Corset underneath
The truth is, we simply don't have those garments to actually study, since the hide garments worn have simply dissolved in the internment to leave only shreds of fiber to give us a glimpse at what may have been. If you combine what was worn at time of contact and walk backwards in time to an even more opulent chapter in history, this is my best theory as to how they crafted and wore this particular ceremonial dress. I have tried to give it the care, respect and consideration that these women of that time would have and (hopefully) have achieved a graceful conclusion.

Now that I have all of that off my chest, lets get to revealing what I have wrought:

Here are various views of the dress completed and as yet decorated, I am satisfied at this stage to let this garment rest as is, it being complete in it's beauty without further machinations on my part.

And the Headpiece!
Rear view

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...