Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Leather Dress Project

documenting the shoulder repair
While at Alafia Rendezvous in Homeland Florida I attended the Native Celebration they hold on Thursday Night each year.

At this Event was Mia, a good friend who originally hails from Australia, but more recently of St. Augustine Florida. She's the fine Lady who got us cooking for Pirate Events and gave us our first nudge to move full time to Florida. She also arrived early and helped us set up this year, driving stakes and hauling coolers like nobody's business.

Lovely Mia in her dress
At The Native Celebration she was wearing regalia that immediately caught my eye. After vainly trying to tear it off her body, (remember, she can drive two foot iron stakes in easily), I finally got her to agree to let me study it for a few days. 

 What's the big deal about an ole leather dress? If my hunch was right, this was a "real" over the shoulder leather garment, that goes back in our human history for thousands of years. Yes, when man and woman first chose to cover themselves with hides, this is the outfit that worked best for them.

Having a keen eye for details, I noticed right away it was a circa 1940 ceremonial gown, created right about the time of Pow Wow resurgence in the United States, after the "Ethnic Cleansing" that had taken place since the late 1800's had sputtered out and it was felt that Native Americans had a right to their ancient ceremonies once again.

Documenting the size and construction
What I could tell on examining it closely was that it had been altered, which I remedied by returning it to its original state and that in every way it was true to the design of the ancient garment I had here-to-fore only read about in books and observed in paintings, but had never found an actual living example in photo archives or museum inventories.

For lack of a better name, I have always referred to it as the "Paleo Dress" and have been hunting it's actual physical existence for more than 15 years.

 It may seem like just two hides were sewn together in a haphazard way, but it actually was a very cleverly constructed garment that moves and hugs the body easily, while giving freedom of movement and comfort. The hides are huge, measuring 66" long by 55" wide. This could only mean Elk hide.

John White's depiction of Pre-contact 1580 Natives

What really thrilled me the most was that it wasn't a day to day working dress, but an actual ceremony garment. More than fifty percent of the dress is finely cut fringe, which implies, "My Husband is such a good provider that I can have a dancing dress with tons of leather fringe, I can have more than one dress and this one is my fancy one, and I had time to spend several days cutting the fringe".

Mia related that it was "gifted" to her by a tribe of Northwestern Indians in the State of Washington, after she helped them get through a mountainside landslide crisis in which they lost their homes and most of their worldly goods. She, at that time, operated a small second hand store that she threw the doors open on and told everyone to just take what they needed with no worries of repayment. They showed their appreciation by presenting her with the leather dress in question.

The reason it was still being used and worn by this particular group of individuals was that they had very little contact with other tribes or the Europeans until very late in the settlement period of this country. This particular garment suited their needs for thousands of years and needed no improvements.

A Back End View
In colder seasons it had detachable sleeves that covered both bare arms, and leggings similar to the leather strap dress of my tribe,(Ojibway), that I have also been carefully researching for decades.

This garment predates the leather Ojibway strap dress by several hundred years. I can safely say that this garment was at one time, universally worn by all tribes and all peoples in North America and most parts of Europe.

I plan on recreating this garment as soon as I can have the suitable hides shipped to me. I will keep you posted on my progress.

1 comment:

Brittany said...

It beautiful Terri :)

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