Monday, May 20, 2013

Gathering of Nations, Part 3: Buckskin Grace

Gathering of Nations 2013, New Mexico

During some ladies' buckskin dances, I happened to be sitting on a court-side bleacher. Thus it was I saw how gracefully the buckskin fringe swayed with the womens' steps.

In the dance below, which includes both buckskin and cloth dresses, you can see the beautiful fringe sway of  a buckskin dancer from the back. ... and I love the song.

Below you can see how the fringe moves from the front and side, as you watch the Head Woman Dancer lead her family, friends, and village supporters on a march around the court. Another lovely song.

Below is a video from a 2007 event, highlighting three buckskin dancers. Dignity and grace are two of the hallmarks of buckskin dancing.

I enjoyed reading these discussion about making a buckskin dress:

In this thread, ladies talk about traditional and contemporary colors of buckskin dresses - that eons-old tension between old ways and new in all cultures.  

In a discussion thread about how to make a buckskin dress, this dressmaker packs so much information in her response - family history, traditions, technique, blending of the spiritual with the making, and a generous offer to mentor the original poster:  

Gathering of Nations 2013, New Mexico
Hi! I make Buckskin Dresses for a living and work on them everyday!

I agree with Friend of Bear that the best way to learn to make one is too look at a good dress and see how it was put together. I took my Mother's dress and studied every part of it (without taking it would have meant death!!).

Ask someone's hands-on help because there is a lot of feeling the hides and looking at the hides which will tell you which hide is good for which, skirt, fringe.
One thing that we never, ever, never use glue on any part of a Buckskin Dress!!!! And we do not use a hole punch either!

There is no need for glue if you are going to tie a skirt and you use an awl for all holes. I hand sew my dresses unless specifically asked to be tied at the sides. If you sew the seam, you cut the side fringe separately and sew it into the seam inside out, of course, the the hides back to back...smooth side in. Work with will find the right way.

The most important thing is to use good tools. That would be my best advise. A very good, very sharp pair of leather scissors. Good buckskin needles, awls, a small pair of gripping pliers (don't know the real name) to help you pull the needle through 3 layers of buckskin when it is stubborn. Sometimes just a firm grip is all you need. Good strong thread or sinew.

I cut all my strings straight, not in a circle.. and I harldly ever stretch my commercial hides. If you cut the dress right and fit it right...they will never be stretched on the body! The current Comanche Nation Princess is wearing a dress I made for her when she was 13 and she is now 19 and she always sits properly, so that the back of the skirt has never "pooched".

The only part of the dress that does get stretched are the fringes when I am cutting them. This is good to do so that gravity does not pull the fringes too long as they wear the dress so they become uneven and have to be trimmed all the time.

Making a Buckskin Dress is a constant learning experience. I find new and better ways of doing some part of it on each new dress I make. I also listen to comments and ideas from other Dress makers and from wearers and I am always open creative thinking. And of course the elders. Even though the dress has evolved so much from the old days...there are always reasons for a dress being made a certain way and by listening to them you can learn so much, or realize why you are doing something...or, what makes me feel good, is when they validate something you are already doing, by saying they do it the same way.

Make your own patterns..start with your own shape (especially if the dress is for you, duh!!) and take your measurements and transfer them to paper. Then go through the hides that you have to find the right one for the right piece and cut it from your pattern. I am not a professional seamstress, I've never made anything from a Simplicty pattern, and I don't know how to use a sewing machine, but I figured this out and you can do it too!

I am so sorry to go on and on...I just wanted you to have the takes me two weeks to put a dress together...choosing the hides to making the pattern and cutting and sewing and that is with my life and cooking and talking to customers and going to Pow-Wows in between (notice I left out cleaning house), and if I am diligently using every other spare moment on the dress.

It has taken me 10 years to get to be asked to make dresses for some of he best Championship winning dancers in the country and I have a waiting list one year long, but I would be glad to share any info that I can in writing.

If you are ever in SW Oklahoma, drop in on me and we'll do it together!

You know, I forgot the most important thing!!! I pray before I ever cut a hide in thankfulness for the deer (or elk) that the Creator gave us (I learned that from a 90 year old dress maker Alice Littleman) and I thank God everyday for the talent and vision and the strength and the health that he allows me to have that I need to make dresses. All Glory goes to God!!!


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