Seminole Patchwork Cross or sacred fire, arrow, zigzag, bird, wave, mountains and diamondback rattlesnake all have something in common. What do all of these names have in common? They are all names of Seminole patchwork designs. What exactly is patchworking? It can be defined as the process of sewing pieces of solid colored cloth together to make long rows of designs, which are then joined horizontally to other bands of cloth to form a garment (Downs, 1995, 88). This Native American artwork is closely associated with the Florida Seminoles. The history of this tribe and how they came to make patchwork garments is rather interesting.
In making patchwork garments, things to be considered include how it is done (process), what elements of design are used, whom the garment is to be made for and who actually makes it. Presently, there are less artists in this craft and the future of patchwork may be at risk. Seminole patchwork has been done for over a century, and its beauty and uniqueness needs to be revealed and recognized by Americans. The Seminole Indians were not always located in Florida. In the early 19th Century the Seminoles lived in the cool areas of Georgia. They wore animals hides and furs to keep warm. This all changed in 1830, when President Andrew Jackson passed the Indian Removal Policy of 1830, which forced the Seminoles to flee to Florida.
In fleeing to Florida they left behind their homes, some relatives who refused to leave and their cool climate. In Florida, there was no longer a need for the warm furs and hides and they turned to the use of cloth. In 1840, they disappeared into the Everglades and lived there in peace, with no influences from other tribes. The Everglades were rich with exotic items that were worth a lot in trade markets. Once a year, the Seminoles would take a voyage on the Miami River to Miami.
In Miami they could trade items such as alligator hides and egret plumes for rolls of cotton cloth. The Seminoles would use the cotton to make various pieces of clothing. One year, a voyage could not be made to Miami to attain more cloth and the Seminoles were forced to use scraps of cloth, sewing them together to make a large piece of cloth or garment. These scrapped together garments were then called Taweekaache, better known as patchwork. (Westermark Many Bad Horses) These patchwork garments brought tourists to the lush, tropical setting of the Everglade area. Tourists flocked to see the Seminole Indians and to buy their patchwork pieces.
The process of making these garments was rather slow and somewhat complicated (Blackard and West, Downs, 1995, 85). A Seminole patchwork requires the maker to take/cut many pieces of clothe and then sew them together. The process of sewing, cutting, sewing and so on results in the making of complex geometric designs. There is a six-step process that illustrates how patchwork is done. This process is that of Nea Dodson, a modern day patchwork artist. The pattern is very simple, but is one that is good to get your feet wet in patchmaking.
This process is the same used by the original Seminoles. 1.) Cut scraps into equal sized squares, making sure to be accurate. 2.) Next, cut a neutral fabric into long strips, which are as wide as the scrap squares. 3.) Sew the scrap squares between two strips of neutral fabric, like this. 4.) Cut strips apart so you now have a rectangle made of three squares: a square of neutral, a scrap square and another square of neutral.
It is important that the edges are straight and the two neutral sides are even. 5.) Shift one rectangle down so that the top edge of the uppermost neutral square on the right is even with the top edge of the scrap square on the left. Sew the rectangles together. Keep adding rectangles in this manner. You will get a strip that looks like this. 6.) Keep adding rectangles until you have a strip as long as you want.
Turn the strip so that the scrap squares are all on point (standing on one corner). Trim the upper and lower corners off the neutral squares (see the dotted line in the first picture). The resulting piece of patchwork should look like this: Being a woman herself, Nea Dodson must know what it was like for the women of the Seminole tribe. All that cutting and hand sewing must have been very tedious. It wasnt until the 1880s that the hand operated sewing machine made its debut into Seminole villages.
This made the process much easier and patchwork soon flourished. The sewing machine could do more tasks and incorporate more features into Seminole clothing. Around 1900, women were putting built in belts into mens shirts. (Blackard and West) Then around 1920, the Seminole women began to put bands of contrasting colors into their clothing. A Seminole named Judy Bill Osceola remarks: There wasnt any designs then, there was just pieces of cloth .
. . When they put all of the pieces together, they saw it was colorful and that was that (Downs, 1995, 89). Design plays important part in the making of any craft or piece of artwork. The elements of design in patchworking can be easily seen. There are four predominant elements of design found in patchwork garments.
These four elements are color, texture, rhythm (motion) and pattern. Color is very important because it brings attention to the garments. Bright pieces of fabric are used in patchwork clothing, giving life and spirit to the wearer. Colors were sometimes a bit contrasting in that a bright warm color may be put into a predominately cool colored garment. This contrast brought attention to certain designs and patterns. Next, the texture of patchwork garments started out just having a plain, nappy cotton look, but once satin began to be used, the texture had a smooth, shimmery look.
The texture of these garments lies heavily in the material used. The rhythm or motion of the patchworks is very important. All patchwork garments are made so that the bands of patterns are horizontal. These bands wrap all the way around giving the garment a circular, flowing motion. Though color, texture and rhythm are important, the biggest element in patchworking is pattern.
Every garment is made with a special pattern that has either a religious, family, historical or everyday life significance. These patterns were first given names by a white woman named Harriet Bedell, who was an Indian Arts Activist. She encouraged the Seminole women to give the patchwork patterns names to facilitate their growth in the business market. The first two patchwork patterns documented through photograp …