Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Making a Dress the Nez Perce Way
My current WIP is set among the Nez Perce Indians and I've been reading a lot about them.
For a woman to make a dress she had to first tan two deer hides. That meant soaking the hides in water, then scraping the meat and fat from one side and the hair from the other with sharp stones. They were stretched then she worked the brain of the deer into the hide making it a soft leather.
When the hides were ready to make into a dress, she used a bone awl to punch holes and sinew or buckskin string to sew the skins together. The awl was used to make a hole and the end of the buckskin was moistened with saliva then rolled on their thigh to shape and tighten it. When the end dried it was then pushed through the holes made by the awl. The shoulder seams were constructed by sewing the back legs of the hide together. The sleeves were only elbow length. The tail at the neckline of the dress was folded down to form a faux yoke. The sides were sewn together and at the bottom of the dress, four half circular pieces were sewn between the neck and leg extensions of the hide to even out the hem and give more fullness for walking and riding.
The hair side of the hide was placed against the body for softness and warmth.
Fringes were added at the bottom, sleeves, and sided seams for ornamentation. The yoke and sleeves were solidly beaded. Some ceremonial dresses with all the beading could weigh up to 40 pounds. Every day dresses had minimal beading.
I didn't get a clear idea of how long this would all take, but I'm sure it would be a week or longer to make one garment. I'm pretty happy that I can purchase my fabric and use my sewing machine when I get the urge to make a garment.
Source: Nez Perce Women in Transition, 1877-1990 by Caroline James