Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Delta Braid/Delta Trim

I sat down at the machine the other day, determined to master the fine art of Delta Braid to add to some of the post cards I owe in the lates Art2Mail exchange. Failed rather miserably - I don't have the patience! But I decided that since there is such a lack of information on this technique on the internet, I'd add my 2 cents worth. Also decided that I should get the year started off well by being productive on the blog and not just use it as an excuse to vent.

Delta Braid (truly called Delta Trim, but I'm using the terms interchangeably as they've shifted a bit over the years) is the trim that is used to decorate parka's in my region - the Western Arctic. It's a skill that has been passed on through the generations in our area, but like most traditional skills, it is starting to disappear. Delta Braid is a form of applique. Likely, its origins lie with the Inupiat of Alaska and Coppermine of Nunavut. In the early days, various types of fur and skin were used to add decorative and distinctive elements to clothing. When the fur and whaling traders reached the arctic, they introduced european fabric and trims.

Nowadays the trim is almost exclusively made by the Inuvialuit and Athapaskan's of the Beaufort Delta (Mackenzie River) region (and as well as some Inuit and Inupiaq communities). I love the whole idea of delta trim because it so clearly affirms the inherent artistic nature of humans - that we'll decorate just about and with anything. You can find some very nice histories in a variety of books by cultural anthropology expert Jill Oakes (aka Jillian e. Oakes) as well as in the more recent book Arctic Clothing produced by McGill-Queen's University Press.

Delta Braid/Trim is made up of geometric patterns from layers of multi-coloured bias tape and seam bindings. In the early days it was mostly done in primary colours - but as the bias trim industry expanded, so did the colour selection. There is a whole debate going on about when the changes between a purely linear look (Inupiat) shifted to the more complex geometric (Western arctic), but I'll digress. In days gone by, it was used mostly on dresses and parkas. These days you'll see it on Parka covers, gun cases and the odd pair of Mukluks. It takes ages (and SKILL) to make the truly beautiful stuff. That skill is so undervalued that it makes my head spin. My examples suck - so in the meantime you'll have to look at the following links:

It is hard to find information on this subject, but I did want to include some instructions - just in case anyone wants to try it. I just may have to force myself to explore this area as part of Sharon B's Take it Further challenge which started today (well yesterday in Australia)?

Tutorial On Delta Braid/Delta Trim

Materials Needed: Sewing Machine, Polyester/Cotton Thread, Bias Tape (varying colours), Rick-Rack (optional), Graph Paper, Pencil Crayons. Also Optional: Egg Carton for sorting colours

Before starting to create delta trim – draw a pattern out on graph paper. This will allow you to count the pieces required and determine the length of each piece. Measure the length of your material where the delta trim will be applied. You’ll want to cut your base piece of bias tape 1 inch longer then your material measurement. You'll also want to cut individual pieces of bias tape - approximately 1/2 to 1 inch long - in colours that match the design on your graph paper. This is where the egg carton comes in handy - because you can sort the sizes and colours of your bias tape. In my opinion, this is the finicky part.

Your first row will be the bottom row (a long plain strip of bias tape or trim a couple inches longer than the width of where it will be attached). You will attach your coloured trim pieces to this row. In the image below, we're pretending to attach a small piece of red trim to the longer white bias row.

You can see in the second diagram below, that we're adding a second piece of trim a short distance away from the first. This is where your graph paper pattern will help keep you on track.

Once you have finished your first row (attaching the smaller pieces of trim) you will layer a piece of trim over top and then fold down the small pieces. Wash, Rinse, Repeat!

Hours later, you should have a very cool geometric pattern of trim. The design can be as simple or as complicated as one would like. Lots of women I know add rick rack or other machine braid.
Other sources of information can be found at:

Threads of the Land - at the Canadian Museum of Civilization talks about the clothing styles of the inuit and athapaskans and you can see some examples of Delta trim in the photos of the modern parkas.
McCord Museum has a nice thematic exhibition on the Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing. While not much on Delta Braid/Trim - some of the work is beautiful.

This was a rough, off the cuff tutorial, but I hope it provided a little bit of illumination. I'll try and get a photograph of some Delta Trim in the next few days (people do tend to look at you funny when you take photos of their calves though).


Jane said...

Thanks so much for this awesome tutorial and insight into this form of trim. I love the historical notes you interjected. Happy New Year!!

pdcrumbaker@gmail.com said...

So interesting and such beautiful examples. Thanks for the info, the tutorial, and the links. How far north in Canada are you? Is it dark all the time there at present?

Deireth said...

Yes, it's been dark for about a solid month (with long slow extended twilights happening in November and January around noon). The blue that happens in January is awesome! The sun is slowly creeping back and by May, it'll be missed dreadfully.

Anonymous said...

THis is beautiful work! It reminds me of the 'Scarlet Ribbons' of southeastern US native americans or the work of some of the northern plains native tribes. Would love to learn how to do this!

:) Linda

Anonymous said...

You are such a good writer!
Entertaining and informative.