Friday, January 4, 2008

Ribbonwork Research

(Please note - I've tried to put links to better quality photographs. The thumbnails are only teasers!)

I've had quite a few emails and comments about my rough tutorial on delta braid/trim. One poster commented that it reminded her of the 'Scarlet Ribbons' of the southeastern and northern plains native American work. This is my downfall. If I don't know about something, I get all sucked into research and emerge days later... so I've spent a glorious evening researching native American ribbon work and its derivatives and inspirations. Wow!

Ribbonwork began to die out in the 19th century but is beginning to gain interest again as groups strive to protect their cultural heritage. The modern Pow Wow circuit and Potlaches have had much influence in this area. Ribbonwork (which essentially was silk applique) was as important amongst the Woodland native americans as delta trim is in our arctic region. Patterns were cut from silk and they used techniques such as folding, splicing, tucking and sewing. Although some of the early examples that I found online (mostly photos in historical collections) show geometric designs, the vast majority seem to be floral in nature or abstract designs based on floral lines. The use of embroidery such as cross-stitch and herringbone stitches along the edges of the qpplique was popular to add to the decorativeness of the garments.

I found quite a collection of modern work which I've linked below. The first is thumbnail of the artist (screen name) Blackbear's exquisite ribbon work. I know it's a little grainy - but the link given from for thumbnails is a little wonky in Blogger. A better image can be found in gallery forums.

While there, you should explore more of Kevin Yazzie's work - it is truly gorgeous. His forum discussion can be found here!

As well as this absolutely stunning cedar bag:

In fact the crafts section of has some truly beautiful work in entirety. As a final peek, take a look at this shawl! The thumbnail is only a teaser of its beautiful work.

This led me to Crazy Crow Trading Post's article on Dance Shawls (be warned it is a commercial site, but has some good references. Another discussion on craft ribbon work can be found in Canku Ota's newsletter celebrating Native America. A very interesting two part article on Ribbon Work have been written by Lynn Sageflower Pennington. Part One is here and Part Two is here.

Windows on Maine has a wonderful photo of a ribbon appliqued cradle board. They have links to similar resources which will suck up your time - so be warned.

Finally this led me to read a slew of reviews on a book written Helen Kelley called SCARLET RIBBONS American Indian Technique for Today's Quilters. It is out of stock on Amazon, but it is now on my ordered list. One day my credit card will die when amazon finally gets all the books I want back in stock.

A last link loosely on the subject (or my branches off the subject): The National Museum of the American Indian has some lovely online exhibits. The first is entitled: Identity by Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native Women's Dresses. The second is Across Borders: Bead work and Iroquois Life (M! this is for you). A whole list of their other online exhibitions can be found here. There is a great teacher's guide to the exhibition To Honour and Comfort: Native Quilts here (downloadable pdf) as well as a guide on Native Dolls (plus many other teacher's guides on exhibitions past and present).

On the home front - I received an enormous box in the mail today. My Sulky thread! All 128 spools of the stuff. I'm in heaven!

Now if only to carve out some time this weekend to use some of it.


Jane said...

Thanks for providing all these wonderful links to this form of Native American craft. I very much enjoy reading your highly informative posts. Enjoy your new threads!

Anonymous said...

So happy I found you! I too fall prey to the never ending research. And so, I am very greatful for your leg work on our mutual passion- ribbon work.

Medicinehorse7 said...


I ran across your post and though you might enjoy my site. My wife and I design ribbon-work and know many friends that are into the craft.
here is my link: