Overview of Footwear;
Algonkian or Iroquois Center-seam Moccasins with
added cuff (mid-1600's) [King: 1991].
of a Pucker Toe Moccasin Pattern.
Moccasins, (low tailored shoes), are
one type of traditional North American footwear. Woven sandals,
boots, and leggings attached to shoes have also been produced
by Native Americans. The origins of moccasins go back to the
cold, harsh climates of man's
past that made it necessary to make protective footwear. Wearing
moccasins or boots would have been essential to keep feet from
freezing. In warm weather and mild surroundings, protective
footwear would be less important and people could easily go barefoot.
The word moccasin, which has language origins with Eastern North
American tribes, traditionally referred to a shoe with a puckered
u-shaped 'vamp' over the instep. The name of the Great Lakes Ojibway
tribe means 'people of the puckered moccasin'. The southern New
England Narragansett word for shoe is 'Mocussinass' or 'Mockussinchass'.
Today the word moccasin, still with innumerable spellings, generally
refers to all types of hard and soft soled shoes, with and without
Native American moccasins were designed
for their specific environment. Hard-sole moccasins, usually
made from two or more pieces of hide, are often associated with
the western plains and deserts areas. The hard sole of shaped
rawhide and fitted leather upper required more tailoring than
other moccasin varieties. Hard-soled moccasins were important
to protect feet from harsh cactus or prairie-grass covered ground,
and sharp rocks not worn down by water. The turned up toe of
many two-piece moccasins (like that of the Apache) prevented sharp
objects from running into the seams and injuring the foot. Soft-soled
moccasins, often constructed from a single piece of leather were
common in the Eastern Forests and were made by bringing up the
sole of the shoe around the foot and puckering or patching the
material around the instep. Soft-soled center seam and pucker-toe
moccasins were well suited to travel through woodlands with leaf
and pine-needle covered ground. Some soft-soled moccasins from
the Plains and Northwest Coast were made from one piece but they
were sewed along one the side of the foot rather than the center.
The most basic form of soft-sole moccasin
was the simple center seam made from a single piece of tanned
leather. The leather sides were brought up from the bottom and
around the sides of the foot sewn in a central seam starting with
a puckered stitch at the toe and running along the upper instep.
Variations of soft-sole moccasin construction include a u-shaped
piece of leather, added as a vamp, while another piece was added
to the back of the moccasin to serve as a cuff. Some of the Great
Lakes and Iroquois tribes used a wide vamp, added in a gathered
fashion to cover most of the upper front of the moccasin. Other
Eastern Forest tribes made moccasins with a shorter or narrower
vamp that sometimes joined a central puckered seam running down
the upper front to the toe.|
Moccasins were made with all types of
variations and additions according to the styles of different
tribes. So distinctive are some moccasin styles that one could
tell the tribe of the wearer by his footprints. Flaps of leather
or fur were often added to cover the ankle, or folded down as
a cuff. Some moccasins were made into a boot simply by attaching
them to the leggings. Various sized u-shaped or elliptical pieces
of leather, called vamps or insets, were added to the moccasin
upper at the instep. A tongue for hard and soft-soled moccasins
was often added and cut into various forms and decorated. Many
methods were used to pucker the toes of woodland center-seam moccasins.
A distinctive 'rabbit nose' or 'partridge' moccasins could be sewed
by trimming the pattern first into a 'w' shape. There were also
many ways to finish the heels of moccasins.
Varieties of Eastern Woodland moccasins often left a tiny tab,
or tail, trimmed to different shapes, that dragged behind. Other
one-piece moccasins have no tail, or the tab is sewn up to the
heel for added reinforcement. Some moccasins of the plains and
prairie had fringe hanging at the heel seam or added onto the
instep; as fringe trailed behind the walker, it may have helped
to obliterate footprints.|
Moccasins were usually made from the
soft tanned hides of deer, moose, elk or buffalo. Rawhide was
used for the hard-soled moccasins. Hides from the larger animals
were much thicker than buckskin. Thicker hides were more difficult
to sew, but produced sturdier, longer lasting moccasins. Sewing
is easier with soft Indian-tanned (or brain-tanned) leather, but commercially
sueded and split leather is also suitable for moccasin making.
Commercial leather is most like brain tanned leather when it
is split (sueded on both sides), as the smooth outside of the
hide has been split off. The thickness of commercial leather
is measured by the weight in ounces of a square foot of leather.
Very thin garment leathers, 1-2 oz. weight, is usually too thin
for practical moccasins, while heavy leathers, 5-6 oz. weight,
can be nearly impossible to sew by hand. Medium thickness leather
(3-4 oz. weight) is recommended for most soft-soled moccasins.
Patterns should be laid out on the hide so the pieces go with
the grain of the leather, so the moccasins will be uniform. If
conservation of leather is a consideration, pieces can be laid
out so leather is not wasted, but as the leather stretches in
different directions, sewing can become a little irregular.
Moccasins were assembled inside out to
hide the stitching in the finished shoe. Stitching would be done
traditionally with sinew through holes punched with an bone awl.
For comfort, knots were kept on the outside of a shoe. The whip
stitch was commonly used in moccasins, often with an added narrow
welt running the length of the seam to make the moccasin stronger
and to help hide the stitching when turned right side out. The
running stitch was also used in places where the whip stitch was
not as practical, as with added fringe. Seams were often gently
pounded flat in puckered areas.|
Even though moccasin construction techniques
are similar among many tribes, the beaded or quilled decorations
were often quite distinctive. Woodland moccasins were often decorated,
usually in floral or zoomorphic designs, on the instep or tongue
portion, woodland decorationdid not usually cover the sides of
the moccasin. The flap or added cuff around the ankle was also
often decorated, or worn upright and held in place by thongs wrapped
around the ankle. A separate beaded or quilled piece of velvet
or leather was sometimes sewn on top of the cuff or tongue portion.
These decorated panels could be easily removed from the moccasins
when the soles wore out, and sewn onto a new pair. Plains moccasins
often left the cuff undecorated, but geometric bead and quillwork
patterns often decorated the instep portion, or around the circumference
near the sole. Some Plains designs covered the entire top of
the moccasin from the heel to the toe. Moccasins worn for marraige were often
completely covered in beads. For Plains peoples preparedness
in the afterlife, many moccasins worn into burial were fully beaded
even on the bottom of the soles. |
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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
unless otherwise cited.