NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art

Sashes and Garters

comments by Rick Obermeyer (Dec., 1990)

in 19th Century Seminole Men`s Clothing
Rick Obermeyer ~ Editor

There are scant, if any, written descriptions of Seminoles wearing fingerwoven sashes and garters. But there is ample evidence from illustrations and from surviving examples that not only was flngerweaving common, it was necessary for a chief's complete attire. Seven of the nine Seminole portraits in McKenney-Hall clearly show fingerwoven sashes. An eighth portrait, "Foke Luste Hajo," has a narrow black sash that is a "probable" because it has seed beads along its outside edges. The sash colors in the McKenney-Hall portraits are:

Osceola (sash) diamonds black dark (w/white beads)
(garters) diamonds black blue (no beads shown)
Foke Luste Hajo solid(?) black (w/white beads)
Itcho Tustennuggee W' s black red (w/white beads)
Julcee Mathla W's black white (w/white beads)
Neamathla W' s black (w/white beads)
Tukosee Mathla (sash) chevrons black blue white(?) (w/white beads)
(garters) diamonds black blue (w/white beads)
Yahahajo diamonds black blue (w/white beads)
Billy Lowlegs diamonds ? (w/white beads)
photo, "old Tallahassee" (1890s) diamonds black(?) (w/white beads)

Neither the design nor the colors of Billy Bowlegs' sash can be determined from the his McKenney-Hall lithograph. An 1858 photo of him (Fig. 310, Fundaburk, 1956) more clearly shows the pattern and the use of beads. It's easy to surmise from the black and white photo that at least black was used, but other dark colors (if any) are conjectural.

Osceola's sash does not appear in either of George Catlin's painting of him, but it is verified in the Robert John Curtis portrait (Goggin, 1955, and Fig. 291, Fundaburk, 1956), and by an example in the Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville, purported to be his.

Some other examples of fingerwoven sashes are:

Fl.Mus.Nat.Hist.,Gainesvllle "Osceola's" diamonds black dark blue (w/white beads)
(1830's) cmplx.chev. blue red (w/white beads)
(1840's) diamonds black red (w/white beads)
Milwaukee Public Mus. diamonds black red (w/white beads)
"No-Kush-Adjo" (Fig. 300, Fundaburk, 1956) diamonds ? (w/white beads?)
photo, "Old Tallahassee" (1890's) diamonds black(?) (w/white beads)
Am.Mus.Nat.Hist.,NY (late 19th cent.belt) diamonds black blue(?) red (w/white beads)

There are also at least two examples in the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, one of which was collected before 1840 (Spec. 22/9559) and the other at least by 1906 (Spec. 1/8201).

The number of tassel cords varies from three to eight on each end. The tassels are heddle-woven, often finished off by clumping into a short three-strand braid, the whole cord and tassel about .6cm wide by 115cm to 160cm long. The tassels on early 19th century examples are about the length of a little finger or smaller; the tassels on later examples can be as long as a hand.

If Catlin doesn't help us out much with fingerwoven sashes in his Seminole portraits, he does provide information for a waist band and some garters. The full length portrait of Osceola indicates two or more waist sashes, judging from the number of ties hanging loose. Seminoles did occasionally make belts by beading designs onto wool or buckskin, with added heddle woven tassel cords, but Osceola doesn't appear to be wearing something like that, even though no sash patterns are discernible. Specks of white paint indicate white beads used in a way that could only be included in fingerweaving, here done with red and blue yarns.

Catlin provides us information on fingerwoven garters:

Osceola diamonds black blue(?) (w/white beads)
Mick-E-No-Pah diamonds black blue (w/white beads)

The designs and construction of Osceola's and Mick-E-No-Pah's garters are identical, so it would be easy to assume that the colors were also Identical. The McKenney-Hall lithograph shows yellow ties for Osceola's garters, but besides being atypical, this detail color does not fit in with how these things are made. So, the yellow on the ties might be viewed with suspicion. True, one of Osceola's garters has survived, "but they have faded so badly that the original color cannot be determined; they could have been the blue and black shown in (McKenney-Hall)" (P. 183-84, Goggin, 1955).

Some other examples of garters are:

Fl.Mus.Nat.Hist., Gainesville (early 19th cent.?) diamonds black red (w/white beads)
Denver Art Museum (Spec. 1965.226; Fig. 17, Conn, 1979) (mid-19th cent.) diamonds black (w/white beads)
photo, "old Tallahassee" (1890s) diamonds black(?) (w/white beads)

The Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, has a set of garters (Spec. 1/8204). The two in the set are the same size, and have the same diamond design, but there are enough slight differences in construction to make one wonder if they were, in fact, originally the same set, or if they are each from two different sets.

Click image to enlarge
While the sashes have heddle woven tassel cords, garters appear to have merely braided 8" to 10" fringes, usually four on each end.

Fingerwoven garters and sashes were still worn to the end of the 19th century, but mostly only by older men.

As wool leggings were discontinued in favor of buckskin ones, so were fingerwoven garters no longer needed. Fingerwoven sashes were replaced by sashes beaded on a heddle loom, though with the same kinds of larger tassels and heddle woven cords added on. These heddle beaded sashes with tassel cords are still made and used at the Green Corn Dances. A contemporary example was shown to the author at the Miccosukee Reservation in 1987.

The idea of fingerweaving may boggle the mind of a Seminole hobbyist. Although time consuming, it's no more so than loom beading, and it's much easier to do than it appears. And it helps that the fingerwoven part of a sash need not be long enough to go from hip to hip. The fingerwoven section of Seminole sashes might be 2" to 3" wide and about 3' long, all the rest of the 7' to 8' length being cords and tassels. A series of three articles on fingerweaving by Richard Conn explains how to make complicated "arrow," "f1ame," and "reflex arrow" designs. The reenactor might be relieved to learn that he need not learn these complex weaves because the Seminole never used them. So, only the first and most basic of Mr. Conn's three articles are included here, which describes how to make the "W" pattern.

Seminoles also used diamond patterns, which can be made three different ways. Although diamonds were common, and almost the only pattern used for garters, those instructions are not yet included here.

Most of the McKenney-Hall pictures show white beads included in the W patterns, and on the edges of the heddle-woven tassels. The hobbyist should use 8/o size white "pony" beads, and can get them threaded onto yarn by using a fingernail of beeswax to twist a half inch of one end into a hard thin point. The beads are left behind as the yarn is woven into the pattern,

How to do heddle-woven fringes will be described in the future. For now, a hobbyist can finish off. his sashes with clumped three-ply braided sashes.

Color choices seem to be pretty limited. It should be apparent from this review that Seminoles were as conservative with their flngerweavlng colors and designs as with most other items of their apparel. Only two of four are used in the Seminole portraits of McKenney-Hall: red, black, royal or dark blue, and white.

How much wool is needed? The author once made a sash that seemed to work out to be the right size using 64 strands, each about 17 feet long.

Granted, there is a problem finding real wool yarn in Florida. Acrylic yarns are fine for learning and for practice pieces. But the time needed for a full piece really is worth tracking down real wool yarn to use for it. Mid-size wool knitting yarn is readily available for $4 or $5 a skein in most Northern cities, and you'll only need two or three skeins for a sash. Try to locate a Yankee friend or relative to help you out.

Following is the first of three articles by Richard Conn, from the 1972 6(10):2-5 issue of American Indian Crafts and Culture., pgs. 14-15. It is included with his permission.

FINGERWEAVING - Part 1, by Richard Conn


Conn, Richard
1972 FINGERWEAVING-Part 1. American Indian Crafts and Culture. 6(10):2-5, 14-15.

1973a FINGERWEAVING-Part 2. American Indian Crafts and Culture. 7(1):2-7.

1973b FINGERWEAVING- Part 3.Amerlcan Indian Crafts and Culture. (2):2-7.

1979 NATIVE AMERICAN ART IN THE DENVER ART MUSEUM. University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

Fundaburk, Emma Lila
1958 SOUTHEASTERN INDIANS LIFE PORTRAITS. Scarecrow Reprint Corporation, Metuchen, NJ. 1969.

Goggin, John M.
1955 "Osceola: Portraits, Features, and Dress," The Florida Historical Quarterly, XXXIII: 3 & 4, Gainesville.

McKenney, Thomas L. and James Hall
1836-44 Portrait Gallery of American Indians. Ed. James D. Horan. Crown Publishers, 1986.

Fingerweaving Instructions by Richard Conn

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing

Contributed by Rick Obermeyer E-mail:
From the book 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
© 1991-2000 Sherwood F. Obermeyer Jr., 2124 Miscindy Place, Orlando, FL 32806

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