Monday, July 28, 2014

South African beadwork

I exchange postcards internationally through an organization called Postcrossing. Recently I communicated with a very nice woman in South Africa who also shares a love of beadwork. European beads were introduced into African societies at about the same time as they came to Native Americans, although older Arab glass beads were also known along the eastern coast. Artists embraced them in the past as well as the present

A Ndebele jogola, bridal apron
The Ndebele were dispersed by the Zulu and came into contact with Sotho where they were influenced artistically. Women wore different types of beaded clothing depending on their age. A bride received a white sheepskin apron from her in-laws and then decorated it with white beads. The five hanging panels represent her ability to produce children. More recent examples feature different colors of beadwork.

Xhosa inkciyo, under apron
worn by both Xhosha and Thembe people of the Eastern Cape, these aprons are made and worn by girls during their initiation into womanhood and then passed on to an younger female relative. The two yellow strings of beads are symbolic of fertility.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Slimy, slimy rawhide

After soaking my small rawhide dog bone overnight I unwrapped and tacked the strips to plywood for drying. They need to be stretched better to avoid wrinkles; may soak again and squeeze under a heavy concrete block to see if that helps. In this first try the bone was too small and yielded small strips (but these can be used for mini Xmas ornament versions and for a doll I have not yet finished). But its good to try with a small version and work out the problems....

I have 2 more bones now soaking in a large storage tote...the smaller is 18" and the larger is close to 3 feet, so both will provide more work surface. I will need to get a larger board to tack down the strips (or possibly just use my outdoor deck). I did learn that the hide is slimy and made it difficult to firmly grip a nail...The instructions suggest having someone help with the stretching and this seems like good advice.

Fortunately my dog was able to help me tidy up any remaining bits. The hide was from Mexico so I hope it is safe to eat (heard Chines hides can make dogs ill). She seems to have a keen interest in this project!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Parfleche project

I am needing something to do this summer and want to find small projects that my students can try in the new class. Decided I will make a parfleche envelope for starters and found an easy set of instructions on the web. Sadly, my local Tandy store closed and sheets of rawhide have really increased in price, but this web idea calls for soaking and opening up a dog a cheap one is currently soaking overnight in tupperware on my kitchen counter. I have bigger sized bones, but will start small. I also ordered a book with design patterns from Crazy Crow and will need to order powdered paints or paint cookies. Found some great info on the painting process from a site that specializes in repairing and replicating historic museum items.

Parfleches served mobile Plains people as containers for clothing, food etc and come in many sizes & shapes. Here is an old Cheyenne example of the envelope.

Modern examples are more decorative art...I like fringe and I will try to get Pendleton blanket fabric remnant instead of the very expensive trade wool for the edges. Strips sell on ebay for $5 and should offer enough fabric for this project.

I like the idea of making miniature ones for my dolls so will save all the bits of dog bone rawhide that get trimmed away. This seems like a simple fun project that students can do for little money and yet learn about hidework, some designs & painting techniques and have something unusual to show for the effort. Perhaps some students will want to move on to a larger box:

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Native Art class, Fall 2014

Several years ago I proposed creating a Native Am art class, which was approved, but other teaching obligations prevented me from offering it. Surprisingly there are no similar courses within the Indian University system.

I anticipate half the students will have a Fine Arts background, while the others will be Anthropology majors, a good mix of understandings. Hopefully all will try their hand at something...perhaps using class ideas in their art labs, making ceramics or paintings inspired by Native themes. Others may be willing to do some workshops on beading, dolls, or moccasins. Perhaps someone will be ambitious and consider making a bandolier bag! I wish I had personal experience with basketry and porcupine quill work. So many wonderful friends possess knowledge & skills but live too far away...Donna makes Cherokee baskets, Tracy makes awesome Southern Plains feather fans, and Rhonda is better at peyote stitch than I am (just can't figure out those patterns!).

It will be fun!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

weaving updates

I found a great suggestion in one of my new weaving books on how to make a loom; it was basic and I did it myself. Its a good size (3 x 4) for small pieces, but I can use it for more than just samplers or coasters. It is easy to assemble/disassemble for storing, but once it is warped it will be in my living room for a long time so I need to figure out a way to protect it from the cats!

A friend ordered some hand-dyed Churro wool from New Mexico; I had saved their web address as I was planning to order from them myself! I will get some more yarn plus warping wool and tools.

Went to a nice Native art store in Michigan last weekend and bought a small sampler just to keep myself focused...the shop owners buy directly from Navajo & Pueblo artists. Its a simple piece and wasn't expensive....just needed a little something to remind me of what I'd like to try and achieve one day!!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

more thoughts on learning to weave...

I'm still considering my idea about learning how to trying to go slow, learn as much as I can and consider if I have the time and the money to begin a new project. I bought 2 books to get some basic information: Caroline Spurgeon's Weaving the Navajo Way and Noel Bennett's Navajo Weaving Way. Both are helpful but I like the Bennnett book as it has more on the culture; but they both offer good descriptions and pictures of how to set up a loom, warp and weave.
I have considered making a loom or buying one. Most instructional websites show students starting out on a small one, making "samplers" a miniature rug perhaps 20" x 20." I understand the need to begin small and learn technique, then gradually move to larger work, but I'm impatient and don't know what I would do with samplers except to make them into small pillowcovers. On the other hand a small loom is portable, easier to store and its going to take a long time to learn technique. But I think a medium size would offer more possibilities for subsequent use...on the theory I don't get discouraged and give up immediately!

My original idea was to make something I could attach Kaya's beaded whale strip to.....and a better understanding of 1st Phase Chief's Blankets seems to offer a good possibility! Interestingly 1st Phase blankets made in the mid-1800s were white & blue striped...this would offer a great background for a beaded strip and I can slowly learn how to weave while at the same time as making something useful. The Bennett book notes it is traditional for the first weaving to be stripes instead of intricate patterns, a good plan!So I think I can move ahead with this possibility...

Saturday, August 3, 2013


In a high school art class I wove a new seat for an old folding camp was such a fun project but that's all the weaving I've even done, so I decided its time to learn a bit more. I plan to get a Navajo style loom; found some basic plans on the internet and thought to either make it myself or to have my neighbor who does furniture refinishing & cabinetry make one. I found several web sites for weaving classes; students use a small table size loom to learn warping and basic techniques. They also had some book recommendations, so I will start this way too (but without the benefit of classes taught by experienced weavers). 2 books are ordered and I found a weaving supply website that carries looms, tools and wool (actually I found several good sites) so I know how to get started. It looks to be a good activity for cold winter days stuck inside except I should be doing bead work on those days, with plenty of projects waiting for my attention!
Part of this desire to weave is my frustration at not finding an affordably priced blanket to use for baby Kaya's whale blanket strip...the closest is the Pendelton whale but its too would be the Hudson Bay white with blue stripes but its out of production; vintage HB blankets can be expensive but I'm trying to snag one! Alternatively I can make one, or a wool wall hanging of some kind anyway.

But I'm not vain enough to think I can ever produce something particularly grand, still I can try and in doing so learn about the history and traditions of SW weaving plus have a better appreciation of the art form by understanding it more. So I'll start small and see how it goes...I'm sure the cats will enjoy the wool yarn!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Baby Kaya

After thinking about several different projects I finally settled on making a beaded blanket strip for baby Kaya. I made one a few years ago for a friend's retirement gift and really liked how it turned out; it was traditional in design but that fits Kaya is something new, so its my first effort into a more contemporary direction. Her mom works with Inupiat people in Barrow Alaska understanding the impact of climate change on their culture. "Eskimo" people have long hunted and fished and mom Chie often comes home with a cooler full of whale meat. Baby Kaya was so adorably plump and given the Inupiat nickname for a baby whale: a whale design is perfect.
Here is the larger central medallion (about 5" across); there will be 2 smaller ones and all linked together by a beaded strip.
Not sure what the strip will be attached the past they decorated hide robes as well as wool blankets. I've considered a plain wool blanket, a smaller one made from salvage edge woolen fabric that is so lovely, or possibly even a Pendleton sea wolf crib blanket:
although the images may be too competitive. But it will take ages to get all the beading done and parts assembled so there is no hurry to decide. I'm glad to have started and look forward to working on the smaller medallions next and then the long process of the strip (not hard, just lots of beading!). I'll need to decide on an overall length and place a bead order with enough so I don't run out...bead colors can change from order to order so its best to order more than actually needed.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Spring 2013

Time to start thinking about a project...need something even if I only poke around on it a bit. Would like to start working on a beaded doctor's bag; a friend found a nice small sized one for me and I've decided to make a new cover in honor of a friend's baby (not enough time now to make a cradle or a bonnet). I will need to measure the bag, plan a design, buy thin hide (either a deer hide split or chamois) and order beads. I can't remember ever placing a Crazy Crow order last year so I may not get their new catalog!
These bags were lovingly decorated in the 1890s and new ones are winning prizes at Native art shows in Santa Fe. Mine will be decidedly less impressive but I'm looking forward to the challenge!! There are excellent instructions in Whispering Wind and plenty of examples on the web.

Since its a modern piece I don't feel bound by conventional designs (geometric or ledger art) or even color (usually a white or light blue background favored by the Lakota). Was thinking of putting a whale on one side but am a bit puzzled for the other. Mom works up in Barrow and the baby is affectionately called Ingutuq, a plump baby whale. Baby has lots of plush whale toys and so I was happy to find a whale medallion on line for inspiration. To get back into practice of beading I am working on making something along the same lines; made good progress on it today and I like the scattered randomness of the beads simulating light on the whale and the surrounding water. Not sure what to add it to, maybe a hide cover for a photo/memory journal book.

The nice thing about making a doctors bag cover is the luxury of time....I can poke along as time and other projects permit. Baby won't outgrow it and it's going to take quite a while to complete! But it will be a good project when it eventually gets underway.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Well this is exciting news! The Grand Procession of Dolls from the Denver Art Museum will be displayed at the National Museum of the American Indian, NMAI, in Washington DC and with some luck it will be there when I go to do my own research. For those unable to attend there is a very nice book recently published on the collection: Grand Procession: Contemporary Artistic Visions of American Indians (2010). See the NMAI site for more info: