Crafts and Regalia

There's that old saying "Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his mocassins". There's a lot to be said for that. Let's take that idea a bit farther. How much more could you identify with someone by wearing what they wore - not just their shoes?

I have heard the concern expressed that by wearing full regalia we are essentially "playing Indian", thus showing disrepect. Granted, wearing regalia for the wrong reasons (say, as a Halloween costume for instance) can in fact be insensitive and disrespectful.

Why we do something is as important as what we do. If we wear regalia as a way of getting more in touch with our ancestors' way of life, we are in fact showing our respect.

One of the purposes of the Overhill Nation is to preserve our ancestors' customs and traditions. While their clothing was not necessarily one of their highest traditions, making and wearing Cherokee-style clothing is a tangible thing we can share with our ancestors.

Anyone who has worn a buckskin hunting shirt will tell you it has a very different feel from say, a flannel shirt or sport coat. Anyone who has worn breechcloth and leggings knows how different that feels from wearing a pair of Levi's.

I'm not saying we should all ditch our european-style clothes and wear our regalia all the time. But when we are in the sacred circle taking part in a ceremony or sitting around a friendship fire, it's easier to sense our connection with our ancestors if we are dressed as they would have been.

Cherokee dress changed with european influence. Cloth became available. Metal sewing needles replaced bone ones. Metal scissors and eventually even spinning wheels and sewing machines became available. A Cherokee today would not likely be indentifyable in a crowd by his clothing. That's where the progression has eventually led to. You have to decide where your regalia will fall in the progression from buckskin to cloth, from hand-made to store-bought, etc.

(Personally, I prefer the clothing styles from the 1700's - after european contact, but before too much cultural erosion had taken place.)

Making your own regalia and crafts is not really as hard as most people assume. The key is not being in a rush to have it all done. In fact, it can be good therapy for those of us caught up in all the busy-ness and overcomplication of "modern" life.

If you're sometimes overwhelmed, feeling like just another cog in the machine (or maybe like you're being run over by the machine), it's neat when you can say that you made everything you are wearing! It's almost like the world is somehow manageable or something.

Of course, that's a long-range goal. Don't try to think of making it all at once. Start with something simple like a bone choker. If you really feel daunted, get a kit and just follow the instructions. Then go on to something like a medicine bag. As your experience and confidence builds, move on to bigger stuff.

The book Traditional Dress (by Adolf Hungry Wolf) is a great resource book. It gives general techniques and designs, but leaves the implementation up to your imagination and skills.

If you prefer a more step by step approach, Try How to Make Cherokee Clothing by Donald Sizemore.

You needn't fret about whether you're "doing it right". Individualality was always a big part of Native dress.

Some general tips to remember include:

1 Keep it simple. Our ancestors didn't have precision measuring equipment or high-tech tools.
2 Try to use natural materials, but don't fixate on that. If you can't get sinew, 50 lb monofilament fishing line might do just fine. (Long before the Europeans showed up, our ancestors traded with other tribes for materials they didn't have. That's why they were so willing to trade with the Europeans for glass beads, cloth, and steel knives - it was stuff they could use.)
3 Work when you have time. A little now, a little later. Don't stress trying to get your craft work done.
4 Look at other people's work. Ask them how they did it. Most of us are glad to share our "secrets". (We're trying to preserve the culture, remember?) Help others when you can.
5 Start out with kits if you need to, but try create on your own after you've "gotten your wings" - that's part of the therapeutic value of craft work.

Besides the whole storehouse of Creation, there are a number of places to obtain craft supplies. You need not spend a lot of money.