|Look at Mink, the Mandan girl painted by Catlin|
| Fur trade dresses were decorated with quillwork or pound beads which are equivalent in size to the #8 beads of today. Lumpy money cowrie shells were fertility symbols and were widely used. Elk teeth, a symbol of long life, were very popular especially among the Crow. Brass thimbles are also often seen used as dangles, as are dew claws from deer. Dentalium shells were sewn in rows on dress bodices. The larger necklace size trade beads were strung on thongs that hung from dresses. Hawk bells were another popular dangle.|
Some thoughts on fur trade beadwork: Actually, there is still some controversy over seed beads. What we have to go by is, of course Bodmer who showed the pound beads, sometimes with so much detail that you can even count the beads in the rows. The Chandler Port collection shows wonderful examples of the transition from pound to seed beads and how the designs gradually became more complicated, too. The first use of beads was to add color to an article and not thought much of as making designs with the beadwork. Yes, there were seed beads brought out and Fort Hall here in Idaho has inventories of seed beads. What we have to look at is the quantities of each, and pound beads were in much larger quantities than seed. I have thought about it and wondered why we don't see them in existing articles from the Rocky Mountain fur trade. My thoughts are that some use of seed beads in very small quantities could be appropriate, or that perhaps seed beads were most popular with the Eastern Indians that were out here in the trapping brigades in fairly large numbers [Iroquois, Delaware], and some of the necklaces that Catlin shows on Indians look like seed beads. Look at Mink, the Mandan girl he painted. Three of her necklaces look like seed beads, and also the trim on the edges of her quilled bracelet. There is also a beaded necklace worn by Six [another Catlin painting], a Plains Ojibwa, in a style still made by the Shoshone here. These paintings show use of seed beads in very small quantities, and not as the main design on an article of clothing. Its not that seed beads weren't here, they just weren't fashionable among the Indians as decoration for clothing.
Remember I am just talking about the Rocky Mountain fur trade here. I have heard that Southern tribes used seed beads a bit earlier, and have not done much research there. The one thing I remember is the Commanche strike a light bag found that caused some excitement because it proved that seed beads had been used, it was collected by Berlandier, circa 1840. That is still at the very end of the fur trade period, though and it was still just on a very small article and not on a large clothing piece.
So, from the paintings and existing artifacts it appears that pre 1850 bead ornamentation of the Western Plains Indian clothing is limited to the use of pony beads. These beads became available on the plains in the early 1800's. By the 1830's they were popular as trims or borders for quillwork, and also as the main decoration on some pieces. Colors used were very limited- white, blue and black being by far the most common, with pumpkin, greasy yellow, reds and dark blue being quite scarce. It is interesting that to make red, a gold compound was used as pigment. The early bead colors were softer and richer than what we have today. Many early beadwork pieces show the use of several sizes of pony beads on one design. I have a few strands of antique pony beads and they are not as uniform in size as today's reproductions. Seed beads were in use in the East at this time, but they did not get West of the Missouri River much before the middle 1840's.
Early beadwork designs were also very simple- boxes, triangles, and rectangles. The more complicated designs started appearing in the seed bead era around 1850. These early beads were either opaque or what we call "greasy" such as greasy yellow. Transparent beads came about 1870 and faceted beads for beadwork about 1885.
Pony beadwork designs 1800 to 1840
Very simple designs- boxes, triangles, and rectangles
||early style strike a light pony beadwork |
||note the simplicity of the design again.|
Sioux seed bead design from 1870. This type of design is not proper
for the fur trade time period.
Lazy stitch was one of the earliest methods used and the most widespread. A given number of beads up to 12, are strung on the thread or sinew and sewed down in rows, the thread passing only through the top layer of buckskin so no stitches show on the back. Sioux lazy stitch does not lay flat and each row is sewn on independently of the other rows. Cheyenne lazy stitch lays flat and each row is hooked under threads of the rows above. Wax the thread often to make it grab into the leather and hold the beads tight. Real sinew was the most often used, but linen and cotton thread was available from traders.
Overlay stitch uses two threads. One thread is strung with beads and the other thread is used to sew down every second bead to the leather or cloth.
Applique or return stitch is a method of sewing down beads and retracing through the last half before adding more beads. This is good for rosettes.
Loom beadwork was not done among the Western tribes during the fur trade era and definitely should not be used!
Lazy Stitch Overlaid Applique
A source for reproduction beads is Crazy Crow. Baby Powder Blue #042 is the color blue to buy from them. White, or French porcelain white are both acceptable, and of course, black, all in number 8.
They are listed as "old time colors."
For learning quillwork,
I recommend Jean Heinbach's book,
"A Quillwork Companion."
This is truly the Quillworker's Bible!
Art of the American Frontier by David Penny
The Plains Indians by Colin Taylor
Carl Bodmers America
The George Catlin Book of American Indians by Royal Hassrick
Below are some examples of fur trade style dresses so you can see the type of decorations commonly used.
Nez Pierce dress Decorated with pound beads and
Dentalium shells, collected by Reverend Spaulding.
The bottom of Nez Pierce dresses do not have wool
Please note the Spaulding dress is using size 8 black beads, but the white beads are definately size 10.
Jill and I have personally seen and examined this Dress and are positive about the size 10 beads.
Quilled rosettes with basket weave down the sleeves.
Close ups of the Same Dress
Sioux dress in the Smithsonian, decorated with blue pound beads. This one is done differently,
it has a separate beaded piece attached at the neck and shoulders.
Sioux style circa 1850, blue, white, and red pound beads.
This shows the transition toward the fuller beaded yolks
popular circa 1870.
Both of these dresses were collected by Father De Schmitd, circa 1850. Blackfoot.
Cimmaron wearing an Upper Missouri Child's Dress
Katy's replica of an 1830 dress in one of the German museums. this dress has some interesting variations.
See how low the colored piece comes down on the dress top. This shows that is made of three hides but
sewn in the style of the two hide dresses, as we mentioned in "The Two Hide Dress of the Upper
Missouri," and was done when large enough hides were not available. The plugs are braintan inserts
instead of the usual wool and the sides are just laced together with thongs spaced several inches apart.
The lacing stops above the knee, and how practical for mounting a horse!
The rosettes are quilled, with blue pound bead edging.
Black, white and blue beads on a crow top.
Star dress done in quillwork.
The bottom of this dress is done with bead work. Note the brass thimbles as dangles.
Blackfoot dress all done with pound beads
note the simplicity of the design in the beadwork
Top of dress note the Elk teeth dangles.
Bottom of dress note the wool inserts.
Two hide dress from the Cody Museum.
This may be the most important dress we can show! Work dresses were not decorated
and they were the ones worn everyday by Indian women. The other dresses, with all their fancy decorations, were for special occasions. Any well off woman would have owned their everyday
dress and one ceremonial or special occasion dress.
Anyone striving for realism, and especially the WFT women who are always out on thr trail, should make the everyday dress their first priority.
We hope this has given you some ideas and helped in decorating your two hide dress.
Jill, Sandy and Chris.