IACA Journal, Spring 2014 - page 14

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IACA Journal | Spring 2014
Patchwork – An Expression of Creativity
Susan Howard Sapronetti (Lower Muskogee Creek)
Patchwork
An Expression of Creativity
By Susan Howard Sapronetti (Lower Muskogee Creek)
Ever since humans have learned to make clothes, they have
looked for new ways to decorate them. Shells and fringes were
some of the first additions to primitive clothing among many
different cultures around the world. Humans everywhere seem
to enjoy expressing themselves artistically through their clothing.
This is still true in modern times.
The clothing seen in many Native Amer-
ican cultures reveals a keen attention
to artistic detail. In the Southeastern
cultures, which includes the Seminole
and Muskogee tribes, appliqué tech-
niques became very popular by the early
1800’s. When the Seminole Indians were
given sewing machines, they quickly
developed a whole new style of clothing
based on simple patchwork patterns.
The patchwork designs, for which they
became famous, have inspired modern
day artists of all different tribes, and
patchwork is now as commonplace at a
Muskogee ceremony as it would be in a
Seminole one.
Appliqué designs are made by cutting
strips of cloth, folding them at the edges,
then hand-sewing them to the garment.
The appliqué technique allowed wom-
en to make straight lines, triangles and
squares, as well as more complicated
designs like one called saw-tooth. The
Seminole Indians, who themselves
were at one time Muskogee Creek, also
learned techniques in appliqué. Some of
the earliest samples of Seminole designs
using this method are in old photo-
graphs from the 1800s. One can see very
simple patterns in the women’s clothing,
and more elaborate designs, such as the
saw-tooth, in the men’s clothing.
The Seminole Tribe was formed by
Muskogees who came to Florida in the
1700s to escape British aggression in
Georgia and the other English colonies.
In fact, it is believed it was the Span-
ish, in control of Florida at that time,
who labeled these exiles as “cimarron,”
which means “wild one” in Spanish and
was a term often applied to runaways.
The Seminoles brought with them the
Muskogee aesthetics and techniques in
clothes-making. It was these very Semi-
noles who eventually invented the patch-
work technique, which soon replaced
appliqué in their culture. Patchwork
would then allow these artists to create
even more complicated designs as they
became more skilled.
Muskogee regalia featuring “Council Fire” patchwork pattern.
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