Throughout the Appalachia area, when Europeans started coming to the new land, trading began with the Native American tribes. One of the trade items that became popular very fast with the tribal women, was ribbon. The way they incorporated ribbons into their skilled crafting gave us beautiful art work known as "ribbon work".
When it comes to beautiful design and creativity in clothing, Native American people are experts. Each item made is created for not just beauty, but with spiritual connotations. Ribbon work is just one type of artwork that is incorporated into clothing for ceremonial purposes.
The advent of trade in the early 1600's brought about extensive contacts between Europeans and Native Americans. Many new and valuable items were now available. Trade cloth, beads, needles, threads, scissors, and other useful items gave variety to clothes made from animal skins. Beads gave more options to decorations and combined with the traditional shaped pieces of bones, antlers, wood, animal claws and plant parts added a new and exciting beauty to garments.
Trims and ribbons gave even more options for design, color, and creativity. This is where the ribbon work came in. Applique' with ribbons introduced a unique new form art form for the people of many tribes. In 1789, silk ribbons, that fell out of fashion in France during the French Revolution, were exported to North America and became a much desired item for tribes that traded with the French. From these few tribes, the art work spread to many other tribes.
Beautiful ribbon work took the place of painted lines on clothing made from hides. Shirts, dresses, and blankets were decorated with layers of ribbons on the edges. The art work became more and more creative and individualistic and by the late 1700's, very intricate applique using ribbon was part of the artistic cultures. Like beading, each seamstress had her or his signature designs.
From straight-line edges, the art work evolved to intricate designs, like rattlesnake design, flowers, hearts, circles, and geometric shapes. Each clan or tribe developed their own significant designs and used specific colors. Like all other techniques and patterns, ribbon work patterns were passed down from mothers to daughters.
The ribbon work of today is applied to clothing for both men and women and can also be seen on shawls, purses, pillows, and other cloth items. The ribbon shirt has three basic styles. The "original" style has no collar; or a small stand-up collar which is referred to as the "Cherokee style"; then there is the "Western Plains style" which has a regular collar.
If you have any information, stories, history, etc., about ribbon shirts or other ribbon work - please join us in the forum. All are welcome and we will be happy to hear from you.
To see some beautiful ribbon work images, see These Bing Images