Semi­nole and Mic­co­su­kee In­dian patch­work cap­ti­vates with in­tri­cate de­signs and a daz­zling ar­ray of col­or­ful fab­rics.

Where Miami - - CONTENTS - By Suzette Laboy

Semi­nole and Mic­co­su­kee In­dian fash­ion in the spot­light.

FOR DECADES, SOUTH FLORIDA VIS­I­TORS have been fas­ci­nated by the vi­brant, mul­ti­col­ored hues found in Semi­nole and Mic­co­su­kee In­dian patch­work cloth­ing. Each year, thou­sands of trav­el­ers from all over the world have made their way to na­tive arts and crafts fes­ti­vals, for not only its fam­ily-friendly en­ter­tain­ment, but also to shop for beau­ti­ful ta­pes­tries, jew­elry and hand­crafted wares; pleased to take a glimpse into cen­turies-old tra­di­tions. Ex­plore how the younger gen­er­a­tion of Semi­nole and Mic­co­su­kee In­di­ans, are turn­ing this an­cient art form into mod­ern fash­ion.


Na­tive Amer­i­can cloth­ing has a long and di­verse his­tory. For many, patch­work is their fam­ily heir­loom. It is an art form that be­gan out of ne­ces­sity, to sur­vive the un­for­giv­ing swamp­lands, and now serves as a link to the past and as a to­ken of pride and iden­tity.

“It’s an in­dige­nous craft but also part of daily life,” ex­plains Jes­sica Osce­ola, a di­rect de­scen­dant of the 19th cen­tury Semi­nole leader, Osce­ola. “Patch­work is very much the iden­tity of the Semi­nole tribe.”

Lo­cated in Hol­ly­wood, about a 20-minute drive west of the Fort Laud­erdale-Hol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the Semi­nole Tribe of Florida first cre­ated its cloth­ing us­ing cal­ico and col­or­ful ap­pliqué rib­bon. With the sewing ma­chine’s ar­rival, rick-rack (nar­row braid wo­ven in a zigzag pat­tern) re­placed ap­pliqué rib­bon in the ear­ly20th cen­tury.

To­day, vis­i­tors can ap­pre­ci­ate the craft's evo­lu­tion at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Mu­seum in the Big Cy­press Semi­nole In­dian Reser­va­tion. In ad­di­tion to the ex­ten­sive patch­work col­lec­tion, the mu­seum also col­lects his­tor­i­cal news­pa­pers, manuscripts, bas­kets, dolls and mil­i­tary ephemera.

Patch­work can also be found among the Mic­co­su­kee Tribe of In­di­ans. Their patch­work is gen­er­ally made up of bright, one- color fab­ric with bor­ders framed by a se­ries of tiny cut- outs which make up beau­ti­ful geo­met­ric de­signs. It's com­monly in­cor­po­rated into jack­ets, shirts, vests, dresses and quilts. PATCH­WORK NOW Just as the sewing ma­chine al­lowed the Semi­noles to evolve tra­di­tional patch­work, to­day's young na­tives are putting their stamp on their her­itage by com­bin­ing old­world de­signs with mod­ern trends.

Ash­ley Elayne, a mem­ber of the Mic­co­su­kee tribe, takes in­spi­ra­tion from the run­ways of New York and Paris to make her patch­work cloth­ing. She cre­ates cus­tom dresses for proms and other big events.

“I’ve been sewing since I was 13, but it’s prob­a­bly within the last seven years that I started to do mod­ern styles, in­cor­po­rat­ing what I see in fash­ion,” says the 31-year-old whose in­spi­ra­tions in­clude Chanel’s play with pearls and Chris­tian Dior’s tulle and lace. She uses flo­ral em­bel­lish­ments and lace to dress the younger gen­er­a­tion that, she says, want to look trendy while still dis­play­ing their cul­tural her­itage.

For Jes­sica Osce­ola, a Semi­nole artist and col­lege pro­fes­sor, she prefers to stick to her roots when it comes to patch­work.

"I would de­scribe it as my grand­mother's style. I am pretty true to the tra­di­tional craft," says Osce­ola, who learned by watch­ing her grand­mother and mother.

"I am a con­ser­va­tive dresser. I think Alines and like the tra­di­tional feel of the color pal­ettes," in­clud­ing nat­u­ral dyes of red, blue and black.


For younger Na­tive Amer­i­cans, so­cial me­dia has made it eas­ier for oth­ers to ac­cess patch­work fash­ion; where the #Na­tiveMade hash­tag trends on In­sta­gram.

“Be­cause of both net­work­ing and news feed up­dates, many peo­ple across all Amer­i­can In­dian country have been ex­posed to my work,” says Krys­tle Bil­lie, who sells men’s vests, women’s sheer shirts and col­or­ful skirts on In­sta­gram.

Osce­ola says so­cial me­dia is "a good tool but not a ma­jor player." In­stead, she is urg­ing fash­ion de­sign­ers to credit Na­tive Amer­i­cans when patch­work de­signs are used as a source of in­spi­ra­tion.

The im­por­tant thing, she says, is to carry on the craft.

"You are voic­ing that you are still present and still cre­at­ing.”

AND SEW ON (From top) Semi­nole dolls; col­or­ful patch­work pieces; Semi­nole-artist Jes­sica Osce­ola; (op­po­site) Mic­co­su­kee Tribe mem­ber at the an­nual arts fes­ti­val.

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