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