The Making of an Eagle

The eagle design is natural and dyed porcupine quills that are embroidered onto black deer skin.

The eagle design consists of natural and dyed porcupine quills embroidered onto black deer skin.

Every week I begin with the intention of posting another blog entry and before I know it another week has passed. I’m not sure where the time goes, but I need to find an easier way to get my photos up and get posting. Any suggestions? The eternal struggle, I suppose, of intention versus time available.

Here are some more details on the custom knife sheath I embroidered with porcupine quills for a customer recently.

EagleSheath2

Proud recipient: Corrine in her regalia holding her new eagle knife sheath.

Corrine conceptualized the idea of the knife sheath. She bought the eagle head knife at a powwow last October and then moseyed over to my quillwork demonstration and inquired about a custom knife sheath to keep it safe. Corrine knew exactly what she wanted: the colors, the design, all in an effort to match her black and white regalia. I was intrigued by the new project.

Ready, set, cut! Stiff leather in the shape of the knife act as the inner core of the sheath and keep it from flopping around.

Ready, set, cut! Stiff leather the shape of the knife act as the inner core of the sheath and keep it rigid.

Of course when I got home, the reality set in: I knew how to do porcupine quillwork, but I didn’t know the first thing about making a knife sheath. I consulted a friend who’s an ace at such things after years of trial and error. His Cliff Notes version of knife sheath construction sent me in the right direction.

Quilling the design onto leather. I started taping my fingers to save them from needle pricks.

Quilling the design onto leather. I started taping my fingers to save them from needle pricks. The tan object on my middle finger is a leather thimble from Alaska.

The sheath has 6 layers of leather in all. Two thick pieces of leather act as stiff cores, and then I sewed a layer of deerskin onto the front and back of each core with glover’s needles and waxed nylon thread.

After quilling the design onto the deerskin, I glued the leather to the stiff core so it didn't move while I stitched it.

After quilling the design onto the deerskin, I glued the leather to the stiff core so it didn't move while I stitched it.

The frontpiece of fringe and quillworking are one solid piece of leather. First I quilled the design in the middle. Next I sandwiched the thick core leather between the design piece and a deerskin backing and stitched. Hot glue and clamps held the piece in place while I stitched the pieces together.

Now I had a complete back and a complete front, but I still had to stitch those together to make a pocket for the knife. As I stitched the front and back of the knife sheath together, I added the white quillwork edging. Talk about multi-tasking! Pushing the needle through all the layers of leather was tough on my fingers, but wearing a thimble on every finger was clumsy so I started taping my fingers with waterproof tape, which gave me some amount of protection.

The knife sheath is sewn together. Now it's time for fringe. I eventually cut the "wings" off the leather so the top piece is essentally a rectangular.

The knife sheath is sewn together. Now it's time for fringe. I eventually cut the "wings" off the leather so the top piece is essentially a rectangular.

Cutting the fring was my favorite part. It transformed the the project into a completed work. Or maybe it just reminded me of the fringed black suede keychain with silver roses I had in high school. I wonder where that got to. Maybe I’ll have to whip up a new one with the extra leather.

Ah! I'm half fringed!

Ahhhh! I'm half fringed!

Horse Hair Bracelet Class Coming Soon

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Next class: 4-strand round horse hair bracelet

Sunday’s Porcupine Quillwork Classes went off without a hitch. We had a small class, which let everyone ask lots of questions and really get a feel for quillwork.

We even had visitors. A box turtle moseyed by before class started. During class a pair of red-tailed hawks screamed overhead. We have the class outside in the pavilion where we can enjoy some fresh air, see the equestrians and runners out for some exercise on the path and log some nature time.

boxturtle

Surprise guest: A female box turtle, ready to lay her eggs, wandered through class.

The participants had such a great time that they asked for a horse hair bracelet class next!

Details are still sketchy, but right now, I’m looking at July 26, August 2 or August 30 for the class. I know some of you out there are interested in this class, so please e-mail me with the date(s) that works best for you.

All supplies for classes are provided, but if you have a horse, you are welcome to bring your own horse hair. I’ll give you instructions for cleaning it in advance of the class.

Porcupine Quillwork Classes in June

Porcupine Quillwork Part 1: Colors of the Past
June 7, 2009 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Porcupine Quillwork Part 2: Stories in the Quills
June 7, 2009 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Pre-register for the classes by June 3, 2009

Download this pdf for more information and the registration form.

Plaiting porcupine quills. All the prickly ends get sniped off when the braiding is done.

Plaiting porcupine quills. All the prickly ends get sniped off when the braiding is done.

The Museum of Indian Culture will be hosting me on June 7, 2009, to teach two Porcupine Quillwork classes. You can join me for one class, although you get a 15% discount if you attend both classes, plus an additional discount if you’re a Museum member. You can become a member of the Museum of Indian Culture when you sign up for the classes. The pdf contains more information about pricing and how to sign up. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me through e-mail or at 610-905-8399.

A feather quilled on a leather pouch using the stitches taught in the Porcupine Quillwork Part 2 Class.

A feather quilled on a leather pouch using the zigzag stitch. This stitch is taught in the Porcupine Quillwork Part 2 Class.

It’s been a while since I taught a quillwork class, but I just demonstrated at the Museum’s latest powwow. I meet a surprising number of people at the powwow who have an appreciation for porcupine quillwork, since this art is often overlooked in favor of beadwork.

Porcupine quillwork pre-dates the beadwork we often associate with Native American Indians. Using available resources, Native Peoples developed a technique for embroidering porcupine quills onto leather or wrapping quills around rawhide and sinew to make intricate patterns.

This was the pre-1500s, when steel needles, cotton thread and glass beads weren’t yet developed in the Americas. Native women harvested the quills from porcupines, clean them and dyed them using local plants such as blueberries, sassafras and sunflowers. The women placed the quills (very carefully!) in their mouths to soften them to a pliable state, then pulled the quills through their teeth to flatten them. Flattened quills were embroidered onto brain-tanned leather using sinew (that’s tendon from deer, elk or buffalo). The quills were also wrapped around rawhide.  Natives adept at this art could embellish nearly anything: war shirts and moccasins, pipes and tobacco bags, feathers and hair pieces.

(Don’t worry: in our classes we use dishes of water and spoons to flatten quills and artificial sinew to sew the quills).

The porcupine quill plait, taught in Porcupine Quillwork Part 1, is wrapped around this feather.

The porcupine quill plait, taught in Porcupine Quillwork Part 1, is wrapped around this feather.

Not every tribe practiced this art. The Plains Indians are best know for their exquisite quillwork, but quillwork is also common among the Athabaskan and Metis peoples. Debate still goes on over whether eastern woodland peoples, like the Lenape, practiced quillwork since our humid eastern conditions would not allowed samples of this work to survive at archaeological sites.

The Micmac people practice quillwork on birchbark, which is a different type of quillwork that is equally intricate, but a different set of skills than embroidery. (I don’t teach quillwork on birch bark).

Come out and join us for a day of delving deep into history as you learn the dying art of Porcupine Quillwork. When you sign up for the class, you’ll also gain entry into the museum during our breaks. The Museum of Indian Culture just unveiled its beautiful new Plains Indian exhibit. Bring your lunch and make a day of the two classes.

Hope to see you there!

Weekend Recovery

My treasure hunters trying out their new cargo-pants-turned-field-bags.

My treasure hunters trying out their new cargo-pants-turned-field-bags.

What better way to recover from a weekend than a creativity binge?

Instead of cleaning my studio and re-shelving all my props from the Powwow this weekend, I’ve been sewing up a storm. At last count I had 2 field bags, 6 bibs and a bunch of cloth napkins.

The Powwow was a good time, despite the weather. Saturday the sun showed up, and therefore, so did the crowds. I demonstrated porcupine quill, wrapping a rawhide medicine wheel with dyed quills.

Sunday saw a stead rain ALL day. Honestly, in the 5 years I’ve done this festival (3 times a year, at that) this is the first time it rained for an entire day. Rather than be miffed by the fact that rain keeps the crowds away, I took it as a vacation day. It’s all in the attitude, right?

I sat under a dry tent, worked on an easy quillwork project and listened to the rain. No kids to entertain, no laundry or cleaning to distract me. Just drinking coffee, listening to the drums and the music of the weather, enjoying my craft. During the especially slow afternoon, my neighbor the flintknapper and I traded secrets; I showed him some quillwork, he let me bang rocks together.

Although the spectators were few, the Native dancers were still out there dancing in the rain. In a day and age where rain equals holing up in front of the TV, it’s great to see people who aren’t scared off by a bit of weather.

Come Monday morning I didn’t record my sales for taxes or put away quills. Instead, I set to work on some treasure-hunting field bags for the kids. I saw this idea on some one’s blog (if it was you, let me know so I can give you credit!) to turn turn old cargo pants into a kid bag with lots of pockets. I cut off the legs, sewed up the bottoms and added new fabric to make the strap and flap. The kids were so excited. A great place to stash all their dandelions and rocks from neighborhood walks. My pockets will be so empty!

Bibs and napkins will keep everyone clean!

Bibs and napkins will keep everyone clean!

The studio is still a mess, maybe even a bigger mess. But the way I look at it, I am cleaning up my studio by using the fabric crowding the space. It’s all in the attitude, right?

Time Keeps on Ticking

Cooling their heels: Moccasins dry on fence posts, readying for another day of dancing.

Cooling their heels: Moccasins dry on fence posts, readying for another day of dancing.

Is it really Friday already? Nearly 11 p.m.? Where did this week go?

Fancy shawl dancers having showing off their steps and regalia in the circle.

Fancy shawl dancers.

I’ve been meaning to post photos from last weekend’s Powwow all week and this is the first moment I had. I’ll keep it short on words, long on photos.

I will say it was a gorgeous weekend. Usually during the August Festival we’re sweating our feathers off but it was sunny, breezy and downright September-like on a wonderful August day.

Susan from Heart to Hearth explains the Roasting Corn Festival traditions.

Susan from Heart to Hearth explains the Roasting Corn Festival traditions.

Dennis scraps a deer hide, readying it for brain tanning.

Dennis scraps a deer hide, readying it for brain tanning.

Powwow Next Weekend

Dancer from the Spring Powwow

Dancer from the Spring Powwow

The August Powwow at the Museum of Indian Culture snuck up on me! It’s next weekend.

Thoughts of quilling turtles and birds got me up the hills on my 4-mile run the other day. Hopefully I’ll have time this week to put those ideas down on leather.

Visit the tipi in the LifeWays area.

Visit the tipi in the LifeWays area.

If you haven’t any plans for these beautiful days of summer, come on by and see Native American Indians show off their regalia and dancing skills. The Powwow runs from 10:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, August 16 and 17. Dancing doesn’t start until after opening ceremonies at noon. Then chow on a buffalo burger or Lakota taco. Yum!

I’ll be in the LifeWays area, demonstrating porcupine quillwork and selling my quill and horse hair jewerly. If you’re thinking of getting horse hair jewelry made, come on by with your tail. I can show you the styles in person.

Speaking of horse hair, I have a new Horse Hair Bracelet class coming up at Out of Our Hands on September 21, 2008. The class will last from noon to 2:30 p.m. and you’ll walk away with a horse hair bracelet you created with your own hands.

Porcupine quill plaiting technique.

Porcupine quill plaiting technique.

On September 20 I’ll be teaching Quillworking at the Museum of Indian Culture. Quillwork Part 1 will go from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Quillworking Part 2 will be 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

See the events page for more details.

Hope to see you next weekend!