Two Hide Dress Project is Getting Out of Hand...

As any good historical seamstress knows, sooner or later you have to make some hard decisions about just where you are going with a project. I have had many a restless night trying to imagine just what I want to say with this garment, and who I want to say it to.

Yakima Dress 1800's, Yakima WA
Contact or Pre contact were the hardest decisions, which brought about the endless revolving conversation of when contact took place by people other than Native Peoples, who themselves were once new arrivals on this land at one time also.

One could say Contact traditionally starts at Columbus blundering onto the Southern Shores of what turned out to be South America, but there is more and more evidence that contact occurred by differing groups of people long before that.

Icelanders, Vikings, Russians and now even Asian Peoples may have landed on our shores long before Europe became a Maritime Force.

This leaves me with the decision that for my purposes, pre contact was BEFORE EUROPEAN INFLUENCE. This means that all contact before the Europeans resulted in very little substantial changes to the way Aboriginal Peoples on this Continent lived and dressed. It is obvious that they changed and influenced everything once they began trading with the peoples who lived here.

The three pictures posted here illustrate this nicely. The Yakima Dress at the top is beaded with 4mm trade beads, (or pound beads, if you like), traded by Europeans for Furs and such. I also highly suspect a more modern tanning method was employed on the leather dress.

The young Lady in the next two pictures sports some pre contact items, dentilium shell graces her headdress and earrings, some of her necklaces are shell and her dress is of brain tanned leather.

Her dress is covered with pound seed beads, and she wears a few glass bead necklaces also.

Tialuit Headress, Wishram WA
Here's the cool part, she has Chinese money hanging from her headdress! How wonderful! Of course the Chinese were here building our rail system during this era, and obviously a little cross culture influence can be seen here. It is so nice to see they got along enough to influence each others clothing! A very nice surprise in deed! The Yakima dress above also has Chinese money suspended from the front fringe, showing an unrelated relationship, if that makes any sense.....the pictures are from two completely different tribes, but same Era.

Tialuit Headress, Wishram WA
This leads me to my Grand Decision. This will be a post contact dress, patterned after the Yakima Dress above and the headdress featured below. These two tribes were close cousins, so i think I can get away with it. Besides, it's my dress. I'll make anything I want!

No, really, I have done my homework, as you will see, and the two hide, fully beaded upper dress was a constant from just East of the Mississippi to the West Coast from the late 1790's and on. It was the ultimate plains garment before Elk got scarce and the three hide deer or mountain sheep dress came into vogue.

As you can see, the bead work was done quite differently and with larger beads than the plains three hide we are all familiar with today. That's why I became so enamored of it, it's a lovely styled dress that vanished from the plains, leaving very few modern representative reproductions. So of course, I just have to make it!

Here's where it gets sticky though, after thinking about the Chinese influence, I did a little research and found out China is now the number one grower of Freshwater pearls in the world.

I have found fresh water pearls evidenced in every dig in almost every grave and mound in North America. so I got the brilliant idea of doing in all in 3-4mm seed pearls.

Oh yeah, ALL PEARLS. I estimate over 6,000 of them all together including the headdress.

How can I do this? How can I possibly afford it? Check out the prices on 4mm trade glass seed beads these days, you would think they were diamonds! Even from India! Outrageous!

For just a little more I can have pearls from China. You see, I was looking for Chinese coins the other day and stumbled on an importer who had cheap imitation money stamped out of aluminum, but this wasn't good enough, I kept looking, and as I did, I came across Chinese seed pearls from another very successful and reputable importer. hmmmmmm... I thought.

I started measuring and counting beads until I was cross eyed and finally arrived at a figure I could live with, I emailed the importer and am sitting back waiting to hear if I can get a price break on about 6,000 beads. I think we can strike up a reasonable deal.

Until then, let me know what you think of the dress I have decided on, or what you think of my "Pearl Madness" for that matter too! I know you all are out there, peeking at my page, take a minute to click on comments and say something!


  1. Go for the pearls girl, GO for the pearls!

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