Woman's Skirt, Miccosukee/Seminole Tribe
Due to the high level of retention and reproduction of traditional patchwork motifs among the Miccosukee/Seminole, the production date for this skirt is unknown; however several clues help to narrow the possible date range. The use of solid colored plain weave cotton, the lack of printed gingham, and the presence of rickrack, suggest a twentieth-century production date. During the early twentieth century, Miccosukee/Seminole skirts shifted away from the gingham utilized in the 1800s, and towards more complex patchwork utilizing plain color cottons (Pleasants & Kersey, 2010). The absence of grosgrain and silk ribbons also denotes twentieth-century manufacture. While rickrack ribbon was commercially available in Europe during the mid-1800s, it did not become popular in the United States until the 1910s (McCreedy, 1916). The complex designs of the patchwork also attest to this piece being later than the 1920s examples when patchwork was still a relatively new dress phenomenon within Miccosukee/Seminole society (Downs, 1997; West, 2012).
This garment is a tiered skirt with gathering at the waist covered by a plain waistband. The skirt is made from strips of alternating patchwork and ribbon applique, machine sewn together, with seven tiers in total.
Three of the tiers (tiers 3, 5, and 7) are assembled using a patchwork piecing method, known as Seminole patchwork, a highly stylized design utilized by the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes of North America that is widely considered to be some of the best patchwork in the world for its complicated and delicate designs (Garbarino, 1972). Details of the method for constructing these piecework designs are lengthy and can be found in external resources (Bradkin, 1980; Rush & Wittman, 1982). The patchwork seen in this skirt is machine pieced with seams pressed outward and abutted rather than pressed open.
The skirt originates from the Miccosukee/Seminole culture group, a single subculture that was originally part of a larger indigenous grouping known as the Creek Nation who moved south into the Spanish controlled Florida peninsula during the early eighteenth century due to pressures from European colonists (Covington, 1993; Sturtevant & Cattelino, 2004). Increasing conflicts with White settlers, the Florida Militia and the United States Army finally forced some tribal leaders to sign treaties in 1832 and 1833 agreeing to removal to the established Indian Territory in present day Oklahoma (Sturtevant & Cattelino, 2004). This forced removal, commonly known as the Trail of Tears, ultimately lead to the establishment of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and their associated area of tribal jurisdiction. The majority of the land in Florida occupied historically and today by the Miccosukee/Seminole tribe is within the Okeechobee wetlands system. The swamp ecosystem is integrally tied to the Miccosukee/Seminole culture and way of life.
Dress in the Miccosukee/Seminole tribe was/is gendered; ascribed dress for women consisted of a short jacket or shirt with a low neckline and bare midriff, a long cape with a high neck, numerous strands of beads worn around the neck, and full skirts, known as “ohoone” made of cotton (Covington, 1993; Garner, 2010). The skirt form and the detailed patchwork has become an indicator of Miccosukee/Seminole identity and heritage (Garner, 2010), as well as engendering identity as women are the primary producers and consumers of these items (Lyden, 2015).
Decorative patterns on the skirts have developed and changed over the past 150 years, corresponding to changes in available materials and design trends within the tribe (Garner, 2010). With the development of the reservation system and trade outposts, tribal members began to obtain cotton fabrics as trade cloth which were then utilized in garment making (Pleasants & Kersey, 2010). By the 1920s, patchwork appeared in the majority of women’s skirts, having been well established as an artistic form with the introduction of the sewing machine to reservation communities (Covington, 1993; Garbarino, 1972; Pleasants & Kersey, 2010).
Miccosukee/Seminole tribal members continue to practice their cultural traditions including the making of patchwork and participation in cultural activities such as the Green Corn dance. Because all three federally recognized tribes share their cultural background, traditional dress forms such as patchwork are virtually indistinguishable without an identification of the artist/maker, location of origination, or established provenance.
It is unknown if this skirt was made to be worn by a tribal member or whether it was made as an artistic commodity/trade good with the advent of geo-political tourism. Staining along the back of the skirt suggests that it was worn at some point, thus it can be theorized that this garment was created by a Miccosukee/Seminole woman. Alternatively, it can also be theorized that this skirt was a trade good, intentionally made for a tourist market. By the early twentieth century, the sale of Native American art was growing, and many tribal members utilized the sale of their handiwork to supplement meager incomes. By the 1940s, tribal members were actively creating goods produced strictly for sale (West, 1998).
Bradkin, C. G. (1980). The Seminole Patchwork Book. Atlanta: Yours Truly Inc.
Covington, J. W. (1993). The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Downs, D. (1997). Art of the Florida Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. Miami: University Press of Florida.
Garbarino, M. S. (1972). Big Cypress: A Changing Seminole Community. New York: University of Illinois.
Garner, D. (2010, November 11). Dazzling Seminole Patchwork. Retrieved February 20, 2020, from Tribal Tales and Explorations: https://tribaltales.blogspot.com/2010/11/dazzling-seminole-patchwork.html.
Lyden, J. (2015, December 26). A Princess in Patchwork: Sewing for the Miss Florida Seminole Princess Pageant. Retrieved February 21, 2020, from National Public Radio.
McCreedy. (1916, April). Brisk Movement in Art Embroidery Field. Notions and Fancy Goods, 50(4), 40–41. Retrieved March 29, 2020, from https://books.google.com/books?id=QOxYAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=rickrack&f=false.
Pleasants, J. M., & Kersey, H. A. (2010). Seminole Voices: Reflections on Their Changing Society 1970-2000. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Rush, B., & Wittman, L. (1982). The Complete Book of Seminole Patchwork: From Traditional Methods to Contemporary Uses. Seattle: Madrona Publishers.
Sturtevant, W. C., & Cattelino, J. R. (2004). Florida Seminole and Miccosukee. In R. D. Fogelson, Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast (pp. 429-449). Washington D C: Smithsonian Institution.
West, Patsy. (1998) The enduring Seminoles: from alligator wrestling to ecotourism. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Donor records offer little information to clarify whether this item was specifically produced for in-tribe usage or for sale. It is likely, however, that due to the production date of the item, it was not originally made as a trade good but was instead an object created for use by a tribal member and was later sold or traded as an income supplement. This was either sold directly to the owner recorded in the accessions file or to a craft dealer.
Additional questions remain as to how the first documented owner acquired the object. The accession record states that this item originally belonged to Lucy I. Rawlings (1888-1981) of Kingston, R.I. Rawlings was a professional actress who toured the country performing “Lincoln at the White House” as a part of the centennial celebrations of 1908-1909 (Axelrod, 2018). Later, she settled back in her hometown and served as the director of the Dramatic Arts Program at Rhode Island State College (now the University of Rhode Island) from 1926-1939 as well as running a family-owned farm. It is likely that the skirt was acquired at some point during Rawling’s travels around the country during her performances, which would suggest that the skirt was produced sometime between 1900-1925 before her return to Rhode Island. However, Rawlings could have also obtained it in an alternate method, such as through a local dealer, for a role in the theater or as a gift. More research into the donor is needed to clarify this.
plain weave cotton fabrics
machine-made cotton rickrack ribbon
15 different colored, commercially produced plain weave cotton fabrics with various thread counts.
A plain-weave, black fabric serves as the primary coloration throughout as ithe waistband and four tiers of the garment, acting as a support for rickrack ribbon applique.
Commercially made rickrack ribbon secured with machine stitching.
Two sets of mass-produced steel hook and eyes sewn onto the waistband at the back closure.