It is fascinating to watch
Seminole doll makers build the palmetto torsos
that underly the dolls exterior. Especially because, other than the base,
the palmetto body is almost never seen.
It is the Seminole
costume that is the most visible part of the doll and,
in many ways, the most significant part.
So I was surprised
that the Florida Memory project, with its splendid
photo essay, totally ignores one of the most significant parts of Seminole
material culture and the costumes prepared for the dolls.
Patchwork goes back to the
days when the Seminoles, who
basically were runaway Creek Indians , forced out of Alabama
and Georgia by advancing Cherokees, who were in turn
escaping from the migration of colonists into their homelands,
went into the Everglades to preserve their lives and culture.
Without whole fabric to
work with, the women would cut up
remnant cloth and sew it together in a patchwork pattern.
This technique can be found to greater or lesser degree today
in Seminole skirts, shirts and jackets. I have a jacket that is
entirely patchwork with the exception of the lining, cuffs and
the panels that hold the zipper. It is gorgious, although
it is almost impossible to go anywhere wearing it unnoticed.
It resembles Joseph's Coat of Many Colors.
The work is so difficult
that most Seminole jackets nowadays
have just two or three tiers of patchwork on a solid cloth foundation.
The highest quality of Seminole
dolls are created by doll
makers who use patchwork in the skirts and shirts (male) of
their figures. The other trim, which is what shows in Mary Billie's
dolls, and other dolls of less accomplishment and lower value,
is called "rick-rack". It is machine made and stitched on to
But, if you want a true
treasure in a Seminole doll, look
for the patchwork. You will find several examples at this link.
Incidentally, the crescent-type
black fabric attached to the head
of the doll is not a "hat." It represents a hairstyle that is traditional
among Seminole women. It is not, however, the only hairstyle
used on dolls. You will also occasionally see one or two braided
lengths, usually made from wool or silk thread.
Copyright 2005 Aboriginals: Art of the First Person