From Sashes to Sandals – Extreme Sophistication in Native Clothing

Ceremonial clothing such as headdresses, mantles, complex twined bags and baskets have been recovered from elite mound burials in Spiro, Oklahoma and a few other items have been found at places such as Etowah but little had been recoverd from village sites until Wickliffe. Evidence comes fabric impressed pottery very clearly depicting techniques used to make twined textiles from a variety of plant fibers including dogbane (hemp); nettle and milkweed. The woody stems are harvested in the fall and inside are fibers that are twisted together to make twine and from there the sky is the limit. The increased number of complex structural trends parallels the increased social complexity deduced from Mississippian settlement configurations.(Penelope Ballad Drooker) Meaning that the more textile construction techniques there are and the more complex they become, it seems to be a reflection of the increasing complexities in everyday life.

Unfortunately there is an extremely limited amount of remaining textile material to investigate, however large-sized Mississippian textiles like those of earlier periods, tend to come in rectangular forms used for skirts, mantles, and blankets. Three-dimensional objects such as bags and pouches are also common. There is a lot more to the manufacturing of textiles than what is found in archaeological sites. Questions remain if this was a task relegated to one gender or whether both participated. Although cultures and societies came and disappeared, often without explanation — types of sophisticated woven textiles were worn right up through the contact period.

Moravian Missionary, David Zeisburger left journals with details of twined clothing being worn only a generation before. He was among the Delaware in Ohio in the mid to late 18th century. Hovey Lake archaeological site in extreme southwest Indiana is a site that was populated from about 1400 to 1700 with remnants of the Angel Mound people. They seem to have continued a tradition of making clothing and using twined textiles to imprint pottery. The interpretation that Cheryl Ann Munson has given of Hovey Lake regarding this issue is stated very clearly on the Hovey Lake website, “Villagers wove a variety of fabric items such as blankets, wraps, skirts, and bags, using yarns spun from plant fibers. Knotted nets were another type of fabric.”

There are few descriptions of this type of clothing being worn by Native people after contact thus again, the lack of evidence to concretely state that the use of plant fibers continued well into the 17th century. There are a few visual pieces that can be interpreted as being made from plant fibers including one by artist John White in 16th century Virginia of a “Religious Man” depicted as wearing a short twined cloak covering the left arm while leaving the right arm exposed. There is substantial evidence to strongly suggest that the basic pre and proto-contact garment worn by females was a wraparound skirt. It is usually described as being knee length and this garment was then transferred to trade cloth by the mid-18th century. Some resources mention native fabric skirts …