Tribal Variations in Design & Decoration
Tribal differences in moccasin design and decoration could literally be said to begin from ground up! So distinctive are some moccasin styles that you could tell the tribe of the wearer by his footprints. Moccasins were made with all types of variations and additions according to the styles of different tribes. Flaps of leather or fur were often added to cover the ankle, or folded down as a cuff. Some moccasins were made into a boot simply by attaching them to the leggings. Various sized u-shaped or elliptical pieces of leather, called vamps or insets, were added to the moccasin upper at the instep. A tongue for hard and soft-soled moccasins was often added and cut into various forms and decorated.
Many methods were used to pucker the toes of woodland center-seam moccasins. A distinctive “rabbit nose” or “partridge” moccasins could be sewed by trimming the pattern first into a “w” shape. There were also many ways to finish the heels of moccasins. Varieties of Eastern Woodland moccasins often left a tiny tab, or tail, trimmed to different shapes, that dragged behind. Other one-piece moccasins have no tail, or the tab is sewn up to the heel for added reinforcement. Some moccasins of the plains and prairie had fringe hanging at the heel seam or added onto the instep; as fringe trailed behind the walker, it may have helped to obliterate footprints.
Even where moccasin construction techniques are similar among tribes, the quilled (and later beaded) decoration was usually quite distinctive. Woodland moccasins were often decorated in floral or zoomorphic (animal) designs, on the instep or tongue portion, woodland decoration did not usually cover the sides of the moccasin. The flap or added cuff around the ankle was also often decorated, or worn upright and held in place by thongs wrapped around the ankle. A separate beaded or quilled piece of velvet or leather was sometimes sewn on top of the cuff or tongue portion. These decorated panels could be easily removed from the moccasins when the soles wore out, and sewn onto a new pair. Plains moccasins often left the cuff undecorated, but geometric bead and quillwork patterns often decorated the instep portion, or around the circumference near the sole. Some Plains designs covered the entire top of the moccasin from the heel to the toe. Moccasins worn for marraige were often completely covered in beads. For Plains peoples preparedness in the afterlife, many moccasins worn into burial were fully beaded even on the bottom of the soles.
Choosing Your Leather
Moccasins were usually made from the soft tanned hides of deer, moose, elk or buffalo. Rawhide was used for the bottoms of hard-soled moccasins. Hides from the larger animals were much thicker than buckskin. Thicker hides were more difficult to sew, but produced sturdier, longer lasting moccasins. Sewing is easier with soft Indian-tanned (or brain-tanned) leather, but commercially sueded and split leather (more commmon by far today) is also suitable for moccasin making.
Commercial leather is most like brain tanned leather when it is split (sueded on both sides), as the smooth outside of the hide has been split off. Leather thickness is measured by the weight in ounces of a square foot of leather. Very thin garment leathers, 1-2 oz. weight, is usually too thin for practical moccasins, while heavy leathers, 5-6 oz. weight, can be nearly impossible to sew by hand. Medium thickness leather (3-4 oz. weight) is recommended for most soft-soled moccasins. Patterns should be laid out on the hide so the pieces go with the grain of the leather, so the moccasins will be uniform. You can conserve leather by laying out the pieces to be cut from the hide in more effiecient space-saving locations, but since the leather stretches in different directions, sewing can become a little irregular if the grain direction is ignored.
Moccasins are assembled inside out to hide the stitching in the finished footwear. Traditional sewing would be done with animal sinew through holes punched with an awl. For comfort, knots were kept on the outside of a shoe. The whip stitch was commonly used in moccasin construction, often with an added narrow welt running the length of the seam to make it stronger and to help hide the stitching when turned right side out. The running stitch was also used in places where the whip stitch was not as practical (adding fringe, etc.). Seams were often gently pounded flat in puckered areas.
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Crazy Crow Trading Post has long been your number one source for Native American Indian craft supplies for your Pow Wow regalia and other needs. This photo gallery represents and article represent moccasins of all regions and tribal origins. It, like many of the articles and galleries we add to the website are works in progress. If you find something that needs correction, or have something to add, either as narrative or photos and video, we appreciate your contribution. We cannot guarantee that anything submitted will be included, but it will be reviewed carefully.