Published on June 27, 2011 by Amy
Although the Cherokee Indians are mostly known for their intricate double-wall basket weaving techniques, textile weaving was an important part of traditional life and exists as an art form today. Because of the humid forests of the Southeast where the Cherokee originated, few examples of antique textiles still exist; however, in the 1940s, weaving halls were established in Oklahoma and the tradition has lived on passed down through generations of Cherokee women.
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Cottons and silks didn’t exist in the American Southeast originally, so the Cherokee used indigenous plants. Among the native plants used for textiles were wild hemp and mulberry. Hemp was prepared by peeling the stalks and beating the fibers until they separated. Mulberry was prepared in much the same way, but only the bark was used. The fibers then could be pulled off in threads and then woven into cloth by finger weaving.
Although the Cherokee lacked goats and sheep until after Europeans came to their land, they used the hair of some of the local wild animals for weaving. The opossum and buffalo’s hair was spun into thread using a spindle made of wood or bone to prepare it for weaving.
One of the earliest methods of weaving was finger weaving. Fibers are attached to a stick that is positioned horizontally. The stick is tied to a post or tree for stability so the weaver can have a free hand for the corresponding fibers. More lengths of fibers are woven into the attached fibers. Intricate patterns and color combinations can be achieved by varying the positions of the fibers.
Looms were first brought by the Europeans and were quickly adopted into Cherokee life. Natural fibers were dyed with plant dyes and woven into cloth for clothing and blankets. The Cherokee developed their own style of weaving using an under and over method that produces checks and also an intricate double-weave design.
Contemporary Cherokee artists are incorporating traditional methods into modern designs. Many are using wools and synthetics mixed with natural fibers to create new patterns and textures. Along with fabric, belts and sashes, these weaving are being made into works of art that honor both tradition and new art forms.