Published on June 28, 2011 by Amy
The Seminole people currently reside on seven reservations in Florida and are an important part of Florida’s culture and economy. Seminole artisans are known for their unique, colorful, patchwork designs, and their work is sought after by collectors. Traditional and contemporary Seminole arts and crafts include clothing, dolls, jewelry, and baskets.
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The indigenous clothing of the Seminole people has distinctive, colorful designs. Seminole patchwork, also called piecework, is made by joining strips of cloth into long bands, which are cut and assembled into geometric patterns. The patchwork designs are often complex and intricate. Before electricity was available, the Seminole women sewed the garments on hand-cranked machines. Now, they use electric sewing machines to make clothing for adults and children, including jackets, vests, shirts, dresses, skirts and headbands.
The Seminole women’s tradition of doll making is passed down from generation to generation. Mary B. Billie, a Seminole doll maker, cuts palmetto plants and uses the dried palmetto fibers to stuff the cloth bodies and heads. She sews the eyes and mouth. Her grandmother originally made dolls for children to play with, then she started selling them to tourists. The dolls are carefully decorated with traditional Seminole clothing, jewelry and hairstyles.
Seminole “sweetgrass” baskets are made from wild sweetgrass picked in the dry sections of the Everglades. First the grass must be washed, then it is dried in the sun to prepare it for basket making. The basket maker constructs a basket base from palmetto fiber. She makes the rest of the basket by sewing the dried grasses together with colored threads.
During the 1800s, Seminole women purchased glass beads at trading posts along the rivers in Florida. At that time, the beads were imported into the United States from Italy and Czechoslovakia. Beaded necklaces were very important to the Seminole women’s culture. It was once fashionable for the women to wear as much as 12 pounds of beaded necklaces wrapped around their necks as they went about their daily tasks. Even babies and young children wore beads.