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Sashes and garters of woven beadwork counted among the North American Indian dress accoutrements of groups east of the Plains. They were decorative yet functional, and served as ready goods for gifting at give-aways. Beginning probably in the very late 19th century, Indian artisans began to adapt newly introduced glass beads to their traditional arts. Woven beadwork is a direct descendent of two major indigenous art forms: woven shell wampum, and woven porcupine quillwork. The technique is based on length-wise warps, which separate the beads, and traverse wefts, on which the beads are strung. This sash is typical of the earliest woven beadwork done with so-called pony beads and yarn warps -- usually red. The warps extend beyond the ends of the work to serve as ties. The beaded motifs are simple, often bold geometric forms such as the castellated design of this example. Almost to the exclusion of other colors, white is the predominant background. Designs are typically in black, with one highlighting color occasionally present. The bead colors of this sash, white, black and "pony trader blue" conform precisely to the period norm.
Sashes are typically worn as ornamentation, and normally do not actually support clothing in the manner of a true belt. When worn around the waist, the yarn fringes can be tied at the center of the wearer's back, at one or the other side, or in front of the person's body -- the fringes hanging like long tassels. Sashes can be worn diagonally across the body, and tied either at the wearer's side or on top of the shoulder. Sometimes they are even worn as a necklace -- the fringes tied behind the neck, the beadwork falling in a "U" on the chest. Men in particular sometimes wore several woven beadwork items at one time, for example, two pairs of garters around the legs, just below the knee, or two or more sashes around the waist, one above the other. Pairs of garters are sometimes tied end-to-end and worn like a bandoleer across the body. Two or more sashes can be worn the same way, in a cluster.
Benson L. Lanford
December 1, 2002