South Florida has been home to the Seminole Indians for more than two centuries -- ever since they were pursued into the deepest swamplands by government soldiers seeking to move them to reservations out west during the 1800s. Toward the latter part of that century, as government policies softened somewhat, the Seminole left the isolation of the swamps to live on Florida tribal reservations. Around this time, traders began supplying non-electric treadle sewing machines to the Seminole. the arrival of this popular appliance, invented by Elias Howe in 1845, Seminole women began making intricately patterned fabric strips to decorate clothing.
Seminole Reservation, Immokalee, FL
Period photographs show the Seminole dressed in clothes made of calico, gingham, cotton and flannel. Men wore knee-length tunics decorated with colorful cloth strips. Women wore ankle-length skirts and capes with similar decoration. Each color in the intricate patchwork was a separate fabric. These colorful geometric bands full of tiny squares, diamonds and triangles were assembled and inserted into garments. The sewing machine made this form of patchwork possible, since the intricacy of the design requires tight, close machine-stitching.
Although a finished article of Seminole patchwork features many tiny fabric shapes, the actual construction involves handling long fabric strips. A wide variety of patterns can be made by sewing the strips together, cutting them into squares or rectangles, then repositioning and re-sewing the shapes to make intricate patterns of squares, diamonds and triangles. Sometimes the strips are rearranged on the diagonal or up-and-down as in the seminole piecing made by the young woman in the photograph taken at the Seminole Reservation in Immokalee, Florida.
Machine Stitching Technique
Seminole patchwork technique eliminates the need for templates and the colorful strips make up surprisingly quickly. It must, however, be done on a sewing machine. Only machine stitching is strong enough to allow the strips to be cut apart without disintegrating. The result is colorful, symmetrical and sophisticated. It can be used as the basis for a quilt or to create a stunning border. Learn more about making Seminole patchwork.
Today, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is a Federally Recognized Indian Tribe, the only tribe in the U.S. who never signed a peace treaty. Some of the Seminole still practice their indigenous patchwork and sometimes offer it for sale. Casinos, however, along with cattle, citrus, and other industries, are how most Seminole support themselves.
Find out about making Seminole patchwork.