This week’s article is on Cherokee crafts from the 18th century explained and demonstrated at Diligwa Village at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. This reconstruction of an authentic Cherokee village from 1710 is a great site to visit to get a feel for how the Cherokee lived back then. Many thanks to Feather Smith and Betty for their contributions.
Cherokee Textiles [watch video] One of the techniques used by the Cherokee in the 18th century for making textiles was called “finger weaving”. It was used to produce belts, garters and sashes. Although done by the women, it was primarily used to make men’s clothing. In 1710, the women did not wear a lot of color. Tending to model after nature, the men wore the brightly colored clothing and women did not. The exception was wool that was traded for during this time. The wool was mostly red and blue and the women tended to wear the red and the men the blue. Prior to the 1700’s, other fibers were used for weaving, such as the bark of the Mulberry tree.
Another technique used prior to contact was called “Twining”. The Twining method is about 9,000 years old. Bags, such as tool bags for men and larger bags for gathering for women, and clothing, such as women’s skirts were made by twining.
Cherokee Pottery [watch video] In 1710, the Cherokee used primarily two methods for making pots. The first was the “ball” method, or “pinch pot’. The clay was rolled into a ball and then the thumb was poked into the ball and hollowed out by pinching the sides. The pinch pot was very quick, very easy to make, but was not suited for making larger pots.
To make larger pots, the Cherokee used the “coil” method. They started out with a base, however large the pot was to be, then rolled clay coils and stacked them around the edge of the base and then smoothed the clay to form the sides.
The Cherokee looked for simple methods to decorate the pots, so they usually “stamped” the pots. Unique to the Cherokee and Iroquois, they used wood or clay paddles. The design was carved into the paddle and then it was used to slap the sides of the pots before they were completely dry. It was a very fast and easy way to decorate. They also took textured items like a corn cob and rolled it over the surface of the pot. Walnuts and freshwater shells were also used. They also used samples of twining to stamp the pots. Thanks to this method, we know what twining looked like 9,000 years ago. The cloth did not last, but the pots have.
Cherokee Baskets [watch video] The Cherokee used hickory splints and white oak splints, but the most common material was split river cane. They would quarter the cane and pull the outer layer off to make a supple, sturdy splint. They would weave both single wall and double wall baskets. To weave a single wall, they started at the base, weaved up and then sealed off the top. On the double wall, they would start on the inside base, weave up to create the wall, flip over and weave completely back down the wall. Everything was woven in and out of itself on the bottom creating a true double-layer all the way around. The tighter the weave, the stronger the basket.
Sometimes the baskets were died, especially after 1700’s, so they could be traded for a better price. They used blood root to create a black or brown color and bois d’arc shavings for an orange or yellow color.
So, for a truly enlightening and entertaining destination, put Tahlequah, Oklahoma into your travel plans. You will find the Cherokee to be a very friendly and welcoming people. And you may learn that the Cherokee, one of the “civilized tribes”, were very different from what you may have imagined or thought you knew based on Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans.