Women of
             Fur Trade
Trade Wool Dress      
Stoud Cloth                             

Trade wool Dresses:  





                               Trade wool dresses :

   The fur trade made wool available to the Native American
    tribes and was early substituted for skins in making
    garments, at least  when it could be afforded.It also
    became a status symbol of wealth since anyone could
    have buckskin.

    Mountaineers took pride in dressing their wives in the
    finest outfits available and Joe Meek, for instance, talks
    about his wife being dressed in Red and Blue Broad


    Denig had been  in the fur trade since 1833 and in the
    early 1850's wrote a description of Crow women, stating
    that "The women have scarlet or blue cloth dresses,
    others white cotillions made of dressed skins of bighorn
    sheep, which are covered across breast and back with
    rows of elk teeth and sea shells.  These frocks are fringed
    along the sides and round the bottom.The fringes are
    wrought with porcupine quills and feathers of many colors. 
    The price of elk teeth is 100 for a good horse or in money
    the value of  $50.00.  A frock is not complete unless it has
    300 elk teeth,  which with the other shells, skin, etc. could
    not be bought for less than $200.00"


    Kurz sketched a crow woman wearing a trade cloth dress
    in 1851, that shows some fringe at the bottom, the triangle
    symbol at the bottom, and elk teeth across the bodice.

   He also has this to say about the Cree: "After their return to
    the trading post [in the spring] and the proceeds of their
    winter's work exchanged for blankets and cloth of various
    colors the camp looks gay and lively.  Both young and old
    of both sexes lay aside their filthy habiliments and adorn
    themselves in those of European manufacture.  A profusion
    of ornaments is worn.  Most parts of dress are garnished in
    some of the forms before referred to and a general neatness
    is exibited, leading one to suppose that they were an entirely
    different people.  This cleanly appearence, however only
    lasts a short time.  As different suits are never thought of
    nor any washing done the brilliant colors of English goods
    become gradually obscured by dirt so that in the fall a new
    supply of winter clothing is as desireable as the spring



   The Cree woman's dress was a long slip supported by 
    straps over the shoulders.  James Isham  observed that
    Cree women near the Hudson Bay Posts were making
    their dresses of trade cloth as early as 1743. Kurz
    described and sketched skin dresses of this style worn
    by Plains Cree and Chippewa women who visited Fort
    Union in 1851. These tribes were the poorer ones and
    other tribe women scorned them for their old fashioned
    dress when the deertail dress had come into style.

Harriet modeling her strap dress of saved list trade wool.
The sleeves were worn during cooler weather.

    Pattern for strap dress are in
Feminine Fur
Trade Fashions by Kathy Wilson and James Hanson



                      This early Blackfoot Wool Dress is in the 
                       United States Indian Service Collection.    

                                 This is a representation of this dress.
                         Made by Sandy Hunt




   Most trade cloth dresses were made from two lengths of
    material [saved list wool]seamed at the shoulders in order
    to make use of the white selvadge as a decorative bottom
    edge of the dress. An opening was left for the head, then
    sleeves added, and triangular gussets sewn into the sides
    to give extra width.

    Measure from your shoulders to mid calf and add 1/2 inch
    seam allowance for length. Measure hips and add 4", use
    1/2 this measurement for the dress width.

    Cut two of these and sew together at the shoulder, leaving
    about 10 or 11" for the neck opening. Cut a curve for the
    neck, deeper in the front.

    Measure from where your shoulder seam would be down
    to wrist [some dresses had shorter sleeves than this if that
your preference].  Width of the sleeves is about 21 to 23
    inches. Sew sleeves to the dress body, then measure for
    gussets. They are about 8 or 9" wide at the bottom and
    extend up into the sleeve an inch or two. You may want
    the dropped tabs that echo the deer legs of the deer tail
    dress or you may want the gussets to be flush with the
    dress bottom. Sew the gussets to the dress sides and you
    are then ready to decorate.

                           Dress pattern:

   This shows pieces laid out to use the white selvadge                 
   as decorative effect at sleeve and dress bottom.



   Here are some ideas for decorating your wool




    Green Crow style list cloth dress decorated with elk teeth
    and wool strips of
different colors. Though red and blue
    were by far the most common, green is also listed in some
    ledgers and was much admired by the Crow. The red saved
dress is decorated with lumpy money cowries which
    was traded from coastal tribes. Note the white selvadge edge
   or the "saved List."

    Both these ladies are wearing commercial leather drop
    tail belts, one with a buckle, but we have found no
    documentation of such being worn during fur trade times.
    Instead,belts were probably rawhide tied with thongs or a
    long strip of buckskin tied in a knot. Not to be critical of
    these ladies, since these pictures were taken a number of
    years ago and we are always adding to our knowledge and
    improving our outfits. I just wanted to bring this to your
    attention so that you could benefit from our past mistakes.

    This dress made by Candi has fringe placement that echos
     the lines of the buckskin two hide dresses.

Since early dresses were made to resemble the buckskin
    ones, this could very well have been done.

    Blackfoot style dress with arches cut out at the   
    bottom as in the buckskin dresses, two colors of
    wool used,and cloth ticking used as trim. The
    classic Blackfoot triangle with two squares at the
    bottom are also used.

    I have heard many interpretations of these women's
    symbols, in that they may represent uterous and either
    ovaries or kidneys, or that that the triangle symbolizes
    the buffalo or that it was worn by women who could call
    the buffalo, although I am not sure of this one since it is
    on so very many Blackfoot dresses. The exact meaning
    may have been lost with time.  

   The beadwork band across the bodice is also classic
    Blackfoot style with the dip in the middle representing
    the deer tail of the old style dresses. Normally only two
    colors are used in the band, one color for the two outside
    strips, and a contrasting color in the middle. a third color
    is sometimes added for the strip on the sleeve. This was
    an early dress of mine, and now I would probably use
    blue beads in place of the red if I had it to do over again.


    Cheyenne style dress decorated with trade ribbon and
    money cowries. This dress has long sleeves down to the
    Oops! Wrong style belt again,  I have not found the large
    domed discs documented on women's belts in the fur trade.


    Crow style saved list dress with two colors of wool,
    buckskin fringe, blue pound beads, and elk teeth. Elk teeth
    were prized as symbols of long life since they remained
    long after the rest of the elk had crumbled to dust. Since an
    elk only has two ivories, they were quite valuable, and many
    dresses when examined closely have carved bone imitation
    teeth mixed among the real ones. The triangle of contrasting
    cloth at the neck of Crow dresses is a reminder of the deer
    tail folded down on the buckskin ones. During the mid 19th
    century Crow began to make closed, tapered sleeves and
    started bringing the elk teeth decoration on the dresses
    down below the belt so don't be mislead by pictures
    showing this style change. Notice the rawhide belt!


     While actual examples of wool dresses from the fur trade
    are non existent, there are cloth dresses mentioned by
    mountaineers in their journals and  we do have the 1850's
    brief descriptions by Denig and Kurz, along with the Kurz
    sketches.By comparing those descriptions and sketches
    with early photos, and with our knowledge of the two hide
    dresses, we can get a feel for what the dresses may have
    looked like, but without actual specimens there must be
    some conjecture and speculation. There are also accounts
    of Indian women in European fashion, and this will be delt
    with in another article.

        Sandy, Jill and a bit of the Crazy touch


             Indians of the upper Missouri by Ewers

       Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri by Denig
                        Book of Buckskinning Vol. V
     Feminine Fur Trade Fashions by Wilson and Hanson
                                Hau Kola by Hall
                      A Persistent Vision by Conn
                Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz

Website Builder