In contrast to the stiff, rawhide sole of the Plains moccasin, the sole of the Woodland moccasin was soft, both sole and sides consisting of a single piece of deerskin with a seam up the back. Among all Woodland Indians, both sexes wore the same tribal style of moccasin, except for the Ho-Chunk, who had one type with a square front which was worn only by women.

The oldest and most traditional style worn by Great Lakes tribes was made with a central puckered seam running down the upper front and over the top of the foot. Although other styles were also made, this style was worn into historic times to create the undecorated “ricing moccasins” worn by men to “dance the rice.” For other styles, an elliptical piece serving as a vamp was added instead of the central seam and another piece was sewn to the back half and around the ankle edge to serve as a cuff. The shape and size of the vamp could vary: In one variation, a long, wide vamp was sewn on in puckered fashion to cover most of the upper-front of the moccasin. This style was preferred by the Menominee. The second variation had a much smaller vamp, also puckered, but with a central seam running below the vamp and to the toe. Because of its popularity with the Ojibwe, this type is often referred to as the Ojibwe style, but it is also called the “deer-nose” style because the vamp and the short front seam resemble the dark part of a deer’s nose and its split upper lip. Only the vamps and cuffs were decorated with quillwork or beadwork.

Men's Clothing

For Great Lakes Indian men, basic attire included a breechclout, leggings, and moccasins, all of tanned deerskin. Deerskin robes were worn in cold weather. There are early historical records of deerskin shirts, some of which were dyed brown with the juice of butternut husks, but these were probably the result of White influence.

The breechclout was a strip of deerskin, about 18 inches by four feet, which was passed between the legs and up and over a thong or belt, leaving flaps in the front and back. This flap was often decorated with quillwork. After contact with Europeans, cloth was increasingly substituted for deerskin and, in the early 20th century, a pair of square panels or aprons worn front and back replaced the breechclout. With the switch to cloth, beads and ribbonwork were used more and more as decoration.

Leggings were made by folding a rectangular piece of deerskin lengthwise down the center. The open edges were sewn together to form a tube which was wider at the hip end but gradually narrowed as it reached the ankle. The edges formed flaps, about two inches wide at the top to around six inches at the bottom, and these were cut into fringes. Leggings were often decorated with beaded embroidery or ribbon appliqué, and they were fastened to the belt with deerskin thongs. On dress occasions, loom-beaded bands or garters were fastened around the leggings below the knees. Sometimes cloth was substituted for deerskin, but both survived into modern times.

There were three styles of headdress. At times, colorful yarn sashes were wound around the head like a turban, and feathers were often added. On ceremonial occasions, turbans of otter hide were worn. In one style, the whole otter skin was used, the head being brought around in a circle and attached near the base of the tail while the tail itself flapped out on one side. Other otterskin turbans were made by sewing the skin into a wide tube. Otterskin turbans were sometimes decorated with beads and ribbons, and worn with eagle plumes. For ceremonial occasions, particularly in times of war, a roach was worn. This was a crest of animal hair set on top of a man’s head beginning several inches back from the forehead and continuing down the back of the head to the shoulders. Rows of the shorter tail hair of deer, usually dyed red, were combined with rows of the longer white guard-hairs from porcupines. Moose hair could sometimes replace the deer hair and, on the Prairies where porcupines were not found, turkey beards were substituted for porcupine hair. A bone "roach spreader" ran through the top-center of the headdress and forced the stiff hair upward and outward to give it a brush-like effect. It was embellished with a single eagle feather, the quill end swiveling in a bone socket attached to the center of the roach, and the feather swung freely as the man moved. A lock of hair was then pushed through a hole in the roach and securely tied. In more recent times, the roach was held on the head by a headband mount made of strap leather. When it was not being worn, the roach was folded carefully and wrapped over a cylindrical stick to keep its shape and prevent the hairs from being broken.

Women's Clothing

For Indian women in the Great Lakes, the basic garment was a sleeveless dress made of two deerskins, one for the front and one for the back, sewn together at the shoulders and belted. This was worn over an undershirt of woven nettle fiber. Deerskin leggings fell from the knees to the ankles and were fastened just below the knee with a thong or band. Moccasins completed the costume. For work, especially in warm weather, a long, tanned deerskin shirt was worn. Long, full deerskin dresses, reaching to the ankles, with fringed sleeves and fringe at the bottom were a relatively recent innovation simulating White women's dress of the late 19th century.

After contact with Euroamericans, cotton cloth and thick wool cloth called broadcloth became the prime material for women's clothing. These materials were secured at trading posts or reservation stores. Originally, the skirt consisted of a square piece of deerskin, but in postcontact times, broadcloth was wrapped around the body, meeting in the front. For everyday wear, women wore simple cotton dresses or wool skirts and cotton blouses. For special occasions, much more elaborate clothing was worn. Wraparound or fitted wool skirts had large decorative panels of silk appliqué or beadwork. The upper portion was folded outward over a belt. Over these, women wore loose blouses made of printed cotton cloth which had deep flounces or ruffles over the chest. The flounces could be decorated with narrow bands of silk ribbon and dozens of small German silver brooches. Over the shoulders, a robe -- a piece of silk appliqued or beaded broadcloth the size of a small blanket -- was worn like a cape. Broadcloth leggings with silk appliqué or beaded borders reached from the knee to the ankle. Despite changes in the use of cloth for larger garments, moccasins were still traditionally made of deerskin decorated with beads or ribbonwork.

Women wore their hair in a single braid falling down their backs. In historic times, ribbons were often intertwined in the braid, and a comb made of German silver was added for further decoration. For dress occasions, the traditional older style of hair decoration was the "hair-tie": the braid of hair was doubled up and tied in a "club" and wound with pieces of deerskin or beaded cloth, about five by 10 inches. Long, narrow streamers of quillwork or loomed beadwork were attached to the clubbed hair and hung nearly to the ground, swaying as the woman walked or danced.


Quillwork -- embroidery with porcupine quills -- is an art found only in North America and was part of the traditional decorative repertoire of Great Lakes Indian women. Dyed porcupine quills were sewn with sinew onto deerskin clothing, knife sheaths, and medicine bags. Quills were also woven on looms to make belts, tumplines, and decorative strips that were later applied to clothing. Pipestems were also wrapped or bound with quillwork. Porcupine quills were also stitched on birchbark boxes in geometric and floral designs . Traditionally, quills were dyed with native vegetable dyes, but following contact with Europeans, quills could be dyed by boiling them with non-colorfast cloth, or in the 19th and 20th centuries, with commercial dyes.

For embroidery, the quills were moistened in the mouth and flattened by being pulled out between the teeth or with special bone flatteners. Designs were made by attaching the quills to deerskin with sinew thread crossing over the quill. The quills could not be pierced or they would split. Before decorating birchbark boxes, women soaked the quills in water until they were soft, left them unflattened, and then used an awl to pierce small holes in the bark and inserted the points through the holes. The points were trimmed and bent back against the bark to hold them in place. Both floral and geometric designs were worked in this fashion. Because the natural and dyed colors of the quills were generally light, quillwork designs were most striking on darker materials, and leather used for quill-decorated bags and moccasins was often dyed a dark brown with juice from butternut husks.


Glass beads became available after contact with Europeans. Beads made in Venice, and later in what was then Czechoslovakia, were commonly available at trading posts and reservations stores. During early periods, large beads suitable for necklaces were available, and in the nineteenth century, much smaller beads suited to embroidery were also widely sold and adapted to quillwork or painted designs which had been used to decorate clothing, bags, and other items made of leather or cloth. As compared to quillwork, the use of beads was both a labor-saving method and allowed a much wider color selection, and Native women used these opportunities to develop intricate designs for clothing and other items.

To decorate items with beadwork, women used both loom and embroidery techniques. The earliest loom was the bow loom, a bent stick with doubled-up birchbark heddles attached to each end to hold the warp threads in place. The box loom was also used --  a rectangular frame with the warp threads strung over the end bars. In historic times, beads were strung on silk, linen, or cotton thread with a long, fine, steel needle. By creating strips of woven beadwork with looms, Woodland Indian women produced belts, garters, headbands, necklaces, and decorative bands to be fastened onto deerskin or cloth.

For bead embroidery, the "spot" or "overlay" stitch was used. Beads were strung on a thread and laid in position on the cloth or hide, with a second thread crossing over the first, usually after two or three beads, and then passed through or into the hide to hold the beads firmly in place. Earlier bead embroidery was done with sinew from either the deer or moose. Since sinew is rather scratchy, it was undesirable for stitches to show on the inside, so the sinew was threaded inside the skin and did not actually pass through the deerskin. Bead embroidery became popular on clothing and on bags of various types, especially bandolier bags, which were worn as decorative accessories on dress occasions. These bags may have been derived from the bandolier or bullet pouch worn over one shoulder by the United States military or may have evolved from similar bags worn in prehistoric times. Since the pouches of bandolier bags were often sewn shut, they were as much a badge of status as a useful bag.

Most early bead and quill designs were geometric or soft curves. True floral designs are thought to have been adopted from early Europeans, particularly the French, and have been made popularly by Indian women for at least 200 years. However, these designs did not entirely replace earlier designs, and geometric designs such as the white bead border called "otter tail" have continued into modern times.

While loom work is difficult to distinguish from tribe to tribe, quill and bead embroidery has variations and distinctive traits, including favorite colors, which aid in identification. For instance, Ojibwe bead embroidery is quite realistic and some leaves and flowers can be identified by species and have many details such as leaf veining. However, some designs are very ornate and combine oak leaves, grapes, and wild roses on one stem. The southern tribes used more stylized designs which emphasize bilateral symmetry, designs outlined in a contrasting color (usually white), and greater use of geometric designs.

Silk Appliqué / Ribbonwork

Silk appliqué or "ribbonwork" is another extremely important art form among Woodland Indians. Native women cut patterns from silk and fold, tuck, and sew them as decoration onto woolen cloth garments. Silk appliqué was practiced by the Indians of the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi Valley as early as 1750. In Wisconsin, ribbonwork designs were most common among the Potawatomi, Menominee, and Ho-Chunk. The Ojibwe used ribbonwork as a decorative technique less frequently.

The earliest ribbonwork was done with silk ribbon. While ribbonwork was found mostly on women's skirts and shoulder robes, it was also used to decorate men's leggings, moccasins, and cradleboard wrappers. Although geometric designs were used to a considerable extent, the majority were curvilinear or floral. More recently, silk ribbons have given way to bolt silk, nylon, and rayon. Using scissors, women cut designs from one color of silk, sewed them onto a panel of another color, and then sewed this, as a decorative border, to a broadcloth garment. Silk was rarely appliqued to deerskin.

Women sometimes sewed the design down with silk thread in a contrasting color. This was particularly effective in the cross-stitch, which resulted in an X-shaped thread pattern, and in the herringbone stitch. The blind stitch, one in which the threads are hidden, was used to sew the panel onto the broadcloth. Later, the panels were stitched on with the sewing machine. During the mid-20th century, ribbonwork died out, but is now undergoing a resurgence as women adapt the use of sewing machines to create traditional and innovative designs for traditional clothing worn at powwows and other special occasions.


Before the advent of Europeans, metalworking by Great Lakes tribes was confined to working native copper. Copper was mined by prehistoric Indian people from deposits in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and made into tools through cold hammering and not by smelting (heating the copper to liquid). Manufacture of some copper tools, such as awls and celts, may have continued to historic times.

Silversmithing was introduced to Indians along the Atlantic Coast by early European colonists. In time, it was taken up by nearly all the Woodland tribes, and this technology was probably brought to Wisconsin by the Oneida during the 1820s. Early work was done in coin silver by hammering coins to flatten them into thin sheets which were used to made brooches and other items. However, coin silver was soon replaced by what is called “German silver,” an alloy composed mostly of nickel, with some zinc and copper. German silver was sold or traded in readymade sheets, and could be cut with gravers and stamped with die-stamps improvised from iron files. Silverworking tools also included a small vise, hammer, pincers, compass, and soldering iron. German silver was fashioned into circular brooches, bracelets, headbands, combs, rings, and earrings which were additionally decorated with cutout designs or incised lines, dots, and figures. Women often wore dozens of brooches on their blouses and dresses. Small ring-shaped brooches were sometimes called “friendship brooches” and were exchanged by women as tokens of their regard for one another.


Sashes and garters were woven of commercial yarn in three or more colors, one of which was usually a deep red. Fingerweaving was a popular technique in which the yarn strands were wound around a short stick in parallel rows and interlaced with one another. The one set of strands served as both warp and weft. Netting and braiding techniques were also used to make yarn sashes and garters. Women wore sashes around the waist as decorative belts to hold their dresses in place. The men wore them around the waist for decoration or to keep a deerskin jacket closed, but occasionally one was worn over the shoulder as a strap for a bag or wound around the head in turban fashion. Fingerwoven garters were worn just below the knee, by both men and women, to support the leggings.