In present days, one of the striking things about pueblo ceremonial dress is the bright colored embroidery on kilts, sashes, shawls and women's dresses. All of this is done with commercial wool and no known piece is over seventy years old. This means they were made after the pueblos became part of the United States and after the railroads began to bring commercial wool. However, the stitch and the design belong distinctively to the pueblos.
POSITION OF WORKER BRAIDING ANY NUMBER OF STRANDS DIVISIBLE BY THREE WITH ONE EXTRA FOR "FLOATER"
Plate 111-35. Braiding the Hopi wedding sash.
WORKER BRAIDS FROM "a" TO "b" INSERTING RODS AFTER EACH STEP, WHICH ARE PUSHED AWAY FROM WORKER TOWARD POLE B. "X" IS THE FIRST ROD INSERTED AND "y" IS THE LAST. NOTE BRAIDING IS DONE ENTIRELY ON UPPER PLANE.
Plate 111-36. Braiding the Hopi sash.
Plate 111-37. The braided sash, with spindle, card, cotton, and beater.
Plate 111-38. Stringing the warp in tubular form for the braided sash.
Plate 111-39. Making the corn husk tassels for the braided sash.
The stitch is something like what white embroiderers call an outline stitch which means that it produces a solid line in which each new stitch slightly overlaps the one behind it. In pueblo embroidery, each stitch passes through the wool of the preceding stitch, thus splitting the stitch instead of lying beside it. This split stitch technique is an old one in coiled basketry so pueblo people, even if they learned embroidery from the whites, may have continued to use old sewing methods.
In the Plate 111-40 the background of the pattern is composed of vertical rows done in this pueblo outline stitch. The white cloud symbol in the center is produced in the same way but the fine white zig-zag lines have another technique. Here the colored embroidery yarn has simply skipped a thread or two, leaving the plain white fabric showing. The result is that these lines look indented, while the rest of the pattern stands out from the cloth, in heavy wool.
Skipping threads in this way means very careful counting of stitches. This is, in fact, the essence of pueblo embroidery. The work was always done on native cotton cloth, in plain basket weave, and we have mentioned earlier that the weaving must be absolutely even so that the counting of stitches would produce the right spacing. In the present day, pueblo embroiderers sometimes use monk's cloth or coarse sacking which also are in basket weave.
They keep to a few colors: black, dark blue and dark green, with touches of red and yellow. These colors look very striking on the edge of a large white cotton shawl, like those draped around the masked figure of the Zuni Shalako. The same colors, without the yellow, are used on men's white sashes and kilts, which are often embroidered in these days, in imitation of the more difficult embroidery weaving which only the Hopi can do. The woman's blanket dress has often a deep row of embroidery along the lower edge. Zuni does this in dark blue, like the dress, while Acoma, Laguna and Tesuque like to introduce touches of red. In fact, pueblo people often recognize a garment embroidered at Acoma by the quantity of red which its women like to use.
Women are the embroiderers. At least, they are in all of the pueblos but Hopi. Hopi men, who do most of the weaving, have usurped the art of embroidery also, using the same designs as in their embroidery weaving. So do all who embroider sashes and kilts, for these have standard designs referring to fields and rainclouds. Some of the other designs look surprisingly like old ones found on basketry and pottery. For instance, the white zig-zag in Plate 111-40, is one very familiar on coiled basketry. The sunflower, seen on Shalako robes, is an old standby on certain pots. Perhaps the women embroiderers, even though they use modern needles and wool, are keeping to the patterns made familiar by their own ancient arts.
Plate 111-40. Detail of white embroidered robe.
Plate 111-41. Man s embroidered shirt (wool or cotton).
Man's ceremonial kilt when not decorated by embroidery weaving Man's patterned sash when not decorated by embroidery weaving Man's shirt (Plate 111-41) Man's breechcloth Woman's large white shawl Woman's blanket dress