The word “moccasin” comes from the Cree, or Algonquian, word maskisina, meaning shoes or footwear. The word describes the soft leather or fur slipper or boots worn by Indigenous people. Back into the 1800’s, The moccasins also “show the interaction between Native American design traditions and imported materials.”
In the 1750’s a French soldier wrote, “On their feet they wear a covering made of deerskin, scraped, robbed, and smoked, which by this process, becomes as supple as tanned sheepskin. The women prepare the skin, and make the shoes for the men and for themselves. These shoes or “mockassins,” are gathered at the toe and are sewn above and behind with a raised flap on either side. This is turned down over the cord below the ankle (that) ties on the shoes. Often these folded edges, as well as the front and back of the shoes, are decorated with ribbon or dyed porcupine quills of various colors, with red predominating. Sometimes, they add some glass beads and tiny copper bells, which are either round or long and trumpet-shaped.”
Moccasins have beadwork or silkwork usually on the front shin or on the tops of the feet. Moccasins are worn for function and comfort. They protect their feet from the elements and the boots are very warm. Moccasins are not sacred items (unless used in a special ceremony), but are very personal items and are often made and sold or given as gifts.
Moccasins are difficult to make and definitely take artistry. I made a pair of slippers once in a workshop. It took many days to make them, I did not have a natural knack for the beading which really made me appreciate the intricate designs I see and it was very hard to sew with the sinew. I have always wanted a pair of the full boots to wear in the winter and this year my husband surprised me with these beautiful ones.
Website: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation: Education / Indian Moccasins http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume2/november03/primsource.cfm
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