What do you do as a woman to provide for your family when your local unemployment rate is around 80%?
The Lakota women of Pine Ridge have one answer that draws on their traditions of craftsmanship and rich culture; you place needle to fabric and begin quilting. The Elderly Sewing Club of Allen, SD are turning their cultural heritage of quilting into currency to support their families.
A Lakota Tradition
Quilting has long been a tradition among the Lakota People. Traditional quilts take center stage in the sacred, ceremonial, and monumental events of life. The art of quilting is passed down from mother and grandmother. At their mother’s knee, children learn the art by hand sewing baby blankets for dolls. Later, when they become mothers, women make commemorative covering for the celebrations of their children’s lives.
The most well-known Lakota quilt pattern is the kaleidoscope Lakota Morning Star pattern. The Star Quilt has great significance in the Plains Indians, and the rich tradition has spread outward to other Tribes from Coast to Coast.
The complex meanings of the mosaic Star Quilt varies from Tribe to Tribe, and the significance is as different as the diverse quilters who sew them. As the Star Quilt’s popularity spread, the international demand for these magnificent covers increased.
The Lakota crafters use innovative techniques to add a personal touch to their quilts. Each highly valued blanket is hand crafted like a one-of-a-kind masterpiece as the they expand upon the artistry of the Lakota traditional Star Quilt pattern. Diverse patterns that include the colorful butterfly, buffalo, eagle, rose, buffalo skull, turtle and basketball, and the coverlets range in size from the baby to king size.
Legacy For Future Generations
Another unique aspect of their craft is turning valued antiques into prized pearls. They have received orders including inherited fabric squares. In their adept hands they have turned a grandmother’s unfinished squares into a realized quilts future generations of the family can hold dear.
Dawn ordered one such blanket by sending her Grandmother’s quilting squares to the sewing circle. “My quilt is a breath-taking memory; guided by the spirit of "my Nana", and made by grandmother's hands,” she describes. “Nothing could honor her life’s memory more than this precious gift. This quilt means that my Grandmother's work has not gone unfinished and her memory can live on through the quilt. She was in a special way a comfort to each of us in our family during her life. My Nana's warmth and zest for life is expressed in the beauty and color of the star of this quilt. I am so blessed to have been paired with the Lakota grandmothers to see this quilt come to life. I would recommend this project to anyone who wants to remember a loved one in a special way. There's no better tribute to a loved one's memory than a quilt from the Grandmother's Circle.”
Becoming A Partner
No entrepreneurial effort can succeed without supply and demand. One way you can become a partner in their effort by donating fabrics that can be used in the quilting.
Like most products sold around the Pine Ridge Reservation, fabrics sell for twice as much as they do in most stores. Donations of fabric can help maintain these women’s ability to quilt for their families.
The quilters prefer to work with cotton fabric, though they are experienced with a variety of fabrics. Extra quilting supplies are graciously welcomed as well. Any material donations will be put to excellent use.
Though demand for Lakota-made star quilts products is high, direct access to these heirlooms has not always been readily available.
“I love this quilt and plan to order another,” Jean says of her purchase. “The quilt has a lot of sunny yellow mixed with a tiny flower print that makes me feel happy and optimistic. The reverse side is dark green instead of the common white fabric. The patchwork is of superior quality that took time and thought. The quilt is especially nice because it was handmade in the USA, by a craftswoman who got a fair price for it. I highly recommend these quilts, not only are they functional and beautiful, they support women who might not otherwise have a source of income.”
It has been said that quilting is like solving a puzzle with needle and thread. With your help, Elderly Sewing Club is combating economic hardship with ingenuity. Their quilts do more than physically warm; they embody the warmth of spirit of the Lakota in a treasured creation that will increase value with age.