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Making a Gourd Dance sash.

Since its revival in the mid-1950s by the Kiowas, the Gourd Dance has been a standard fixture of Southern powwows. The history of this remarkable dance is another story itself. But, for today's dancers, it should be noted that, although it is considered a "social dance" by many, the Kiowa view it as a ceremonial and treat it as such.


--Sash material (solid color) 1/3 to 1/2 yard

--Chainette fringe: 20"-24" of 14" fringe

--Pair of beaded hair curlers

At most powwows, Gourd Dancing is usually the only dance held in the afternoons. Following the supper break, Gourd Dancing resumes, then ceases just prior to the powwow's Grand Entry and evening program.

Part of the Gourd Dance's popularity is attributed to two factors: the songs are very rousing and inspire spirited dancing using steps which are simple to execute; second, unlike the time-intensive and often expensive powwow regalia, proper Gourd Dance attire consists of a few basic accessories worn with street clothes.

One of these items is the Gourd Dance sash (Fig. 1), and this consists of three elements: sash material, Chainette fringe, and a pair of beaded tubes. The sash usually is made of solid colored material having a finished width of 3"--3 1/2", and long enough to encircle the dancer's waist and tie with a simple overhand knot, then allow both ends to drape equally down the side of the right leg (Fig. 2). (The length obviously depends on the girth and height of the dancer for whom it is made, but most range from 72"--80" for an adult.) The sash material should have some weight to it, and good options are velvet or light weight wool.

At each end of the sash material is attached a tassel of 14" Chainette fringe, such as is used on shawls. (Note: Chainette fringe comes in 14" and 18" lengths. Eighteen inches is too long for the average dancer's sash.) A yard of fringe is enough to make both ends. Covering the junction of the material and fringe is a tube beaded in peyote/gourd stitch. The finished length of the sash should result in the bottoms of the fringes ending between mid-calf and the ankle.

We'll not address beading technique here, but, to learn "gourd stitch", we refer you to the book Indian Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans by Scott Sutton. Beading is done on a pair of plastic hair curlers (Fig. 3) 1" (or larger) in diameter x 2 3/4" long which are covered first with thin buckskin or cloth just thick enough to facilitate holding the beadwork steadfast. From the 1960s through '80s, it was standard for only 13/0 cut beads to be used, but, today, with the trend by some crafters toward doing as little as possible to put together an outfit, larger beads--including 10/0s--are being used. In addition, common examples now have a much shorter section of beadwork--again to presumably do the minimum necessary to make a sash. But, for the best eye-catching results, you should consider a beaded section at least 2 3/4" long. Many are made on curlers with a diameter larger than 1" (Fig. 4), and the choice is yours. One thing to note is that the beadwork section should begin and end so that the first and last rows of beads are even with the respective ends of the curler. More on that in a moment.

After the beadwork is done, making the sash is easy. Determine the necessary length of the sash material, as well as the finished width--say, 3" in this example. From your material, cut two pieces 7" wide which includes a 1/2" on each side for a seam allowance. These pieces will be sewn together end to end to make the proper length. If necessary, now shorten both pieces to the same length so that, together, their total length is the desired sash length, and the seam is at the mid-point. Sew the pieces together, then make the material into a cloth tube by sewing the long edges together inside out with the 1/2" seam. Turn the tube right-side-out (Fig. 5). Iron the sash so that the seam is along one edge.

Measure and cut the Chainette for the tassels. Wait until the sash is finished to undo the horizontal threading across the middle and bottom end that holds the individual fringes together. Ten o twelve inches is enough for each, regardless of the diameter of the curler. Now, tightly roll the top of the fringe around itself to form a bunch (Fig. 6). Then, tightly wrap a piece of string or heavy thread around the bunch about 1/2" below its top (just below the binding that holds the fringes together) and tie a secure knot (Fig. 7). Slide the beaded tube up onto the sash so that it is out of the way (Fig. 8).

The following instructions are one of two options you can use to join the fringe to the sash:

At the end of the sash, bring the material edges together in preparation for sewing. Use needle and strong thread to make 3-4 whipstitches to sew the edges together to about 1/2" from the bottom (Fig. 9). Continue stitching horizontally around the material with large, loose stitches, called gathering stitches (Fig. 10). When finished, slide the fringe bunch up into the material so that the heavy thread that encircles the fringe bunch is level with the stitches you just made on the sash material (Fig. 11). Next, pull the gathering stitches tight as you adjust the sash material to evenly space it around the fringe bunch. Now, take 1or 2 stitches completely through the middle of the fringe bunch and out the other side. This will help prevent the fringe bunch from working loose in the future. Continue to stitch the material to the fringe bunch by taking long stitches through the material, some of the fringe, then back out of the material. Stitch all around the cluster of material and fringe (Fig. 12).

Here's a second option:

You may be able to skip sewing the material edges together and simply sew gathering stitches around the end of the sash tube. (Whether or not you can do this depends on the size of the fringe bunch and the thickness and/or stretch of the material.) In this case, you can then insert the fringe bunch, tighten the gathering stitches, and make securing stitches through and around the material and fringe.

Next, slide the beaded tube down over the joint where the fringe and sash end are sewn. Thread a 12 Sharps needle with Nymo D thread and tie both ends into a single knot so that the needle is double threaded. Sew the top of the tube (no need to sew the bottom) to the material by making stitches along the material as you catch the top row of beads. This can be every other bead, as there will be very little strain on the beaded tube when the sash is worn (Fig. 13). Since the diameter of the sash material is greater than the diameter of the hair curler, your stitches will have to be longer than the distance between the beads you're sewing to.

Once both ends are done, remove the horizontal threads in the fringe so that the fringes hang individually. Continue the same process with the other end of the sash and then the sash will be finished.
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Author:Hardin, Barry
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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