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Northeastern vamp type moccasins: the drawstring pleat.

Previous articles (1),(2) on Northeastern footwear in Whispering Wind discussed simple vamp moccasins of the Cree and center seam/vamp moccasins of the Ojibwa.

In the course of describing both types, I made mention of a very refined method of creating the pleats or puckers appearing at the juncture of the vamp piece and the body of the moccasin through the use of drawstrings, but without explaining the process itself. In this article I will describe three methods for doing so, used by Northeastern tribal crafts people at various times in recent history.

The basic idea behind utilization of drawstrings in this way is not new. It has been encountered in ancient vamp type moccasins sites in the arid Great Basin, probably left by natives migrating from the North. A slight difficulty in relating this technique to specific tribes in more recent times arises because the idea was constantly being adopted by various groups and abandoned by others in the region now covered by the present article. Space simply does not allow for a group by group analysis. Suffice that the first method described was often employed by some bands of the Cree, the Dakota and the Ojibwa. Thus I will show the three variations and leave their possible application to the inventive genius of the crafty reader.

Using the simple vamp moccasin as an example (Figure 2) we see the drawstring applied around the edge of the body of the moccasin before a vamp piece is installed. It is shown inside out with about 30 pleats formed with a single drawstring cord sewn with running stitch through very close-set holes in approximately 3/4 of the front area. The desired curve is achieved in this way by drawing the string tight and securing its ends with knots on the inside (Fig. 2a).


Figure 3 shows the moccasin turned right-side out and the vamp piece sewn in place with whip stitches precisely positioned through the "high" points between each pleat. This whip stitching then continues beyond the pleated area, to the level of the ankle opening. Note that the posterior of the vamp piece continues back to form a tongue. Though I show a fairly long squared tongue here, sometimes the vamp is attenuated in a small rounded tongue instead. This is so in cases where as high leg wrap cuff is not desired. Many native moccasin makers moisten the pleats as they are being formed. This is done in order to allow just enough stretch to create large number of short, narrow, thin pleats without negatively affecting the rest of the moccasin body. Needless to say, it is important to severely limit the area moistened. When the pleats are tightly set, the draw string is virtually undetectable.


In Figure 4, a second variation is shown where the drawstring is caught only through the outer layer of hide. As the drawstring only surfaces inside of the moccasin, it is never visible. However, the resulting pleats are usually not quite as precise as they are in the first method described. This is most practical in fairly thick hide.


The third method is less common and often appears on leather, rather than hide moccasins. Some of the Iroquois moccasins produced for sale to the non-native market used this method. This system shown in Figure 5 demonstrates how only one cord serves both to create the pleats and sew on the vamp piece in a single operation. In this case the cord is usually visible, so great care is taken to keep stitches as uniform as possible. Despite the most skilled application of this third method, I believe it lacks the magic achieved with the first two.


All of the diagrams used in this article show the pleating process as applied to the simple vamp moccasin type. Also, I have shown only about 30 pleats in my diagrams where, in reality, 50 or 60 would actually appear. This was done deliberately in order to keep the details as easy to visualize as possible. However, the very same technique is employed on center seam/vamp moccasins, as seen in Figure 1.


(1.) Sager, David. (2007). "Northern Cree Footwear: James Bay Region. Whispering Wind, 36:5, 8-10.

(2.) Sager, David. (2007). "Ojibwa Moccasins: Center Seam/Vamp. Whispering Wind, 36:6, 4-6.

Written & Illustrated By David Sager
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Author:Sager, David
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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