By Ernest Thompson Seton
In my young days on the Plains of the North, we put on moccasins over three pairs of stockings at the end of October, and wore no other footgear till the early part of March. A possible exception to this was that each of us had a pair of rubbers that could be slipped over the moccasins when we had to do our daily task in the sloppy by-product of the stable.
Once in a while, there came amongst us an Easterner or a European who was determined to wear the same boots in the Northwest as he did in his Eastern home. He was usually in the hospital with frozen feet within a month.
Thus, the Indian moccasins, with their warmth, their foot play, and their perfect circulation, were an essential of comfort during five months of the year in all of the region that lies north of latitude forty-nine degrees.
In that country each of us had to stock up with moccasins or else make our own when winter drew near. So that the making of moccasins was as well known as the knitting of socks. All of us could do a little of it; most of us had mastered the subject.
This was the condition till the Mennonites came in, and introduced a new type of moccasin made of thick felt with a rubber sole. They were very comfortable, but very heavy; and are now commonly worn by all teamsters in the Northwest.
In our moccasin days there were two types well known: (i) the Ojibway or Pucker-top moccasin, with a soft sole, and soft uppers, made of buckskin leather; and (2) the Sioux type, --which had a hard or rawhide sole, because the people who originated it lived in a country abounding with cactus.
For the benefit of those who wish to make their own moccasins for Indian dancing, I give instructions as follows:
The Ojibway or Pucker-top Moccasin (Fig. 85)
This was usually made of three pieces, each a different kind of leather -the sole of the heaviest moosehide, the ankle flaps of thin, soft buckskin, and the inset or tongue of the finest caribou leather, elaborately decorated.
The Sole. Set your foot on a good thick piece of moose leather (A), and trace the outline of your foot as shown. Outside of this line, draw another, 2 inches from it, except in the middle where it is but 1 1/2 inches away. At the heel the line is straight across with a little heel flap, left on. Cut along this outer line-and your sole is ready.
The Ankle Flap or Uppers. These are of any soft leather; doeskin or antelope does quite well. The pattern is as shown in B, but the scale must be adapted to your own foot.
The Tongue or Inset. For the best moccasins this is usually made of fine white caribou leather embroidered with beads, quills, or silks (C). The embroidery is done, of course, before the tongue is sewn in. The sole may wear out, but the tongue does not. It is commonly removed from one pair of moccasins to another.
When rough-and-ready Ojibway moccasins are needed both of the pair are alike--there are no lefts or rights. But a fine pair of moccasins commonly has the tongues decidedly right and left--this gives a much more elegant and fitted appearance.
The patterns in Fig. 85 were made for a foot 8 inches long. This fact must be kept in mind while making the patterns for your own foot. Keep the same ratio in all parts.
When ready to assemble your parts take a strong needle and heavy linen thread (unless you wish to work with sinew). Begin at A, and run a puckering string all around the edge (a, b, c, d, e), with a stitch every quarter of an inch: draw this string tight, adjust it carefully and evenly. Then your moccasin top will be as at D, with the tongue inset.
Insert the tongue or inset (as in D), stitch it onto the inner rim of the pucker, and an inch back of this on either side-that is, to (h) and (i).
Now, put the moccasin on your foot; draw JJ to KK at the heel to make sure of the fit; all adjustment is made at the heel seam. When these are right, close the seam and finish by sewing the heel flap up against the seam.
Next, stitch the ankle flaps B along the upper edge of the sole piece, sewing it on solidly from the heel along each side to the beginning of the pucker on each side of the front.
Run a 24-inch buckskin thong through the 6 holes shown in the base of the ankle flaps, making sure that at the heel end it is outside--and the moccasins are ready for use.
These Woodland moccasins are quite the best for the deep, dry snows of the Saskatchewan; but the arid, thorny, cactus-strewn plains of the Missouri call for a harder and more resistant make, represented by the footgear of the Sioux.
The Sioux or Heard-sole Moccasin
The chief peculiarity of this is the thick, hard sole, often made rawhide.
Sole. Set your foot in the selected piece of heavy leather or rawhide, and draw the outline. Cut it out as at A for the left foot, reversing the pattern for the right. Bevel the edge of this so as to get the fore shown in E.
Upper. Now, cut the uppers out of soft leather, following the pattern B. This is an inch longer than A, but of the same width as the length of A at the widest part or bottom.
Any embroidery or ornamentation that is planned should be done o the upper at this time (D).
Make the two cuts dc and ab. Now, stitch the edges of the upper D to the edges of the sole A, as at E, beginning at the toe and working back to the heel on each side, leaving the closing of the heel till the last thing.
Sometimes, the moccasins are turned inside-out for this stitching. It makes a neater job but is not easy with a hard sole.
Tongue. The tongue, C, is of soft leather. It is sewn on to the upper at ab, but overlaps at each side so as to leave no opening. Sew up the heel, perforate for strings as shown, and the moccasin is ready.
This type of moccasin is always in rights and lefts.
An even more effective sole is made thus: Cut your rawhide 1/2 inch wider than your foot all around. Then make a board exactly the size of your foot, and about an inch thick, with rounded edges. Soak your sole till soft; then bend and hammer it on the board and up on the edges. Tack or bind it there till set and dry. Then take it off, and stitch to the uppers as already set forth. The upper is, of course, smaller with this larger sole. Oftentimes during work, the leather may be made more tractable by dampening it.
This Sioux style is more troublesome to make than the pucker-top; but it protects the foot better and keeps the stitching from wearing out against the ground. On the other hand, I often found that in severe winter weather the hard-sole moccasin gets unpleasantly smooth and slippery, as well as less stimulant of good foot circulation.
Moccasins Made of Sneakers
I have given instructions for the making of Indian moccasins, in strictly Indian fashion (Figs. 85 and 86) . But we have found, in most of the Woodcraft camps, that it is easier, cheaper, and in the long run more satisfactory, to make your moccasins out of a pair of gym sneaks. These are sure to be comfortable, and adequately protect the feet. The cost of them complete is less than the buckskin alone would cost to make Indian moccasins.
In Fig. 87, I give a series of decorations that can be applied to the sneaks, either as paint, beads, silk embroidery, or applique'.
Paint--that is, solid oil paint--is most easily and effectively used.
A black outline in waterproof ink, or indelible pencil, is often very helpful to emphasize the pattern. It is assumed that the sneaks are either white or brown to begin with.
If you follow the directions on the Plate--that is, the colors indicated by the lines or dots--then actually color the Plate with water colors, you will get a much better idea of the effect.
No. 1 (A and B) is a design in red and white, painted on the tan color of the sneak.
No. 2 is red on a green ground, with white triangles at the side; and is most easily done on a white sneak. .
No. 3 is on a white sneak, a design in red with blue center. The fringe is of leather, sewn on the outer edge of the opening; and may be much longer if desired.
No. 4 is a very simple pattern of red and white on the tan color of the sneak.
No. 5 is white chiefly-that is, it is a white sneak with a blue and white band near the sole, a red circle in front around which is a ring of pale green and rays of deep yellow or orange. I have seen this one done in embroidery of silk as well as painted.
No. 6 is a white sneak with a green top, center and feather of deep yellow or orange, tipped with blue.
No. 7 also is a white sneak, with orange top, blue triangles, and a band of red all around next the sole.
All may be fringed if desired.
Almost any good Indian moccasin pattern may be reproduced in colors on a sneak; but the beginner especially is advised not to try original designs-at least, not until after a long course of exactly copying those made by Indians.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.