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Transition to Yarn

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  • Transition to Yarn

    Can anyone out there tell us about the transition in grass dance fringe from chainnette to yarn? I know a lot of dancers are now using ribbon which I like a lot, but I was wondering how yarn came into play so predominantly. Someone told me or I read somewhere (don't remember) :) that a group of non-Indian dancers from NY went out to MT and had put yarn on their outfits and the MT Indians liked it and from there on it spread. Any truth at all to this? Just curious.

  • #2
    I have heard Saunders Bearstail Sr was the first person to use yarn on his grass dance outfits back in the 50's. Saunders was a champion grass dancer before big money came on to the scene. Saunders is deceased and was from Mandaree, ND. Any thoughts Louis?

    Chainette is hard to find, doesn't stand up well to hard use and cleaning.

    "There is nothing more dangerous than ignorance in action."


    • #3
      Chainette (sp?)was sold in the local rez stores in the 60's. So it was easy to come by. They had it on hand for shawls.
      I still have my yarn fringe outfit from the late 60's. It is just a style. As you say the yarn was easy to keep clean. The chain stuff had to be dry cleaned.
      I have photos from the 50's showing the transition from long underwear with short lamp shade fringe used sparingly. Next the chain stuff was sewed on shirts and pants in the 60's.
      Louie :)


      • #4
        Originally posted by Ikce Wicasa:
        <STRONG>Someone told me or I read somewhere (don't remember) :) that a group of non-Indian dancers from NY went out to MT and had put yarn on their outfits and the MT Indians liked it and from there on it spread. Any truth at all to this? Just curious.</STRONG>
        If there's any truth to that then it's gotta be guys like Ronnie Theisz,Frank Andrews, Larry Morgan, Joe Riveria and a few others. If you know these guys ask them to tell you about Jay Mahoney and his stuffed monkey Shorty. ;-)
        Cat & Dog ...Another white meat.


        • #5
          I have no clue when the yarn came in, but I have seen a couple old grass dance sets that were done in rolled fringe. I think I saw Herman Logan with one of those outfits...........tms
          If I do not know the answer someone else will!!!!
          Also forgive me, this system does not have a spell check so forgive the bad spelling


          • #6
            I had the honor of meeting and becoming friends with Reginald Laubin a few years ago. Unfortuantely he has passed. Although he was white he was accepted by many nations and made a true member of familes, clans, etc.

            He did a great deal of research on the Old Grass Dance (some elders may remember that this is what a dance was called even before the term "gatherings" or "doins" or what became the modern powwow) He also did a great deal of research on what soon became the style called "grass dancing." He discoverd that some of the oldest regalia he could document showed that dancers used braids of grass and tufts of grass in thier belts. In fact some had a "bustle" made of grass.

            As far as yarn was concerned he noted that right after the Reservation Period was over (according to the government - late 19th century) that yarn was one of the few decorative items for trade or purchase at local stores or tading posts on the reservations.

            Laubin showed me pictures that did he did not put in his books that show the use of braided grass as late as the 1890s and yarn as early as around WWI and its end circa 1918.

            Of course yarn was used off the reservaton also and in many parts of the country. My own grandmother used yard in sewing my families regalia during the early 20th century circa late 1920s early 1930s.

            One can see many trends and or reasons of how yarn came in to use for grass dancers: cost, trade or purchase availability, colors, up-keep, ease of use, form and function, etc.

            But we can see that the style called grass dancing as opposed to the term "grass dance" being used for the dance has greatly developed from the 1890s to today.

            As with expression and use of something in any culture it can be hard to say that one person or one group is reponsible for its use. But that is not to say that it is impossible for one person to create a trend of course. We see that practically everday in modern society. The use of yarn for the grass dance is a history of many people and many reasons.


            • #7

              There are some turn of the century photos by different artists that shows dancers dressed in only breechcloths, moccasins, roaches, and bell harnesses. The caption of some of these photos reads "Grass Dancers."

              Of course we may never know about the caption. Are they really grass dancers of the time period? Was the caption a creation of the photographers or even the publishers or catologers of the artists works?

              But it is interesting to see dance regalia from the turn of the century.


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