More and more people are becoming hooked on Osage culture.
“The first time I started [finger weaving], I about quit a million times but I’m sticking with it,” Lee Collins said. “My son took to the Peyote stitch and yarn work [finger weaving] . . . we’re taking the moccasin class next, we really enjoy it.”
The Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center, located in Pawhuska, started teaching classes in finger weaving in 2006. Once interest grew in the classes the cultural center began offering classes in Hominy and Fairfax last year. From finger weaving to baby boards, the classes now include Peyote stitch, beading on broadcloth, moccasin making, shawl making, how to make Osage shirts and ribbonwork.
“Yarn work [finger weaving] is an ongoing class because there is so much to learn because there are so many designs . . . we’ve taught seven designs,” said Addie Thomas, finger weaving instructor. “Each student is different, some students just get it and they can pick it up immediately.”
How to make Osage traditional dress isn’t the only class they’re teaching. In the spring the cultural center will offer their second singing class for Osages ages 10 and up. Cultural Center Director Vann Bighorse will be teaching trot songs, round dance songs, war dance songs and handgame songs.
All classes, except for the singing class, is limited to 10 students, designed for more one-on-one time, and is offered twice a week in the cultural center. A person must call ahead and enroll for classes to receive the materials they will be working with. For a complete list of classes visit the cultural center’s Web site at www.osagetribe.com/cultural or call the cultural center at (918) 287-5539.
Instructors include Anita West, Mary Bighorse, Marjorie Williams, Davy Watts, Chris Brown, Cultural Center Director Vann Bighorse, Pete Buffalohead (Ponca), Cherokee Cheshewalla and Scott Bighorse.
Finger weaving an Osage tradition that dates back to mid-1800s
Finger weaving is used today to make Osage women’s belts and men’s garters for traditional dress worn in the In-Lon-Schka dances. Women wrap the belts around their broadcloth skirts from front to back with the hang downs from the belt hanging down the back of the skirt. The men wear the garters as hang downs that hang on the outside of each leg.
It isn’t known when finger weaving actually began with the Osage but it is agreed that it took place shortly after European contact, according to the book by Alice Anne Callahan, “The Osage Ceremonial Dance I’n-Lon-Schka.”
“Finger weaving is one of the most religious types of art done by the Osages, because the finger-woven articles are only worn at tribal dance time,” according to Callahan who interviewed the late Maudie Cheshewalla for the book. “Among these finger-woven articles are belts, garters, sacred sashes, and the bags used to carry religious articles.”
“Wool yarn is most commonly used now, but both buffalo hair and human hair were used in the earlier times before wool yarn,” Callahan said.
The method of weaving has never changed and it is a thread interlacing in which the fingers pick up the threads individually through which the horizontal weft is passed, according to Callahan. The weaving is worked from the center to the outside edges and is very tight, giving the same effect as tapestry weaving.
“My grandmother [Julia Lookout] taught me [how to weave] at a very young age, I was about 9-years-old,” said finger weaving instructor Anita West, 70. “I just know this is what I was taught. I think every family back in those days was taught ribbon work and yarn work, everything they needed to know to make Osage regalia.”
West’s grandmother Julia was the wife of the late Osage Chief Fred Lookout.
“My aunt Mary Lookout was left-handed and she helped me as much as she could and my aunt Maggie Iron, I learned a lot from her,” West said. “If you look in some of these old pictures you see men with beaver hats on, but if you look closer it’s yarn work.”
Women’s yarn belts vary in sizes from five inches to 10 inches wide and are sometimes interlaced with beads. At times costly, a yarn belt for a woman can cost up to $1,000. Men’s garters are generally two inches in width and vary in length in accordance to the man or boy’s height.
A woman’s yarn belt is a key piece to identifying an Osage woman’s traditional dress. Osage men’s garters are recognizable by the Osage designs on the garter.