Teton Sioux trade cloth leggings with undyed selvedge. Examine a small number of photographs of Teton Sioux from the late

1880s onwards and you will be certain to see well-dressed males wearing

distinctive leggings of woolen trade cloth with applied beaded strips in

lane-stitch technique.

Of simple rectangular construction, this style of legging seems for

many years to have overtaken in popularity the traditional buckskin variant, doubtless due to the increase in availability of imported trade

materials. Their construction was copied exactly from the late

nineteenth century style of buckskin “chap” style leggings.

Commonly referred to as “list cloth” or

“broadcloth”, the woolen cloth from which these leggings were

made was manufactured in the northern English woolen mills, available in

a range of colors, most commonly navy blue and scarlet red. Other

colors, such as green and yellow, were also known. Its most distinctive

feature is the undyed white selvedge with a saw-tooth effect. This

results from the curious production method in which prior to dyeing, the

outer edges of the cloth were folded over by approximately half an inch

and enveloped in a canvas sleeve, whip-stitched for temporary

reinforcement while the entire bolt of cloth was dyed in huge vats. The

resulting undyed white selvedge was, of course, merely a by-product of

the dyeing process and not intentional. It was, however, of great

aesthetic appeal to most Plains peoples, and was used to decorative

effect on a range of Sioux apparel–not only leggings, but blankets,

warbonnet trailers and women’s dresses. It was the very hallmark of

the 1890-1925 period, when large numbers of Sioux were recruited by

touring wild west shows such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Miller

Brothers’ 101 Ranch, displaying their traditional finery to

audiences throughout the United States and Europe.

Figure 1 (title page, top) shows a close-up of the undyed selvedge

with its characteristic saw-tooth effect, created by capri leggings the whip-stitching.

The undyed selvedge averages one inch in width. Careful examination

reveals a series of small holes, regularly spaced along the entire

length of the cloth.

Variations of the English trade cloth also appear to have been

manufactured in woolen mills in the United States, possibly for express

use for the Indian market. One variant incorporates narrow black stripes

into the undyed selvedge. Current research by interested individuals

such as Benson Lanford may reveal more precise information relating to

the various manufacturers.

For all their popularity, all too few examples of this type of

legging seem to have survived to the present day in museum and private

collections. The relatively large number of beaded legging strips one

sees, detached from their original cloth leggings, must bear testimony

to the poor survival rate of this woolen fabric over years of use and

subsequent storage.

The leggings illustrated in Figure 2, however, are a happy

exception, and have survived in fine condition. Dating from the 1890s,

they came into the author’s possession via a New York dealer. They

originated from the collection of Clarance Hortover, who amassed quite a

wealth of (mainly Plains) material in the early twentieth century while

traveling throughout the United States, working in the field of energy

products. During this time he befriended many Indians, and established

his Museum of the Kentucky Rifle and the American Indian in Newholland,

Pennsylvania in the 1920s. The collection was dispersed in the 1980s.

The leggings illustrated are constructed of navy blue trade cloth,

each measuring 32 inches in length by 13 1/2 inches in width. The undyed

selvedge runs vertically up the outer edge of the front of each legging.

The remaining edges of the cloth are bound with a floral-patterned

cotton fabric, stitched with black cotton thread. The lower edge, on

some examples, is edged with a serrated cut cloth in a contrasting

color. The upper edge is in this case left square, although in many

cases is cut at a slant.

The beaded strips are made of a brain-tanned buckskin and consist

of six parallel lanes of lane-stitch beadwork, sinew-sewn, applied at an

angle corresponding with the line of stitching which closes the folded

trade cloth legging. The design features alternating steep-sided

triangles with internal elaboration, and crosses in transparent dark

blue, white-core rose and medium green on a white ground. To the center

of each of the crosses is a small block of faceted brass beads. All

beads used are size 4/0 Venetian. (See detail in Figure 3).

The designs are typical of those used on Teton Sioux legging strips

for the period between the late 1880s and around 1940, and measure 28

inches in length by 3 inches in width. The number of lane-stitch lanes

tends to average between five and seven. The beaded strips are stitched

to the trade cloth with a black cotton thread. Figure 4 shows various

Sioux legging strip designs, dating from the period between the late

1870s and the early twentieth century.

Trade cloth leggings continue to be made by the modern-day Sioux as

part of traditional dance regalia, and have altered very little in

design. Since the disappearance of the old undyed selvedge cloth,

however, the edges tend to be bound with colored edging cloth. Certain

excellent reproduction saw-tooth selvedge trade cloths are now available

from good craftwork outlets, and its use ensures a wonderfully

traditional flavor to a dance outfit.

About the Author

Richard Green, a frequent contributor to Whispering Wind, is

Documentation Officer at Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery,

Birmingham, England, and is author of the book A Warrior I Have Been,

published by Written Heritage. He lives in the West Midlands region of