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
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
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