An AO Cultural Workshop
AO hosts a series of Ribbon Skirt & Shirt Workshops throughout the year. In these workshops, members of the Indigenous community can participate to sew Ribbon Skirts or Shirts, creating an environment in which they can connect with their culture and reclaim their identity.
These workshop are one of our cultural workshops at AO, and is currently unfunded; functioning solely by community donations. All materials and machines in this program are free to our Indigenous participants, and serves to be a source of cultural reclamation. If you would like to support this program, please consider supporting our Amazon Wishlist to provide us materials or contribute through our donation portal below.
What Are Ribbon Skirts and Shirts?
Ribbon Skirts & Shirts, to some Indigenous communities, may be considered a post-colonial version of regalia that honors and represents Indigenous culture. Some ribbon skirts appear as an A-line skirt, usually in a cotton fabric that is lined with silk ribbons of various colors.
Ribbon shirts are pullover shirts with a V-neck and long sleeves that end in cuffs, they are one example of an adapting and enduring Indigenous garment. The beauty of the Ribbon shirt is the intricate ribbon appliqué designs that are sewn onto the shirts. Ribbon Shirts are especially popular regalia pieces for male dancers or for men to wear at celebrations. They are made with similar materials to Ribbon skirts, and their design will commonly have ribbons sewn into the yoke of the shirt, into seams and at times in tassels.
Ribbon skirts are not bound to one specific tribe, and they are influenced by the traditional ceremonial ribbon skirts of the Northern Plains Tribes. Pre-European contact there were no ribbons, women wore dresses made from leather, and the decorating was done using feathers, shells, leather, etc.
For many years, Indigenous traditional garments were often made with animal hide. Ribbon work itself has origins in the Great Lakes during the late 17th century as French and English settlers traded goods including wool, cotton, and silk. The method of ribbon work, ‘Ribbon Applique’, for some Nations, has become a visual representation for Indigenous identity and is a significant traditional art form. The bright colored silk ribbons were used for some Nations in ceremonial offerings, dances, clothing, and regalia. Ribbon work has had a resurgence in some communities and Nations in recent years, with a rise occurring in the 1970s along with many Indigenous rights movements since then.
Ribbon skirts represent our own personal reclamation. It represents reclaiming identity and wearing that identity proudly.
Nations have different techniques of applying the ribbon, using spirit colors, or colors that are sacred to their community. For some, the design and ribbon colors depend on the creativity and spiritual journey of the wearer, each ribbon skirt & shirt has a personal significance, a story.
For some Nations, the Ribbon skirt and shirt are a symbol of heritage, pride, resilience, survival, and honor. They can be worn as a way for Indigenous people to represent themselves, their communities, or their individuality. The various colors and patterns can provide freedom for the individual to express themselves and explore their lineage, culture, medicines, and traditional practices.
Ribbon skirts are about empowering women, remembering our sacredness and it reminds us that we are resilient. A woman has the power to bring new life, she is protection because she is a woman. Having that understanding, you learn boundaries. The bottom of the skirt touches the earth’s medicines so that as the woman walked, Mother Earth would know who it was that was making their presence felt on her back and their prayers were answered accordingly. This is also said to help heal your spirit and connection to the creator and earth. Ribbon skirts may also empower Indigenous women and two-spirit individuals to reclaim their culture, personal identity, and power.
Teachings behind the Ribbon skirt vary from tribe to tribe. It can be an expression of womanhood and strength, or a representation of the journey of those who are reclaiming their identities through traditional practices. There are many different meanings belonging to the colours, materials and the number and length of the ribbons on our skirts. This is something that is specific and unique to each teaching and each nation, and I encourage you to reach out to Knowledge Keepers and Elders of your Community to learn more about your own traditions and Protocol.
The traditional Ribbon Shirt represents honour, respect, heritage, pride and identification with one’s culture and given teaching. With over 550 different tribes and Nations in North America, each may have its own story about the Ribbon Shirt, ribbons and colours. The traditional colours of a tribe, colours to match regalia or personal colours that are unique to the individual may be selected. I encourage you to reach out to Knowledge Keepers and Elders of your Community to learn more about your own traditions and Protocol.