In the early 1900s, Seminole women adopted hand-cranked sewing machines and revolutionized their patchwork tradition with more complex patterns. Patchwork clothing has evolved as styles have changed, from poodle skirts in the 1950s to miniskirts in the 1990s.
When cloth from Europe became scarce in the early 1900s, Seminoles began to apply bands of variously colored cloth to men’s long shirts, a process called appliqué. Patchwork began to replace appliqué around 1910 and then spread to women’s skirts. Nowadays patchwork is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Seminole culture. The colorful designs and combinations of colors are truly spectacular.
Patchwork is similar to quilting. First, they cut strips of cloth and sew them together, then they cut and rearrange those strips to make intricate designs and they sew those onto larger strips of cloth. Then finally they sew the strips onto the garment in whatever combinations strike their fancy. They use rickrack, which is strips of wavy fabric. It first became available in the early 20th century, Seminoles began to add it to their patchwork designs and it’s still popular today.
This beautiful skirt was donated by Keith and Sara Reeves. It has four rows of patchwork sewn onto a black background, and each of the patchwork bands has a thin border of colorful cotton cloth. We think it was made about 1950.
Curator, South Florida Archaeology & Ethnography
Director, Randell Research Center
Florida Museum of Natural History
Woman’s Patchwork Skirt
Made by a Seminole artist, South Florida
Dates to 1950s