The “Jingle Dress” Separates
I don’t know about you, but about once a year I get an idea for a project that I’m so excited about I can’t sleep. It pops into my head fully realized and I know it will be special. This is one of those projects.
Fabric: 1.5m black twill from Focus Fabrics, Cape Town = $7
Pattern: Skirt Simplicity 7216 = free (used 3 times already); belt and necklace freehand.
Year: Rift on traditional
Notions: Black bias strips = $5; 100 copper jingles = $20; zip = $1; leather thong = free / recycled.
Time to complete: Skirt = 3 hours; necklace = 15 minutes; belt = 7 hours??
First worn: Hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house, October 7th.
Wear again? Yes, separate and together!
Total price: $33
When I read that we were doing a Western Challenge, I knew that most of us would think “Cowgirl”, but I looked at it from a completely different perspective and thought “Cree (Plains Native)”. The only time I’ve lived out west was way back in 1990, when I worked in Banff National Park. I was close enough to Calgary to go enjoy the Stampede and the cowboy culture, but it left me a bit cold: a lot of city kids dressing up in hats and boots and riding mechanical bulls was not my cup of tea. On the other hand, visiting Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump World Heritage Site and attending my first Powwow was much more fun.
I loved the food (mmmm…fry bread), the displays, the drumming and the dancing. Oooo, the dancing: When the women get up in their jingle dresses and start slowly sidestepping, you hear a soft tinkle from the 1000s of jingles. Then the music picks up and the dancing gets more vigorous, and the jingling turns to waves of crashing sound. It’s mesmerizing. (Put on this video if you haven’t seen this style of dancing before) Like a little girl who sees her first princess gown, I just had to have a jingle dress. Totally impractical. Totally inappropriate. Totally out of my sewing skill set.
(all images taken from my Pinterest board Jingle dresses)
Fast forward 22 years and now thanks to the wonders of the internet, it took me about 30 seconds of googling to find out the traditional construction, sewing patterns, and where to buy a whole mess of jingles. The jingles are traditionally made from tobacco tin lids, but because they’re getting harder to come by, and I didn’t want to spend all the time preparing the lids by hand, I ordered premade copper jingles. There are many companies in the US selling jingles made of brass, copper, tin, gold, and silver, but due to customs problems I often encounter when ordering from the US, I went with this Canadian company and bought the smallest copper jingles. A traditional dress should have 365 jingles, but at $17 + shipping and handling /100 pack, it would have cost me almost $100 for the jingles alone! I figured that none of you would mind if I only used one pack, eh?
I used my TNT Simplicity 7216 skirt pattern. There isn’t much to say about this foundation piece, except isn’t it great when you find a pattern that works perfectly for you?! It took me a bit longer than usual to sew this time because the twill has a slight stretch to it, and I had to fit it a bit, but nothing a bit of seam ripping while watching Project Runway couldn’t fix. The only thing I pondered was the colour to use for the belt. While basic black would be dramatic, wouldn’t turquoise look beautiful against the copper? I thought about it until FRIDAY NIGHT before I finally bit the bullet and started attaching them. As Tim Gunn always says, “Go with your gut”. My gut said black.
I had about 20 jingles left over after making the belt, and I let my kids play with them for a while. But the more I looked at them nested together, the more I liked the pattern they formed. It made me think of an oversized, segmented insect leg. So once they were in bed, I looked through their treasure boxes and stole them all back, strung them on an old leather thong and tried it on. Bingo: An adjustable bolero necklace. I guess that’s my little touch of Cowboy style to go with the Native Indian outfit.
In the same way I use my African fabrics, I didn’t want to make something “tribal” looking that would turn culture into costume. I didn’t want to make an authentic performance dress, but I did want to retain the spirit of the design. It’s a fine line, and I hope I didn’t cross it. I’m not Plains Native, so I wouldn’t feel right walking around in a full competition dress. (Like most Canadians whose family has been here for more than a couple of hundred years, I’m a typical hybrid: French, Belgian, English, Scottish, Irish, and Métis. My husband’s family is English and Scottish, with a stopover in Zimbabwe; my sister’s fiancée is Jamaican, St. Lucian and Indian. Our kids are everything. I guess that means we don’t have a national costume. Or if we did have one , it would be made up of little bits of everything. Now THAT would be an interesting project to try, don’t you think?
More background info on jingle dresses:
- Good article covering jingle dress construction, history, and trends.
- A series of three videos from Sault Ste. Marie of native women sewing their jingle dresses and then dancing in them, followed by the men drumming.
- Sewing patterns @Missouri River Patterns
- Jingles available @Fur and Hide in the US, or @Belcourt Beads in Canada. There are also a lot of supplies available on Ebay. After making this, I would highly recommend buying the larger full circle jingles, because the 1″ child sized version I used are harder to work with, and don’t jingle as loudly.