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Moccasins

Moccasins
A pair of hard-soled moccasins, made of white Deerskin
and decorated with a modern version of a traditional design.

Two styles of moccasins are known in Blackfoot traditions, though only one of these is used today. The older style has a top and bottom made from one piece of soft hide, folded in half and sewn up on one side. Many generations knew this as the "Real Moccasin." It's soft and comfortable, but wears out quickly and is hard to repair. It is the style of moccasin used by many tribes on the West side of the Rocky Mountains.

According to the studies of John Ewers, Blackfoot craftworkers began making today's common two-piece style of moccasin in the early or middle nineteenth century. This style has a soft upper piece sewn to a hard sole, with stitches all the way around. It is the style of moccasin used by many tribes on the Plains, to the East.

With these two basic styles of moccasins, many variations are possible. Material, decorations and ankle heights are the most important. These variations depend on what is available and what the moccasins will be used for. Of course, the easiest kind of moccasins to make are plain, low ones for everyday wear.

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Moccasins Decorations

Beadwork
Beaded Eagle

Moccasins can be traditionally decorated in a variety of ways, including fringing, beading, painting and adding fur or cloth. A common detail on Blackfoot moccasins is the fringed trailer that sticks out from the heel. Dr. Wissler looked at thirteen pairs of moccasins in 1910 and found that four had no trailer, three had one trailer, three had two trailers and three had fringes all the way up the heel seam. This was done by adding a strip of hide, known as a welt, between the seam. Such a welt is often found between the side seam on one-piece moccasins, though rarely on hard-soled styles. A welt of wool is usually put into the seam between the moccasin and ankle flap.

In 1833 Maximilian wrote that Blackfoot moccasins were often painted so that one foot was a different color than the other. This may have had some sacred purpose, though Ewers could find no one, in the 1940's, who knew anything about it. Medicine Pipe Owners and other Holy People have a tradition of painting both moccasins with sacred red Earth.

It's said that Blackfoot moccasins fully covered with quillwork or beadwork were not common, although many examples exist in museum collections. Most moccasins seem to have been decorated with small designs in the area between the toe and the instep. Characteristic designs include the "keyholes," crosswise bands and variations of a three-pronged affair that is thought by many to represent the three basic divisions of the Blackfoot Nation. Bead and quill decorations are always applied to the moccasin tops before they are sewn to the bottoms. Turning a fully-beaded moccasin right side out, when it's completed, is a good test of the beadwork's durability.

In the past there was no particular difference between men's and women's moccasins, except that those worn by women always had ankle flaps, while those worn by men sometimes didn't. Women's leggings fit snugly over these ankle flaps. In more recent years, most women have adopted the high-top moccasins have flowers beaded on them--one on the toe and another fairly high up on the top flap. Children's moccasins are the same as those worn by adults, except smaller.

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