Mahkoonsihkwa’s Experience with Myaamia Ribbonwork

My journey with Myaamia ribbonwork started the same way that it has for many Myaamia people, through a community workshop about six years ago. Prior to the workshop, I had very little knowledge about ribbonwork and no idea how to make it, but I was excited to learn about this art form that is a part of our Myaamia culture. The workshop included a brief overview of the history of ribbonwork but focused primarily on the process of how to create it. We started with a simple project (project 1 in the ribbonwork book), and yet even that felt challenging to me and the folks around me who were also new to ribbonwork. One of the things that I remember most about that workshop was the community of people who were all coming together to learn something new and to spend time together as a Myaamia community. We all had differing levels of skill with ironing and sewing, and everyone was willing to help until we all felt comfortable with the basics of the process including folding and ironing to prepare the ribbons as well as the stitch for sewing them down. 

A black background with a series of red and white diamonds creating a
This geometric design is used for project 1 in the Myaamia Ribbonwork book.

Since that initial workshop, I have been fortunate enough to engage with the practice of Myaamia ribbonwork in several different ways. Through my job at the Myaamia Center, I have had the opportunity to learn about the history of ribbonwork by reading the ribbonwork book, asking questions of ribbonwork artists, and even seeing some of the pieces of ribbonwork preserved in archives. In 2018, I helped organize a ribbonwork workshop for our students at Miami University. Additionally, George Ironstrack and I were asked to be community curators for an exhibit at Miami University’s Art Museum that was focused on ribbonwork. The spring 2020 exhibit included contemporary and archival pieces of ribbonwork as well as focused on the artform’s ties to a Myaamia aesthetic that predated ribbonwork. Unfortunately, the exhibit was closed early due to Covid, but the Art Museum helped us to create a virtual version of the exhibit on their blog.

Mahkisina meehkintiinki ‘moccasin game’ pads created by Kara Strass. Photo by Karen L. Baldwin

As I spent more time exploring the practice of Myaamia ribbonwork, my interest in creating ribbonwork also grew. Since the time of that first workshop, I have created mahkisina meehkintiinki ‘moccasin game’ pads and have sewn ribbonwork used in the sashes given to graduates of Miami University. My most ambitious project yet started with a mahkisina making workshop that we held at Miami University in 2019. Our relative, Scott Shoemaker, came to campus and taught our students and staff how to make their own pair of moccasins. Making my own moccasins was something that I was always interested in learning how to do, and once I had a completed pair of moccasins, I knew that I wanted to decorate them with ribbonwork. After looking through photos of moccasins in the archives, consulting with other ribbonwork artists, and finalizing my materials and patterns, I was ready to begin. 

Kara Strass’s completed mahkisina ‘moccasins.’ Photo by Karen L. Baldwin

I started creating the ribbonwork for my moccasins around February 2020, and within a few short weeks, the pandemic hit and meant that I was working from home and had much more free time on my hands than I was used to. I used this free time to work on the four flaps that I would need to complete my moccasins, and by mid-summer, I had completed the ribbonwork and faced the seemingly daunting task of attaching the ribbonwork onto the moccasins. It turned out to not be as hard as I was expecting, and that part of the process went much more quickly than I had expected. I was glad to have the time to work on this project as I was hoping to wear my mahkisina for my upcoming September wedding. Luckily, I was able to complete them in time. Creating and wearing these moccasins at my wedding was one way that I was able to incorporate my Myaamia culture into this important life event. 

Kara’s mahkisina ‘moccasins’ on her wedding day. Photo courtesy of Kara Strass

I am excited to continue on this journey of learning more about ribbonwork, both the history and the process of creating it. Ribbonwork takes quite a bit of time to make, so while I am working on a piece, I have plenty of time to think about the artform, including the colors, patterns, and history. I spend a lot of time thinking about the women who created ribbonwork in the past and I feel as though I am strengthening my connection to them through this artform. 

Kara Strass working on her latest ribbonwork project.
Kara Strass working on her latest ribbonwork project. Photo by Karen L. Baldwin

If you are interested in learning more about ribbonwork, the Myaamia ribbonwork book is the perfect place to start. You can learn about the history of the art form, but it also provides step-by-step directions for creating a piece. One special thing about ribbonwork is how it connects us as a community, both through wearing it (or other ribbonwork inspired geometric designs) to express our Myaamia identity and also through creating it. So many community members have been so gracious with their time and expertise in helping me learn. I am still learning, but if there is any way that I can assist, feel free to reach out via email (strasskl@miamioh.edu) or social media. I am looking forward to the next time that we are all able to come together in person as a community, and I can’t wait to see what everyone else has made!


2 Comments Add yours

  1. jeannereames says:

    Beautiful work. Something I hope to pursue when I retire.

  2. Larry Hedeen says:

    Those are sweet ribbonwork moc cuffs !………great job on the center-seam gather too…….You already have spangles tooling there…..Maybe we should consider ring-broaches tooling too?

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