Willow Kipp threads a sky-blue and cloud-white necklaces as she watches fellow students sew ribbon onto dresses.

Color and crafts splashed Room 105 of the Payne Family Native American Center this week. Brilliant silks were delicately stitched onto dresses, vibrant beads painstakingly threaded into necklaces and patterned fabrics pressed onto cradleboards, all in celebration of National Native American Heritage Month.

The University of Montana Office of American Indian Student Services hosted the workshops over two evenings—Wednesday, Nov. 28 and Thursday, Nov. 29. They focused on traditional Native American crafts, such as dress making, beading, and cradleboard creation in celebration of November, Native American heritage month. 

The first night focused on ribbon dressmaking, a traditional Native art in which streams of silk ribbon are stitched onto dresses. Students Shalbilyn Tall Whiteman and Marita Growing Thunder as well as AISS Director Michelle Guzman began the workshop by choosing strands of silk from a table. Sophomore Growing Thunder chose some of her silk based on color.


AISS Director Michelle Guzman and students Shalbilyn Tall Whiteman, left, Marita Growing Thunder, right, sort colorful strands of ribbon draped across a workshop table. Growing Thunder chose some colors for their cultural symbolism.

"Red is representative of resiliency. It is a sign for a lot of people," Growing Thunder said, "In the Southern Plains we use a lot of fire colors."

At a sewing machine, Growing Thunder meticulously sewed the silky ribbon onto her dress. She explained she began the craft as a teenager.


Carefully selected by sophmore Marita Growing Thunder, white silk ribbon lay atop a dress, under the guide foot of the sewing machine.

"I was 13, I had to teach myself. There is no right or wrong way, it gets easier as you do it. Trust what you put down, and accept the outcome."

Senior Willow Kipp took a slightly different approach to the workshop-  designing traditional Native necklaces. Kipp carefully threaded vivid beads together to make  intricately patterned necklaces.

"It's something easy I can do. For the design, I go off how I'm feeling." Willow said.


Colorful bead necklaces dangle from Willow Kipp's wrist at AISS's ribbon dressmaking workshop Wednesday Nov. 28, 2018. Kipp, an environmental studies major and native studies student, created the necklaces herself and designs them based on how she is feeling.

Native ribbon dresses were completed within 2-3 hours, and colorful necklaces laid on a table.

The second workshop, held on Thursday evening, was traditional construction of cradleboards, a portable cradle for infants.

High school and university students participated in the workshop- beginning by smoothing the cradleboard's wooden shape with sandpaper. When the base was flat, attendees wrapped the wooden edges with tape to minimize the risk of splinters.


Willow Kipp tapes the edges of a wooden cradleboard base at the AISS Cradleboard Workshop, Thursday Nov. 29, 2018. Kipp sealed the frame's edges to avoid splintery wood while designing the rest of the board.

Next, workshop attendees covered the planks in fabric. Hellgate High School student Essence Magpie, 15, perfected the step by placing her wooden cradleboard base in a blanket of fabric, covering the wood in the fabric, then tracing her covered cradleboard as she cut it out from the blanket of cloth.


Hellgate High School freshmen Essence Magpie, 15, cuts fabric to cover her cradleboard, tracing around the outside of the base.

Craft-goers then folded and stitched the cradleboard's fabric to create a pocket for an infant. Finally, a variety of patterned fabrics were added for decoration- from dark-orange autumn leaves, to neon colored polka dots.


A cradleboard stuffed with a neon polka-dotted fabric sits on a table at the workshop. Participants added to the designs of the traditional Native child carriers, decorating the boards with colorful patterned fabric.

In total, 22 cradleboards were available for design.

Kipp said including the workshops Native American Heritage Month was of great importance

"The point is to support Native American style," she said.

Daniel Duensing