Seminole Piecing – Part 3

Last week I shared a picture of 3 Seminole Indian dolls Tomi Fay Forbes brought to my Seminole workshop.

Just look at the lovely piecing in the skirts!

I asked Tomi to please share their story and she replied that she would do some research and send me what she found. Her research began: “When I was a little girl in the early 1960s my grandmother bought me three Seminole Indian dolls, each one outfitted in the dress of the Seminole Indians.” (pictured above)

Tomi continued with a 7 page research article, including sources, and it is well written and fascinating (if you would be interested in reading Tomi’s essay, please let me know and I’ll send it to you via email – I’m unable to post it in the blog). She tells of the history of the Seminole Indians and how the women began making patchwork and dolls, which they would trade for other goods. Here is an excerpt telling about the dolls:

“Foraging in the forests, the women collected palmetto fronds. The Seminole women were familiar with the traits of palmetto because they used palmetto and cypress to build their homes, called chickees. One palmetto plant provided enough material for about five dolls. The Seminole woman shaped the palmetto into a doll’s body, stuffing the body with more palmetto. She cut a round of cardboard and inserted it at the base of the body to give the doll a sturdy footing so it would not tip over. She then sewed a rough seam in the palmetto to retain the stuffing. She shaped the head and used thread to embroider eyes.

One would assume that the protruding ridge on the top of the doll’s head, covered with black cloth, represents a hat. It looks very much like a bonnet one would expect to see on an Amish doll. Not so. In the nineteenth century, the Seminole women pulled their hair back into a simple bun. With the acquisition of hair nets and hair pins from the traders, the buns grew in size and complexity. By the 1920s the Seminole women were combing their hair forward over their face, placing a roll of soft cloth across their hairline over their forehead, and combing their hair smoothly over the roll.

During the next two decades, the women competed as they developed complex hairdos held in place over rolls of fabric or hair boards.


Seminole doll-makers reflected their hair traditions by placing a piece of shaped cardboard over the crown of the doll’s head and covering it with black cloth. Today many Seminole dolls have braids rather than the black fabric head covering.

The Seminole woman then dressed the doll in the traditional cape and skirt. The clothing of the smaller six-inch dolls are decorated with rows of colorful rickrack. The larger 9.5 inch dolls will often have a tiny, intricate pieced pattern inserted in the skirt. Hence the name Seminole patchwork.

Finally, the seamstress gave the doll beaded earrings and tied rows of beads around its neck. Historically, the Seminole women proudly wore as many necklaces of genuine glass beads as they owned. A stack of multiple necklaces could fill the entire neck. Today we would find these necklaces heavy and cumbersome to wear. We would wonder if the women’s necks ached all the time.”

Tomi then included information about her grandfather and his history living in that portion of Florida. I am so grateful to have “the whole story”, but the icing on the cake was that Tomi told me of a doll available on Ebay! I wasted no time in making her my own!

Thank you so much Tomi!

I will be teaching this workshop at the Madison Quilt Expo next month – and the class is full!  If you’d like to learn how to do Seminole style piecing, and if you think my class on Seminole Piecing would be of interest to your quilt guild, please share my website, with the program committee at your guild. Thanks!

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