First Nations Crafts - Dreamcatchers and Their Origins

The art of crafting

Before the advance of technology, crafting was literally a way of life. Craftsmen were highly sought after for everything from simple cooking utensils, furnishings, and artwork, to living quarters and tools. Everything we use in our homes today has its roots deeply embedded in crafting.

Now a days, the words 'arts and crafts' conjures up the image of handmade articles, much different than those mass produced for our materialistic tastes. Very few people wear hand knitted, or hand woven garments anymore - nearly everything we wear is produced and shipped to us from huge manufacturing shops from around the world.

However, there are still a handful of shops that cater exclusively to a clientele who prefer handmade clothing, linens, furnishings and tools - courtesy of hardworking and dedicated artists, who believe in sharing their high standards of quality with the rest of the world.

These people can be found in all walks of life - painters, songwriters, gold and silver smiths, furniture and cabinet makers, shipbuilders, mechanics, carpenters - the list goes on and on.

a dream catcher
a dream catcher

Our own back yard

Every culture worldwide has produced beautiful, unusual and sometimes unparalleled works that are coveted and copied by millions. Each one has a story or history that makes it unique and valued enough to be passed down from generation to generation.

None more so, than our very own First Nation's tradition of dream catchers. Almost everyone has seen or heard of these ornately decorated circlets, and some might even be able to tell you their origin, but few know the legend behind the artifact.

Listen closely, and I will tell you what was passed down to me by my elders - the story of Asibikaashi (Spider Woman) and the Web of Dreams.

Look for her lodge at dawn...
Look for her lodge at dawn...

The legend

Long ago, in the days of the People, all the clans lived in a place called Turtle Island. Asibikaashi looked after the People, and according to the elders teachings, it was she who helped catch the sun. If you look for her lodge at dawn, you can see how the sunlight was captured, as it sparkles on the dew gathered on gossamer strands.

Soon, the People left Turtle Island, and travelled to the four corners of North America, as was told in the prophecy. Asibikaashi wanted to protect the People, so she taught the women how to weave magical webs for the children, using willow branches and sinew.

They are in the shape of a circle, as this represents the sun, (Giizis,) and the path of its travels across the sky. Asibikaashi called these circles dream catchers, and told the People that they would attract all the dreams as they floated by on the night air. The bad dreams would be snared in the web, and only the good dreams would be allowed to slip through the small hole in the middle of the web, and slide down the feather to the sleeping dreamer.

When the first rays of the sun strike the web, the bad dreams are burned away.

today's dream catchers
today's dream catchers

Traditions and reasons

The People attached feathers to the center of the small hole in the dream catchers because they represented breath, or good air and was essential for life. Owl feathers signified wisdom and were mostly used for female children, while Eagle feathers, which meant strength, were used for male children.

Willow and sinew were used to shape the dream webs for children, and were not meant to last. Willow dries out, and the tension of the sinew collapses the web. This is a cycle that is meant to happen - just as a child grows to an adult, so too does the dream web reflect the temporary state of childhood.

Once the child becomes an adult, a new, stronger dream web is constructed. This, in turn, reflects the adult dreams. Some People in many parts of Canada build their dream webs in a teardrop shape or snow shoe shape.

antler dreamcatcher
antler dreamcatcher
fig. one
fig. one
fig. two
fig. two
fig. three
fig. three
fig. four
fig. four
fig. five
fig. five
fig. six
fig. six
fig. seven
fig. seven
fig. eight
fig. eight

Instructions for building a dream web of your own

Start with a 3 to 8 inch diameter wooden circle. (You can use the traditional willow branch - 2 to 6 feet long, and wind it into a circle, or use any of the commercial rings available in most crafting stores.)

You can also decorate the ring with a leather thong, wound all the way around the hoop and glued or tied at the top.

Use 4 to 16 feet of sinew or strong thin string (crochet cotton) knot a loop in one end (you will use this to hang the web when it's finished) and tie it to the top of the hoop.


Next, take the string and place it over the top of the ring, and around the back, making a loop


Bring the string back through the loop and pull it snug - but not too tight or you might warp the wood.


Repeat this step all the way around the hoop until you come back to the top. Try to place your last stitch about one half, to one inch away from the hanging loop.


Now you will be placing your first stitch of the second row.



The second row of stitches are placed in the middle of the prvious stitches, instead of on the hoop.


As you put tension on the string, you will see they begin to form a triangular shape.



Continue adding stitches, keeping the tension as even as possible - now you can see the beginning of the spiderweb pattern.



On the third and fourth rows, you can add a bead - just string the bead onto the string, and it will add a 'dew drop' to your spider web. Continue stringing your stitches as in the previous steps.


As you get closer to the middle, you will notice the stitches become smaller, and it becomes harder to make the loops. Make sure to leave a small hole in the middle, and tie off your last stitch at the bottom of the hole. To do this, just make a second loop in the same place as your last one - this knots the string.



Then add a feather or two, and your dream web is finished! You can reinforce the feather, and finish it nicely by adding a small strip of leather (as in the last figure) and tie it off.

Artistic renditions

The following pictures show some of the different styles and designs that can be created.

crocheted center

traditional dream catcher with leather accents

willow and shell dream catcher

animal prints

willow with fox and fur center

More by this Author


Comments 40 comments

Cam Anju profile image

Cam Anju 7 years ago from Stoughton, Wisconsin

This is brilliant! Very cool topic, keep it original. :)

I enjoyed reading this very much... nice work!


Princessa profile image

Princessa 7 years ago from France

Very nice work. I always liked dreamcatchers but I never knew the legend behind it; it is great to know where they come from and how they are made.

Thumbs up!


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

Great hub, as always, Enelle. Thank you for sharing. I've always wondered what the feathers symbolized! Circles are definitely important in all Native American circles. I actually attended a few Native American literature classes and so was absolutely fascinated by the stories. Maybe I'll write a hub on it, who knows?


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

I love this hub. Have always liked dreamcatchers. I have a couple that i got on a trip to Sante Fe, during one of their amazing festivals. The pictures you have here are just beautiful. Thanks for showing us how to make them, and for all the interesting history.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Cam Anju - Thank you so much, I have always loved First Nations art and stories - everything has a meaning

Princessa - I have always thought dreamcatchers were beautiful and this was a great opportunity to show why they were made.

Dohn - I used to think the feathers were just ornamental, but there is actually a function for them - never thought my 'trivia' would one day be something to write about :D thank you.

alekhouse - I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it. I made several for my family as gifts one year - they really are quite beautiful once you get into creating them, and I loved the legend behind them...


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada

Wow - great hub, Enelle. Lovely pictures and nice clear instructions. Wish I'd had this for a class-room project we did a few years ago, lol. Thanks so much.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

RedElf - Thank you! I love 'pretties' and would have them all over my house, so I decided it would be better to make them to give away instead lol.


Stacie L profile image

Stacie L 7 years ago

Very interesting hub! I have friends that have made Dreamcatchers for years and I don't think they knew this! =)


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Thanks Stacie =) I must admit, the only reason I discovered the legend was because I asked LOL...I love the simplistic explanation and reasoning behind them.


RiaMorrison profile image

RiaMorrison 7 years ago from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

I tried to make a dreamcatcher once, but it didn't turn out very well. I should get back to practicing, since I find them very beautiful, and I love the story that goes behind them. Thanks for the Hub, and the inspiration to get back to work. :)


shamelabboush profile image

shamelabboush 7 years ago

This is truly amazing :), thanks


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

RiaMorrison - Practice makes perfect =) I'm sure it will turn out beautifully, just take your time and think about the story as you make it. So glad you liked the legend.

shamelabboush - you are most welcome, thank you for the compliment, and for stopping by to read =)


Nolimits Nana 7 years ago

Thank you - the story behind the craft is wonderful. I received dreamcatchers from friends, and love them. I'll have to make a couple for my two granddaughters, now that I know how.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Nolimits Nana - You are most welcome - thanks for dropping in. I'm glad you liked the legend - it really is quite interesting.


Ashley Joy profile image

Ashley Joy 7 years ago

I have a beautiful dreamcatcher hanging over my bed that I picked up on the rez in Arizona. I have always loved the legend behind them as well.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Some of the creations are truly remarkable, and it never hurts to hedge your bets lol


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Loved this hub Enelle - I came by to read and post a link when I did my hub - and just couldn't - the post wouldn't appear. I'm sorry for the delay. Wonderful hub, thanks!


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

To be honest, I didn't notice a delay at all...I was thrilled! Thank you so much - and I'm glad you enjoyed reading it =)


Aqua profile image

Aqua 7 years ago from California

So glad I stumbled across this hub! Very interesting reading about the legend behind the dream catchers. I've always wondered what the symbolism was and now I know. Thanks for writing a such an interesting hub!


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

A pleasure to meet you Aqua - so glad you stumbled in and enjoyed the hub :D


Calling Crow 7 years ago

Thank you again LOL! This is another project I have been wanting to learn. I tried it for myself, but didn't know about the hole in the middle, or how to start it, so it just didn't look right.

Thank you for the step by step on how to make it! I can't wait to make some for my kids!


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Calling Crow, I made several with my kids one year for Christmas gifts - they turned out beautifully, and everyone was thrilled that we had put so much thought and time into their gifts! For an authentic look, try and get some sinew instead of crochet cotton.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

How very interesting! Of course I have seen them but never knew the meaning behind them other than the name. Thanks!


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Most welcome Peggy - so glad you stopped by to comment!


Kathy Rimel profile image

Kathy Rimel 6 years ago

I have made a number of my own dreamcatchers over the years but really enjoyed seeing yours. Again, great instructions


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Hi Kathy - It's nice to share my creations with others. I made everyone dreamcatchers for presents one Christmas and got hooked LOL.


Handmade-Crafts profile image

Handmade-Crafts 6 years ago

Brilliant hub. So much information and some really beautiful pictures.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Handmand-Crafts - welcome and thank you! I enjoyed making dreamcatchers so much I had to post a hub about it! They really are quite beautiful aren't they...


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Beautiful and informative - what more could one ask for from a Hub? Thanks for sharing. I have learnt a whole lot of new stuff here and appreciate that!

Love and peace

Tony


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Hi tonymac, so pleased you enjoyed my dreamcatchers - and the hub lol!


Sharif Ishnin profile image

Sharif Ishnin 6 years ago from Singapore

Lovely article. Really interesting indeed. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Welcome Sharif, thank you for stopping by. I'm happy you enjoyed it - they really are fun to create, specially when you know the legend behind them!


Calling Crow 6 years ago

Hello again, Enelle! I was wondering, now that I have the hang of this, could you tell me where I might find the sinew? I tried at Michael's, but ended up with crochet cotton, haha! I'm going to another craft store in a few minutes, but I don't think I'll find it there either.

Thanks again for such a great hub!!!


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Welcome back Calling Crow, I managed to find a place in Nevada with an online store that sells sinew ;)They are called eCanyons - Indian Arts and Crafts and Southwest D├ęcor. Here is their link: http://www.ecanyons.com/index.php

Hope that helps :D


angel  6 years ago

i never new dream catchers ever worked untill to day (thanks you lot ;)


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Most welcome angel, glad you liked the hub!


redactic 6 years ago from usa

I love all things to do with Native American history and tradition and would encourage any person to read about the original meanings behind your purchases, so that you can fully appreciate why they were created in the first place.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Hi redactic, I couldn't agree more. Knowing the history and origin of an item helps to create a bond...or that might just be me LOL


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Fun article, I enjoy dreamcatchers too.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California' Author

Thanks Ben, and they work too (whatever reason you choose to use ;))

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