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