Our Tribute to St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Rachel (left), a friend we met at the canonization, and me (right); October 21, 2012 in St. Peter's Square

When I became a Catholic as a teenager, I took the confirmation name Kateri, after then Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. She became a saint last year. My friend Rachel has the same confirmation name and is also a reenactor and historic costumer—we met at a Civil War reenactment. We made plans to attend St. Kateri’s canonization and had the brilliant idea to dress as St. Kateri for the event. So, we set to work researching 17th century Northeastern Native American clothing.
Me modeling Rachel's trade shirt

We had difficulty finding much information on the Internet, but this website helped us a lot: http://www.squidoo.com/my-17th-19th-century-native-american-wardrobe. We contacted its author, Jessica Diemer-Eaton, who gave us some useful advice. Her website is an outstanding resource for costumers! We also used this painting (http://tekakwitha.info/articles/portrait-of-catherine.php) of St. Kateri as our inspiration, as it may be the most accurate depiction of her appearance. We decided to make linen trade shirts, wool wrap skirts and leggings, finger-woven belts and garters, and leather moccasins. 

I used linen from my stash to make the shirts. I had some linen pants and skirts that had been given to me or that I found at thrift stores, so the total cost was a few dollars. The problem with using scrap fabric is that it requires a lot of piecing. I intend to make a new shirt because I don’t think I did a very good job on mine. However, here are some pictures of the one that I made for Rachel; hers turned out much better as I didn’t have to piece the fabric. When I got down to the wire on time, I had to rush to finish up the costume items, so they’re not perfect.

I haven’t taken photos of the skirt and leggings, other than from the day of the canonization. I really do need to take more photos of this costume, but I intend to alter the skirt somewhat. My skirt is made out of brown coat-weight wool (97% wool content), bought at JoAnn Fabrics a few years ago for $4 a yard. It is a large rectangle with darts to fit it to my waist. It is about knee-length and wraps around my waist with an overlap of about 12 inches in the front. I would like to add a piece of fabric to extend the overlap to perhaps 18 inches because the skirt can gap open when I walk. The skirt is not as historically accurate as it could be because I am allergic to wool and took steps to keep the wool from coming into direct contact with my skin. I lined the skirt in white cotton and attached a brown linen waistband; the waistband is not accurate at all, but keeps me comfortable. To fasten the skirt, there are brown linen ties at the two top corners of the rectangle; it ties both on the inside and the outside.

Detail of the neck gusset, the underarm gusset, and the cuffs with loop taps (not quite accurate, but done on the fly)

My leggings are tapered tubes that extend from above my knees to my ankles. I made them by cutting a rectangle and sewing a straight seam that tapers inward at the ankle. The leggings are worn with the seam on the front of the legs. They are held up by linen tapes, one sewn to the front of each legging, which are attached to a linen belt. Then, I also tie a finger-woven garter around each leg, just below the knee. The linen belt system really needs some improvement (though it is historically accurate), but the garters work well. The skirt and leggings are very warm, comfortable, and practical. I wore them several times last winter, paired with a modern sweater or blouse. 

Kateri in a Roman train station

Rachel made her own skirt and leggings as well as her moccasins. For her supplies, I had two pieces of wool about 1 square yard each, one blue and one gray. I dyed them both in blue dye to get them the exact same color. They turned out very nicely; this was my first dying experiment (I'm dying; I'm dying!). Also, both pieces of fabric were given to me years ago, so they were free.

For decoration, Rachel and I both chose the same bright blue silk to make the ribbon border on our skirts. It was a silk scarf that I think I got at a flea market for $1 U.S. I carefully cut it in even strips on the straight grain and ironed the sides inward like bias tape. We hand-stitched the silk tape to our skirts. We sewed Rachel’s the night before the canonization, sitting on the floor in the bathroom of the hostel where we stayed, because we didn’t want to keep our roommates awake! We laughed so hard at the incredulous look on the face of a man who passed by the doorway.

Weaving my belt

I made our belts and garters out of wool yarn. This was another new skill for me, so I researched it first. Having recently learned some bobbin lace making, I adapted the bobbin idea by wrapping my yarn around clothespins. They helped keep the tension even, but were also cumbersome. Here are some pictures of the belt that I made for myself. I really enjoyed finger weaving and think that it can have many versatile uses. Here is the website I used to learn the technique, another superb textile education source: http://www.nativetech.org/finger/beltinstr.html.

I found the leather fabric for our moccasins at an upholstery and fabric store in Virginia. I bought several pieces of scrap leather that was on sale and paid maybe $20. Again, I had to research this project; the painting of St. Kateri appears to have center-seam moccasins, which are accurate for the time period and geography. There are lots of excellent resources to learn how to make this pucker toe style of moccasin, but I used this YouTube video because the author is meticulous in showing the steps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY12eXHxTPY. Rachel and I both liked our moccasins and thought they were comfortable, but one thing I would change if I could is to use naturally tanned leather. The kind that is made for upholstery contains dye and has an almost lacquered surface on the right side. It’s not breathable. But, it’s the best we could come up with in a pinch and is also within our budget. I solved the problem by wearing socks. I could also insert fur or some other comfortable material on the inside of the moccasins.

St. Kateri’s canonization was a very special event for Rachel and me. We also had a great time exploring Rome together, exploring holy sites, practicing our Italian, and eating tons of gelato. Making our costumes was also very meaningful, and it was a great way to pay homage to St. Kateri. We got a lot of compliments from other followers of St. Kateri, as well as plenty of odd stares once we left Vatican City in our Native American clothes! I’m so grateful I have a friend who will be weird awesome with me.


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