—Pueblo Indian embroidery is a pure form of ceremonial decoration. It is found on dance kilts, ceremonial mantles (pls. 7, 22), and the dresses made of hand-woven strips of cotton cloth (pl. 1). Occasionally the ordinary blue woolen dresses are embroidered with simple borders. The designs are highly conventionalized and dynamically abstract, with bold forms and geometric patterns.
"The art of embroidery as now practiced is a fairly recent one and is probably an outgrowth of the painting on kilts mentioned by Espejo or of the raised patterns found in weaving." It is probable that no needlework decoration was done by the Pueblo Indians before the coming of the white man, since no examples are extant which do not utilize woolen yarn. It was the white man who brought the sheep. The yarns employed today are almost always commercial yarns or aniline-dyed hand-spun wool.
Rectangles of white cotton cloth, equal in size, are made into ceremonial mantles and dresses; one is worn hanging from the shoulders, the other is fastened around the body and held with a belt. They are similar to the wedding robe of the Hopi bride, which is completely white. It is later embroidered by her husband or a male relative for her use in ceremonies. The same style of robe is made for god impersonators and priests. The decoration motif at the bottom "takes the form of a broad band of black wool with two vertical stripes of green appearing at intervals. On these broad borders the only space not completely covered is
a thin meandering line of the white cotton base which appears diagonally crossing the black and green. This white design-line creates a strong off-balance movement to the general vertical embroidery, seeming to exaggerate the movement of the dance in which it is used." The upper edge of this band is terraced, and frequently through its center may be seen diamond-shaped medallions with designs of clouds, rain, squash flower, and butterfly symbols —brilliant jewels of color. The design motif may differ among the pueblos, but the effect is always the same. The upper border is narrower and has only the green stripes and white meandering lines to break its solidity.
The rectangular dance kilts are also made of white cotton cloth and embroidered with various patterns. The Hopi type has a vertical band in black, red, and green up and down the two short sides. A special Zuñi type has a wide border similar to the mantle, with terraced top and colored medallions. It is worn by the Salimapiya. Other kilts have designs and borders which vary according to pueblo and impersonation.
In the earlier days a few of the women's woolen dresses were embroidered. The Zuñi used a deep blue woolen yarn in identical designs on the upper and lower borders, and at Acoma they embroidered similar borders in color.
Most of the embroidery for the Pueblos is done by the Hopi men, who are also the weavers. Special orders are filled for the priests of other pueblos who want mantles or kilts for their ceremonies. "Hopi embroidery—an art practiced only by men—is governed by very rigid rules." The patterns are traditional and can be easily recognized on any dancer.
During the process of embroidery the cloth is stretched on a frame made of sticks with pointed ends. The pattern is never indicated on the cloth, but is built up by counting threads. The material is folded for a center line and the border is worked in each direction so that it will come out even.
In early days, bone awls were used to poke the yarn through the cloth;
now, steel darning needles have taken their place. A simple back stitch is used, leaving much thread on the right side and picking up only a few threads on the under side. The white meander lines are made by carrying the yarn under certain threads, leaving their natural white exposed.
Colored designs are incorporated in sash ends through the brocade weave (p1. 31). (This process was described in the section on weaving.) Limited by the warp and weft of the loom, these designs are geometric. Colors are worked into separate patterns. A characteristic diamond shape in the center of the panel is made up of a border and triangular sections. Above and below run bands of black, green, and blue, with white figures picked out in the basic weave.
In the anklet another decorative effect is achieved. An oblong piece of deerskin or leather is slit internally in narrow lengthwise strips, leaving the ends uncut. These strips are wound with colored wools in geometric patterns (pl. 24). Porcupine quills and horsehair create a similar pattern. The quills, with points cut off, are moistened to make them pliable. Slit or flattened by drawing between the teeth or over the thumbnail, they are folded around the leather strip and caught by a series of half hitches in the horsehair (pl. 8). Today they are sewn in place by stitches through the center of the strip. When stained with soft bright colors from berries, roots, and flowers, porcupine quills make exquisite designs with a mosaiclike quality. This is a method of decoration employed by the Plains Indians. It is probable that the Pueblos acquired the technique from them.