Osage Ribbon Work


The Osage are a Siouxan group of Native Americans. They migrated from the Ohio Valley down to Missouri, and had their traditional hunting grounds in Northwest Arkansas. In the 19th century, during what was then called “Indian Removal” and is now called “The Trail of Tears,” the Osage moved to Oklahoma.

Osage ribbon work

Ribbonwork is one of the art forms for which the Osage are most famous.

The Osage didn’t take up this form of decoration until after European contact, since the ribbons were trade goods. However, they very soon made good use of the ribbons by using them to decorate traditional leggings, as well as the dresses that Osage women began wearing about that time.

Osage ribbon work

Some ribbonwork is what we might call “applique”: shapes cut from ribbons and sewn onto cloth. But the most famous and the most characteristic ribbonwork involves measuring, cutting, and folding ribbons into geometric designs and then sewing them.

These designs were shared, as traditional patchwork quilt designs were. But, just as with patchwork, some of the ribbon artists made up their own new designs.

Modern ribbonwork artists make regalia for dance, blankets, and bags or other pieces for daily use. Some also make ribbonwork trims for sale, so that others can use their designs for their own clothing or other pieces.

Here is an excellent PDF file for a serious art project.

As you can see from these examples, Osage ribbonwork can be very complex and elaborate.

However, we have instructions for producing a very simple, paper version which is great for the classroom.

Osage ribbonwork normally uses a template, and it is possible to develop templates for the paper version as well. We have offered a very simple design which doesn’t use a template. Watch the video:

Or follow the step by step directions below:

gather materials

Here are the materials you will need for this project: paper, card stock, scissors, a ruler, glue, and a pencil.

Fold card

Begin by folding the card stock in half to make the base for a greeting card. Decide where you want your design to go, and measure the space you want to cover.

measure paper ribbons

Measure a strip of paper 1″ wide by the width of the card. Cut the strip. Make several of these strips in the colors you want to use.

notch paper ribbons

Measure and mark lines or dots across the paper. We used half-inch intervals, but you can use whatever distances work with the measurements you are studying. Cut partway through the strip at each measured interval.

fold paper points

Fold the edges in on each cut area, to form points.

a folded paper ribbon

Repeat this with each strip. If you look closely at our strips, you will see that they are offset — that is, the red one ends with a complete point, but the purple one ends with half a point.

glue on ribbons

Glue the strips onto the paper, overlapping them to form designs.

Osage ribbon card

We finished up our greeting card by gluing another piece of paper over the second strip. Another example can be seen below.

Osage ribbon work project

This project allows practice with measurement, cutting, folding, pasting, and following directions. Use the card to write “thank you” notes, or add pages to make it into a book for writing information about the Osage.

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