Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium (2004)


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


Women of the tiny Jicarilla Apache tribe of north-central New Mexico have one of the most vibrant and distinctive poncho traditions of any contemporary American Indian group. Based on the yoke of the early 1800s deerskin “tail dress” design, the Jicarilla cape became a separate item of apparel. that was decorated in a classic mode with scallops and fringes, yellow paint, and striped beadwork edges. The cape design signifies woman’s origins and fruitfulness connected with the moon and its phases; thus it functions as necessary raiment and a powerful symbol at a Jicarilla Girl’s Coming Out Ceremony and Feast, a four-day ritual of traditional learning and joy. When trade cloth dresses sewn on Singers revolutionized clothing in the late nineteenth century, the skin cape survived as a unique sign of personal and tribal pride and status. Ever more creatively beaded within the classic style, ceremonial capes continue to be made and worn as icons of Jicarilla womanhood.