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Culture: The Native American Dream Catcher

Author: Natovia Gibson
by Natovia Gibson
Posted: Aug 13, 2016
dream catchers

Maybe you’ve read the Stephen King novel or crafted a dream catcher as a child. The basic tenets of a dream catcher as understood by those unfamiliar are as follows: dream catchers catch bad dreams, and allow good ones through to the dreamer. But are you aware of the rich history and meaning that surrounds this object of Native American culture?

The Ojibwe People, the fourth most populated group of indigenous peoples in the United States, were responsible for crafting the first dream catchers. The Ojibwe are a major part of the Anishinaabe-speaking peoples, which itself is a branch of the Algonquian language family. The Ojibwe now primarily reside in Canada.

Dreams and their purpose have always been central components of Ojibwe culture and belief. Spiritual leaders believed that dreams could contain prophecies and the names of newborn children in the tribe. When Ojibwe dreamers would see symbols in their dreams they would make charms to remind them of the symbol and use it to interpret their daily life.

Dreams were so central to Ojibwe culture that elders began to explore how to assist children in receiving good dreams while filtering out negative dreams to help them in their personal journey to adulthood. They constructed the first dream catchers, which consisted of two spider webs hung across the hoop of a cradleboard. The dream catchers were designed capture bad dreams that blew through the night air in the same manner a spider web would trap an errant fly.

As the tradition developed dream catchers were believed to be as effective for families and adults as they were for children. Ojibwe lodges would contain dream catchers near a family’s sleeping area to ward off bad spirits in the night. As tribes began to trade with one-another and intermarriage became more frequent, the dream catcher spread to other peoples like the Lakota tribe.

A typical dream catcher is only three to five inches across. It’s constructed with a willow wooden hoop, which symbolizes the circle of life. The "spider web" within the hoop is woven with nettle fiber or yarn. Feathers hang below the hoop, and serve as a gentle slide or ladder down which good dreams can glide toward the dreamer. In other tribes arrowheads and gemstones became popular additions.

As dream catchers became commercialized in the United States by the 1970s manufacturers stopped using natural materials and real feathers. These were replaced with synthetic, easily replicated supplies to cut costs.

Luckily, the Native American Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 does not allow manufacturers to claim a connection with any Native American group unless the manufacturer is "a member of any federally or State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe."

Dream catchers are an integral part of Native American culture, providing a keen insight into the beliefs and practices of the peoples that populated America centuries ago.

"I've noticed some lovely contemporary dreamcatchers around recently and they've inspired me to make my own version." Read on for the full tutorial by Lisa Tilse.

  • 21cm (8 inch) rattan hoop
  • 8cm (3 inch) rattan or metal craft ring
  • Craft Feathers (you'll need seven large feathers and about 20 small ones)
  • Wooden beads in varying sizes - I used beads 7mm (a quarter inch) to 2cm (three quarters of an inch) in diameter
  • 8 skeins of Perle 5 thread in complementary hues
  • Scissors
  • Craft Glue (not shown)
1. Cover the HoopStep 1

We are going to cover the whole rattan hoop by winding thread around it. Start by laying the end of the thread along the hoop and holding it with your thumb. Then wind the thread around and around the hoop, wrapping over and covering the tail. Continue winding the thread around the hoop until you've covered at least a third of the hoop.

Step 2

To change colours, simply lay the end of the new thread along the hoop and hold it in place while you wrap over it.

To finish the first colour, lay the end of the thread along the hoop and begin to wrap the second colour over it.

Continue to change colours to create a pattern around the hoop.

Step 3

When the hoop is covered, set it aside without tying off the end of the thread.

2. Cover the Smaller RingStep 1

Wrap the entire ring using the same technique as the hoop.

3. Join the Hoop to the RingStep 1

Place the ring inside the hoop and wind the tail from the ring up and around the hoop and back around the ring in a figure 8. Then wind it back around the hoop and tie a double knot close to the hoop.

Trim the tail of the thread close to the knot.

Step 2

Now using the tail from the hoop, begin to join the hoop and the ring together, winding in a figure 8. Continue all the way around the hoop.

Step 3

When you are happy with the way it's looking and there are no big holes, tie the thread in a double knot around the hoop and trim off the tail.

4. Add the FringeStep 1

Cut lengths of thread 80cm (32 inches) long to make the fringe. My craft projects usually evolve and change as I'm working on them, so the photos sometimes don't match the instructions exactly!

I initially cut four lengths of thread in six colours to make the fringe (and took the photo below). Then as I started to attach them I realised that I needed more of each colour. I ended up using eight lengths of five different colours, and 16 lengths of one colour.

Step 2

Tie one length of thread on at a time starting with the colour that will be in the centre. Fold the thread in half and pass it under the bottom of the hoop. Bring the folded end up through the hoop and pass the tails through the folded end.

Pull the knot tight so it's at the bottom of the hoop and the thread hangs down.

Continue to add the threads one at a time, tying them close to each other but not overlapping.

Step 3

Add each additional colour to the left of the centre. Make sure you keep the threads as parallel and untangled as you can.

Then work back to the right until all the fringe threads have been added.

5. Trim the FringeStep 1

Take a piece of office paper and fold one corner over to meet the opposite edge, forming a triangle. Cut along the folded line.

Step 2

Lay the dreamcatcher on your work surface and comb the fringe with your fingers so it's laying straight. Place the triangle on top of the fringe to use as a cutting guide.

Place your hand on top of the paper to hold the threads in place and trim along the bottom edges of the triangle.

Another way to do this is to run a line of tape on the thread parallel to the bottom edges of the triangle. Then just cut the tape off.

6. Attach the Large FeathersStep 1

Arrange the large feathers according to size, with the longest one in the centre to the smallest on the outside.

Find the thread that is roughly in the centre of the centre colour. Run some glue along the top of the feather and attach the thread to it.

Feathers, thread and glue are a tricky mix, so be careful to use the glue sparingly and keep a damp cloth close by to wipe your fingers. Keep the glue away from the fringe or things could quickly go pear shaped!

Now add the two feathers to the outside sections of the fringe.

Then add the remaining four large feathers - one in the centre of each colour section.

7. Attach the Beads and Small FeathersStep 1

Arrange the feathers according to size. Place a small amount of glue on the top of a feather and thread a bead onto it, making sure you leave at least a centimetre (half an inch) of the feather showing at the top. Repeat for all the feathers, keeping them grouped according to size.

Step 2

Starting with the larger feathers, attach them to the fringe so they are evenly spaced out.

Step 3

Progressively add the rest of the small feathers to the fringe. To avoid a gluey, feathery mess, pull individual threads out to the side before you glue the feathers on.

8. Make a Hanging LoopStep 1

Cut a length of thread about 26cm (10 inches) long, fold it in half and tie a knot in the end.

Thread the folded end through a large bead.

Pass the folded end under the top of the dreamcatcher hoop. Bring the folded end up and pass the bead and thread through it. Pull the knot tight.

Hang Your Dreamcatcher

Sweet dreams!

In this tutorial, you learned how to create a modern spin on a traditional dreamcatcher, using a variety of wrapping techniques. You also learned how to cut the fringe and attach individual feathers to each thread.

You could experiment with additional beads in the centre of the dreamcatcher, as well as different colourways.

Are you a fan of dreamcatchers? Maybe you are now? Let us know in the comments section below.

For more information on craft supplies visit Shi'dor's online showroom.

About the Author

Natovia Gibson is the marketing guru on the Shi'dor team. She travels for the experience of discovering new places and people, and she's an expert on where to buy feathers in Miami

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Author: Natovia Gibson

Natovia Gibson

Member since: Jul 24, 2016
Published articles: 6

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