Although Citizen Potawatomi Nation members and their families will not have an opportunity to gather in person for Family Reunion Festival this month, there is no time like now to begin regalia preparations for when it is safe to gather once more. Whitehead and Smith family descendant Reva Wolf spoke with the Hownikan about her regalia-making journey and encourages others to make their own.
As a women’s traditional dancer, Wolf said, “It’s a good way to pray, gift things or show that we’re still here making marks with our moccasins so the Creator knows that we’re still in existence.”
She grew up in New Mexico and lived in numerous areas of the country as an adult, but a few years ago, returned to Oklahoma to care for her father. Since then, Wolf has been able to connect with fellow CPN members and artisans that have assisted with honing her craft.
Moving back “was probably the best thing I have ever done in my life,” she said. “I had no direction. I knew my culture from growing up, but I never experienced it.”
Wanting to make her own regalia to dance at Family Reunion Festival, Wolf began sewing 10 years ago after taking an applique class at the Cultural Heritage Center. She hopes even amidst a global pandemic that others will begin their regalia-crafting journeys, regardless of age.
Making a full set of regalia takes time, dedication and patience.
“Don’t be hard on yourself, and find a design that you like that does not have too many corners,” Wolf said.
Shawls, ribbon skirts, aprons and more usually include some form of applique. Intricate motifs require more sewing skills than utilizing simple shapes, especially when using a machine.
“It can get to where you can have a little too many turns and a massive amount of material to manage,” she said.
And rather than fighting the material while sewing, Wolf suggests keeping it on the back side of the machine.
“It doesn’t get all clumped up where you will run over everything,” she said.
Most use Wonder-Under— a fusible web — to connect applique to projects. Wolf said tracing on the fusible web itself can make them easier to complete.
“Some people put their Wonder-Under on the satin and then draw the design on it, but I put my design under my Wonder-Under, draw my design, then I cut my Wonder-Under and put it on,” she said.
She utilizes visual inspiration from the CHC, speaking with other Tribal members and images online. Wolf also completes simple free-hand sketches like vines and other natural elements.
For skirts, she cuts fabric into rectangles based on the size of the individual, sometimes creating an A-line. She suggests using patterns for blouses and men’s ribbon shirts.
Since wearing regalia is an extension of spirituality and cultural connection for Potawatomi, Wolf highlighted the importance of creating while in a positive mindset.
She said her work “honors my family and honors my grandparents — my ancestors. That’s why I do what I do because I think about them a lot when I’m sewing.”
Wolf often allows ideas to come to her organically. She sees it as a way to fulfill Creator’s desires, and recently finished a shawl with blackbirds for CPN Vice-Chairman Linda Capps based on these principals.
“The Creator kept pushing me. … And wow! It turned out really pretty, and I was like, ‘Creator really does have a hand in this stuff that I do,’” she said.
Wolf often receives scraps and material from friends and loved ones, and she attempts to not let anything go to waste.
“It just comes together, and I’ll realize that ‘Oh, this should go to this person,’ or maybe someone sees it and it really speaks to them, and it’s like ‘OK, this is why I made this,’” she said.
Family Reunion Festival is usually an opportunity for Wolf to sell her creations and make additional income to help with expenses throughout the year. However, the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted her ability to connect with others and market her work. She welcomes those interested in commission pieces and more to reach out to her at 405-287-0458.
For pre-made pieces crafted by Wolf, visit Potawatomi Gifts in-person or online at potawatomigifts.com. If interested in learning more, take advantage of craft classes scheduled throughout the Virtual Family Reunion Festival held June 23 through June 29 at cpn.news/virtualfest21.