How To Make A Simple Dreamcatcher
Make A DreamCatcher - and Save the Day
I have always loved making native crafts ever since I was a young lad. I made my moccasins out of a deerskin my dad traded woodwork for. I thought wearing moccasins would make me able to sneak up on rabbits easier. It worked like a charm, and my mom didn't have to provide me with summer footwear. It worked because I believed it would.
The other native craft I was fond of making were dreamcatchers. Legend has it the if you place a dreamcatcher over the place where you are sleeping for the night, the dreamcatcher will filter your dreams catching the bad ones and letting the good ones by. The good ones slip through the web and slide down the feathers, and you have a peaceful sleep filled with pleasant dreams.
Now in the last few decades, the DreamCatcher has succumbed to commercialization and is no longer the art of loving hands. Cold steel rings replace the formed, bent willow withe. Gaudy colours and shapes abound. Almost every flea market and trade show around has one stall or another selling dream catchers. They are not the same. They don't have the power.
Let me show you how to make a dreamcatcher that works - if you believe.
Typically Dreamcatchers are made with personal pieces or collected objects. This process invokes power and makes the connection between the Dreamcatcher and the owner than much more complete. I've found crow feathers and long wispy heron feathers and made a Dreamcatcher just from those findings.
Legends and Lore
I grew up reading old tales of cowboys and Indians and making native crafts from moccasins to beaded vests, belts and chokers. I made my own set of bow and arrows, but they were pretty pitiful examples. I taught myself how to creep and stalk animals in the wild. I learned to make small invisible fires and catch and cook a rabbit or squirrel. Many of these skills I still carry with me, some may be a bit rusty, but I know how to loom beads to make flat decorations or hand sew roundels.
Each of these crafts came with a story or legend that I read before I did my work. I mostly like the Dreamcatcher legends. Dreamcatchers started with the eastern Ojibway tribes of Canada. Each tribe back then was pretty unique and distinct. You could tell by the decorations or the cut of the clothes whether a native was Cree, Ojibway, Crow or one of the many other native tribes of North America.
I was born in Ontario, where the Ojibway natives are, but grew up in North Eastern Alberta where the Northern Cree call home. My wife is Mete of Norther Cree and French descent. I've enjoyed making crafts from many different native cultures, but I like to keep them accurate.
Dreamcatchers have come to be adopted by most North American natives as a symbol of fellowship. Though originally from a small part of northeastern Canada, now you can find dreamcatchers almost anywhere. I dislike the commercialized dreamcatchers made with metal hoops and fake coloured feathers.
Traditionally, Dreamcatchers were made simply, by parents wishing only pleasant dreams for their children. The objects incorporated were found on that day as signs or messages from the Creator. A feather or two, maybe a pine cone or seed head from some dried flowers. A willow withe was cut and bent in a small 3 to 8-inch circle and tied with leather lace. Sinew or twisted thistle fibers were used for lacing the web. A single bead was threaded on to simulate the spider, master of the web. It was this controller or webmaster than would be in charge of catching all the bad dreams and letting the good one filter down the feathers to be cleansed and allow the child the protect them need to rest peacefully.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: a lifetime
- 1 willow withe
- a length of leather lace - to make feather dangles and wrap the circle
- flat waxed thread
- 1 black pony bead or charm
- blue pony beads for the feathers
- two small squares of red felt
- a short length of yellow yarn
- 1 : Cut a willow branch or withe - long and straight but thin enough to bend into a circle or teardrop shape. Bind the ends and let dry for a few days to become less flexible. It is easier to make the web with a rigid form.
- 2a: You can start stringing the web or start lacing the leather around the outer ring. I have done it either way with no difference in the final product. Space the lacing so the willow bark shows through.
- 2b: Start string the web with the outer ring. Tie on with a clove hitch. lay the string across the hoop about 1 1/2 to 2 inches away and bring the string behind and through the loop you've made and continue on around the outer ring. Depending on the size either 7 or 11 points of contact are made in the first cycle. You last contact should be about 1/2 an inch from the first.
- 3: Continue on with the next cycle using the the center of the webs made on the first round as your contact points. Adding a bit of tension will make that diamond shape. Be careful not to pull too tight as it will warp the willow circle. Continue around for a two or three more cycles.
- 4: When you get part way around the third or fourth cycle, string on your spider bead or charm. If your finished dreamcatcher was a clock face the spider would be sitting around 7 or 8 o-clock.
- 5: Finish the last cycle after the spider bead but remember to leave a hole in the center of the web. Tie off the string and add a dab of glue or nail polish to seal the knot.
- 6: Next comes the addition of feathers. The traditional way to prepare feathers was to add a small loop of lacing doubled over the end of the quill to form a loop. The base of the feather had a few down fluffs added and a small 1 inch square of red felt was wrapped around the quill to hide all the quill and lacing ends. two wraps of yellow yarn held the felt in place. This is suitable for a large feather. For a smaller feather, like a pheasant or grouse feather, I would use the waxed thread and string a pony bead on as the tie loop and wrap the quill ends with red and yellow yarn.
- 7: I like blue or turquoise beads on my feather ties. I string the feather on the leather lace, loop the ends over the hoop and pull the ends back the the front of the hoop, one on each side. Slide two or three pony beads on the ends of the lace to hold it in position. This is a friction fit so match the size of the beads with the lace. If you have to, use a bit of glue, but I use friction fit beads because you can change the feathers easily as they tend to fade and age after awhile and could stand to be replaced.
Step By Step PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
When using multi-stranded thread like the simulated sinew, waxed thread or even dental floss; tie a knot in the leading end so your thread doesn't split and cause you grief.
Adding Your Personal Touch
Now that you've seen the traditional, or my take on the simple Dreamcatcher, let's personalize it. I mentioned earlier that the dream catcher was typically made with found items, so look around and see what you have.
If your craft basket has no leather lacing, but you have ribbon - use that.
If you are on a walk in the park and find a crow feather or pigeon feather, use those.
I made one Dreamcatcher with a jack pine branch with a pair of pine cones still attached. I had to steam the branch to bend it in a circle as it is stiffer than willow, but it worked.
I tried once to use little crystal seed beads at each joint of the web, and I think it turned out lovely - like a spider web covered with dew.
Instead of feathers - try fringe or lace ribbons.
Sometimes I leave the branch long, sticking out from the loop and put a feathered bird to perch on it.
Use silver charms that match your personality or intent and use them for the spider bead.
In the middle of the web, instead of a hole, sew a photo of something special in the center.
Try wrapping birch bark around the loop. Use only the outer bark that peels off easily and don't cut too deep or you will kill the birch tree. You should be able to find bark that is freely peeling from a live tree for this. If you must cut the bark off, find a dead standing tree or one that has fallen. The bark is so tough; it is there long after the tree inside has rotted. There is no need to kill a tree for its bark.
I'll be adding more photos of my own as I plan to make these Dreamcatchers with my nieces at camp coming soon. Stay tuned.
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