OK - Passing on the skills of crafts and arts help keep traditions
alive and culture shared.
On Tuesday evening, several women gathered at the United Keetoowah
Band John Hair Museum and Cultural Center to learn about making
tear dresses from Leona Bendabout.
All the participants could sew, but wanted to learn more about
The workshop began with some background on Bendabout and the
lavender tear dress on display. She wears it when singing with D.J.
McCarter and the Cherokee Adult Choir.
For about 25 years, Bendabout has been making tear dresses for
herself, friends, family, and to sell. She lost her husband five
This is what keeps me going, Bendabout said. He
was an ordained minister. Hes still with me.
Her most famous customer is also her favorite actor, Tommy Lee
He bought it when he was in Tahlequah and wears it in
the movie Missing, she said.
Last month, Bendabout moved from Salina to Tahlequah.
I made my first dress in ninth grade; it was blue with
yellow flowers, she said. I like sewing. Ive made
tear dresses in all colors.
The smallest print is called Cherokee print, she said.
tear dress can be cleaned in a washing machine by turning it inside
out and adding a tablespoon of white vinegar to keep the color.
I like to use two colors. Turquoise is the main Cherokee
color, with red, black, orange and yellow, Bendabout said.
I get colors that I like together, like the brown door frame
and beige wall - that looks good together. Or Ernestine Berrys
outfit of gray, black and red look good together.
The history of the dress was considered.
I read when the Trail of Tears went on, there was a lot
of sadness; they buried loved ones along the road, said Bendabout.
They started tearing their dresses to make bandages, and used
their dresses to wipe their tears.
A friend in North Carolina has her mothers tear dress.
It had a bonnet with it and was plain blue with flowers
and a short ruffle on the end of the skirt, she said. It
had short sleeves and was not gathered at the waist. The top was
more like a bib.
My mom said they didnt have scissors, so shed
measure it out and tear it, said Berry, director of the United
Keetoowah Band John Hair Museum and Cultural Center.
Patterns were discussed Tuesday, as were details of constructing
a tear dress, with Bendabout displaying a pattern against the dress
on a mannequin. The skirt had four pattern pieces.
The pattern calls for 7-1/2 yards, but I cut it down to
6 yards, she said. You measure your waistline for the
For trim, she uses 5/8ths-inch ribbon, because it shows
About a half a yard of matching or complementary fabric is used
on top of the skirt, sleeve and top as an appliquéd accent.
It can be a different shade: lavender over purple, black over red
or a print over a solid color.
uses a half-yard for the band. The diamond, a square set at an angle,
is the most common modern design, and three crosses were a traditional
design on the back of the bodice.
The gusset is a piece inset underneath the arm and connecting
to the bodice; the fit is tight without it.
The ruffle takes the longest. Its the last piece
I put on, said Bendabout.
She uses chalk to measure and mark her fabric.
I cut my own button holes, she said.
Bendabout said creating a tear dress can take about three days,
working eight hours each day.
The cost of the class is $100, with Bendabout providing the
pattern, chalk, pins and scissors. Attendees bring their own sewing
machine and fabric.
Sherry Garrett of Keys makes tear dresses for her granddaughters.
They want to dance. Ive made them skirts and tops;
now I want to make the whole dress, said Garrett. And
get more confidence.
For Denise Griffin of Tahlequah, its an opportunity
to be part of a cultural tradition.
It was her first time to make a tear dress, though she used
to make all her own clothes.
I want to make a tear dress I can wear to powwows,
Griffin said. And Ill come to the next class to learn
how to make ribbon shirts for my husband and the men in the family.
The women in the class discussed how few people sew anymore.
I knew how good [Bendabout] is at making these garments
- very experienced, Berry said. At the John Hair Museum
and Cultural Center we want to continue the tradition and pass it
on to provide opportunities to learn.