As mentioned at the end of last month, I will be speaking at Oredev in November, and one of my talks is about how we need to stop faking it and really get to know the things that we do. I like to use analogies from my everyday life, and the things that I do as a tester parallel other things that I do as well.

For those who follow this blog, you know that I have an eclectic mix of things I find interesting and get involved in. One of those areas is my involvement with Native American Pow Wow Traditions (basically Native American singing, drumming, music and dance styles). For years, I have been buying, finding, and learning about how to make dance outfits for both myself and my kids. To make these outfits there are dozens of techniques that an individual needs to master… well, dozens if you actually want to be the one to make them. If you are content to buy them all, then fine, you pay to let someone else have the expertise. Still, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from learning a craft and taking the (sometimes frustrating) time to “master” it.

I’m going through three books at the moment to learn about techniques so that I can get out of the cycle of “buying my outfits” and so that I and my kids can make our own. The areas I am exploring currently are beadwork, featherwork and ribbonwork. Each of these has their own unique challenges, and all of them require stamina, determination, and, most of all, patience. They also require a willingness to go and find information about the techniques that are of interest. For the three above, I recently purchased and started reading the following:

Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans by Scott Sutton

One of the cool things about this particular book is that I know the author :). Scott Sutton has been active in CIHA and the Native American/Pow Wow community for decades, and he is passionate about Native American beadwork. That passion shines through as he talks about the methods he uses, materials to create the items, and ways in which even novices can get striking results. He also shows a number of variations of projects and pieces for a fuller picture of the process. He shows four approaches (loom, gourd stitching, lane stitching and two needle applique) and where and when to use each.

Focus on Feathers: A Complete Guide to American Indian Feather Craft by Andrew Forsythe

For those who are familiar with dance outfits used in Pow Wows, the use of feathers is commonplace, to single adornments on some outfits, to dozens or even hundreds used in the making of bustles and headdresses. Since Eagles and raptors are protected, collecting these feathers is becoming more difficult (and if you are not Native American, actually illegal). This book goes into great detail about how to work with commercially available feathers (typically made available from poultry farms, and usually coming from turkeys) and painting/shaping them to resemble (sometimes frighteningly so) the feathers of raptors such as hawks, falcons and eagles. The book is beautifully illustrated and includes examples of traditional items, some dating back hundreds of years.

Scarlet Ribbons: American Indian Technique for Today’s Quilters bu Helen Kelley

This may seem on the surface to be an odd fit, but it’s actually an excellent guide to understanding the techniques needed to create what is called “ribbon-work” or, more appropriately, ribbon applique stitching. Several regional styles are reflected, from the southern and northern plains areas (Osage, Ponca, etc.), to the Eastern woodlands (Cherokee, Pottawatomie, etc.) and the variations that make each different and unique. This ribbon work is commonly seen in dance shawls, on traditional southern dresses and shirts, and as embellishment on aprons, trailers, leggings and dance trailers for Southern Straight dancers (it’s for this purpose that I’m scouring this book. I want to update my Straight dance outfit, and this time, I want to make a unifying ribbon-work scheme. The techniques are well illustrated, and there are many projects that allow the creator the opportunity to try out a variety of techniques and projects. It does emphasize modern fabric and production techniques over traditional approaches, so some may feel a bit disappointed in that, but consider that if it matters to you.

So why am I bringing up these three books in this post? They go the the heart of an idea that is familiar to many martial artists called “Shu Ha Ri”. The idea actually holds for many of the things that we do, not just for martial arts. Shu represents the phase where we copy what others do, learn the techniques required to mimic what we are seeing, and to effectively duplicate them. Once we “know the rules”, we can experiment with them and do things that don’t necessarily follow exactly the types and models we have been given (Ha). We put ourselves into the process. Finally, we get to the point where the rules are automatic, they just become part of us, and we rarely even consider the “rules”; they are just part of what we do, and they inform, but do not direct. In the above examples, I’m fortunate that I’m looking at crafts that are not just long standing, but ancient, spanning centuries and even millennia. Thus, the techniques, traditions and cultures are well established, yet even they are not static. There is a lot of innovation and new ideas being experimented with. The benefit here is that there is a lot of data that has already been mined, curated, considered, applied, critiqued and discarded, to the point that books that are “comprehensive” can be created. From there, we can look at what is current, and adjust our approaches accordingly (or even create our own “forms”).

OK, so Shu Ha Ri works great for stuff that’s been around for awhile… what about for something that is just starting to get traction? What about the “new hotness”? What if those “forms” haven’t been codified yet? That’s the topic of my next post (to be continued… 😉 ).