It looks like it might be a hat but it’s sewn to a piece of black velvet with some darts in it. It has been taken apart so it could be anything. The long tube beads are fragile and some have broken. These pieces have both hand and machine stitching. The elderly lady could not seem to remember anything about it except that she once wore it. She didn’t know what became of the rest of it, either.
A Post Script: I think we have pretty much eliminated Japan as the source of this beadwork but I am still hunting for another. Most people seem to think it’s American Indian but I have not located which group, if that is the case. I still have people looking, both here and in Asia. This piece seems to have intrigued several people! I, of course, am glad of their help. Our local museum has a part-time textile conservator but I think this may be outside her field of expertise. I will certainly show it to her the next time she’s here, tho.
Thank you all for your comments,
For more comments on the vest…
From a Bemidji State University Professor
> Good Morning Hazel,
> It is not Japanese, of course. I believe it to be Native American. The
> use of the old buttons, decorative ric-rac on the border, the
> embroideered tape, the bead types and colors, in my opinion, date it to
> the first half of the twentieth century. The combinations of materials
> also suggest first half of the 20th century.
> It also has an odd cut, which suggests an oriental influence. The
> possibility of an oriental re-interpretation from American photographs
> is not out of the question given the vest’s history.
> What tribe? I don’t know. It is not one or ours: I do not believe it
> to be Ojibwe. The color palette takes it out of consideration as such.
> If you look closely at the applique in the eight pointed stars, you
> might be able to determine if it is plains or woodland. If the lines of
> white and black are fastened only on the ends, “lazy stitch”, it would
> be a plains maker. If the lines are applied and stitched to the fabric
> singly or every 2nd or 3rd bead, you can safely assume it is woodlands.
> Red is an uncommon choice of background for Ojibwe, but does occur among
> the Iroquoians and eastern Algonquian peoples, i.e. Micmac or Wabanaki
> and people in Oklahoma. A good museum curator with a speciality in
> fabrics could tell you where and when the cloth came from.
> I am sorry to have to send you elsewhere, but it is not one of ours.
> You might search on the net for “seneca museum” in upstate New York.
> You might try your state historical society on the fabric origins and
> Best wishes in your efforts.