Quilting Gallery Blog

Lois Smith on Making Aboriginal Ribbon Shirts

Please join me in welcoming another Guest Blogger to the Quilting Gallery. If you’re interested in being a Guest Blogger, just drop me an email to discuss.

Hi Michele


Thanks for inviting me to blog on your website. I started making ribbon shirts for Aboriginal drummers and dancers about 4 years ago now.

After teaching sewing, quilting and many other applications of sewing for decades (including designing lingerie), I found a new love and appreciation for my skills: custom-made shirts with applique & beading have become my passion. These are worn by Aboriginal drummers and dancers during ceremony and at cultural events.

It started with one shirt for a friend who is a two-spirit fire keeper. I listened to her story with my heart as well as my mind. I was fascinated with learning what the different colours meant to her as well as what animals and birds represented to Aboriginal people. There were also shapes and other symbols important to her personal empowerment.

Now that I am familiar with the basic symbols of local Aboriginal people, I can focus more on listening to the life stories of my clients, and create a visual representation of their life.

Sometimes this process can take several sessions as they tell me about their culture, their spirit names, and their role in the Aboriginal community.


The exciting part to me is to hear their personal stories and interpret the meanig onto a very special garment they can wear with pride.

Strictly by word of mouth, I have women call me to make an appointment to start the process. I have been told by a grandmother that I am very gifted in this area and am starting a second shirt for her. Many of my clients are repeat customers.

I am proud to know that my shirts are worn by some amazing women, and that my work is appreciated by so many people. One of my early shirts was worn by Beverly who drummed the Governor General into Parliament.

It is a pleasure to share my skill with such a great group of women, and I am proud to know they are treasured by those who wear them.

Lois Smith
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Please note: Lois is not accepting new clients for ribbon shirts.

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This post was published on December 13th, 2008. Post topics: Guest Bloggers. Post tags: , .

7 Responses to “Lois Smith on Making Aboriginal Ribbon Shirts”

  1. Linda says:

    I must admit I was extremely confused when I read this post, with reference to the Aboriginal people. Being an Australian and reading this and looking at the photo’s I realised that this lady wasn’t speaking of the Australian Aboriginal people but perhaps Native Americans (first nation people).

  2. Lois says:

    Hi Linda,
    Yes, most of my shirts are for First Nations women who live in Ontario, Canada.
    Because these garments are worn for spiritual ceremonies, I also follow some strict guidelines during the construction process.

    So far I’ve had the privilege to make shirts and regalia for Algonquin, Cree, Ojibway and Micmac people.

    Thanks for your comments,

  3. Fascinating designs and shirts. Isn’t it interesting how one’s love of quilts and quiltmaking can expand into other related fabric art areas?

    (Mary Emma of http://www.quiltingandpatchwork.com )

  4. Colin says:


    Beautiful work. I was looking at having a couple of male ceremonial shirts made (bear clan, beaver animal helper…) as well as possibly someone to help me with some special bead work. I’m in Gatineau. Can you help?

  5. Debbie McCarthy says:

    I would love to know how to purchase the patterns for these beautiful Ribbon Shirt I see on this site. How can I get these? Thanks, Debbie

  6. Mishka says:

    Hi Debbie,

    I don’t think Lois has made patterns for her ribbon shirts. However, I’ve forwarded your request to her. Thanks for vising the Quilting Gallery.


  7. anonymous says:

    Wow, well done to Lois because these are absolutely beautiful. It must be so gratifying to be able to create something that is so important to people. I thought it was just a pretty design but to read that it the designs have other significance makes it even more special.

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