This has to be a question in the minds of many people who come down to South Florida to see the modern Seminoles or Miccosukees. The Seminoles / Miccosukees started making patchwork about 1915, and it became a unique craft that identified them as a culture and people.
Not only did patchwork become a native fashion statement, but it was fueled by tourism that the native people took advantage of when people started to come down to south Florida to vacation. Whenever you visited a native village open for tourism to sell crafts and to cash in on the tourist industry, you would see the people wearing these colorful garments. It became THE identifier of the Native people. If you have a postcard of the Seminoles and Miccosukees after 1920, most or all of those in the photo will be wearing patchwork, if not the earlier traditional clothing styles.
Patchwork was given as gifts to dignitaries, governors, and celebrities. If you went to where the villages and where the Natives lived, you could buy patchwork. It became the true Florida fashion. Acceptable dress in Florida includes swimsuits, bermuda shorts, or flowery shirts. But patchwork is recognized as uniquely Floridian. Heck, I think everyone who considers themselves as Floridian should adopt it as their clothing style.
Soon the other Native American tribes started wearing and making patchwork. The Seminoles of Oklahoma now make and wear it, even though it was solely the Florida Indians who developed it. The remnants of the Creek and Cherokee people in the southeast also make and wear it.
So we all recognize the patchwork and there are several good books out there on the subject.
So where is patchwork today? It is hard to find. Not many people among the Seminole & Miccosukee still make it. Many of the younger ones don't know how to make it. Of the very few places where you can still find it for sale, you have to pay a fortune. You can't find it for under $500 for a jacket or skirt. The last jacket I purchased was a used one in 1995 for $150. As much as I would love to have more of it, I can't afford it. I don't know who can, but someone is buying it. You always see it disappear from the clothing racks and never see it again. I wonder who buys it, because I don't see anyone wearing it.
So is patchwork disappearing? It sure seems like it is. Thank God for the few who are still making it, like the Zepeda or Buster families that live near me. I wish there were more families like them who can still make it. They should be considered a treasure for still making patchwork not only by the tribe, but the state of Florida.
Now tribal members are even buying patchwork from non-tribal members and wearing it in fashion contests. This is a big irony. Something that was once made only by tribal members and promoted as a cultural identity, they have had to obtain by non-tribal members because they are losing the art.
The latest issue of "Forum," the magazine of the Florida Humanities Council, says that this year the Seminole tribe plans on measures attacking the legal and ethnical challenges of non-tribal made patchwork. No telling what these measures are, but my guess would be legal action against anyone who is not a tribal member making and selling patchwork. Whatever they decide to do, it won't be pretty.
Also, it won't bring back the patchwork either. Only if there are measures within the tribes themselves to start training the younger generations how to make it, and to make a lot of it and sell it. Passing laws or regulations won't bring back the patchwork. Only making more of it will, and making lots of it.