What is a dreamcatcher?
Dreamcatchers all over the world, hanging in windows and from car rear-view mirrors, available for purchase everywhere from the corner drugstore to high-end art galleries. They’ve become a symbol that is synonymous with First Nations culture to the point where much of their original origin and specificity has become lost.
While the true origins of the dreamcatcher remains something of a mystery, they’re commonly understood to have come from the Anishinaabe tribe from Canada, with other sources attributing them to the Ojibwe, also a largely Canadian civilization.
Frances Densmore, an enthnographer, wrote in 1929 of an Ojibwe legend in which these “spiderwebs” originate with Spider Woman (also known as Asibikaaashi) who takes care of children. Originally these charms were not associated with dreams but were placed over the cradleboards of infants, and it was said that they “caught any harm that might be in the air as a spider’s web catches and holds whatever comes into contact with it.”
Today, dreamcatchers have been adopted by many tribes and are primarily believed to ward off nightmares. The nightmares are said to be caught in the web and then burned up in the morning light. The good dreams are let through the web, travel down the feathers dangling beneath, and to the undisturbed sleeping person.
How do you make a dreamcatcher?
While you can always purchase an already beautifully made dreamcatcher, some simple and some ornate, here is a step-by-step guide of how to make your own dreamcatcher and personalize it just for you.
Step One: Select Your Dreamcatcher Materials
Traditionally, the round hoops of a dreamcatcher were made from willow or sinew, but you can use any type of wood or metal hoop, which can be purchased easily and cheaply at a craft store. While they can be any size, a good starting size is 5 to 8 inches in diameter.
Next you’ll need a wrapping for your hoop, and as this is traditionally done with leather, a simple option is leather or buckskin suede lace. The width shouldn’t be any more than that of a shoelace, for ease of wrapping. A rule of thumb is that your lace should be eight times greater than the diameter of your hoop—so, a five-inch hoop should have two yards of suede lace.
Third, you’ll need string. This can be anything that is strong and flexible, such as hemp, nylon, or silk thread.
Finally, you’ll need decorations for your dreamcatcher, which typically are beads and feathers, but can also include gemstones, strips of fabric, shells and any other materials that have meaning to you. Please note that there are laws in place for the use of certain feathers, particularly eagle feathers. These are difficult to find and even harder to buy, so it’s best to steer clear. Typically, owl feathers, duck, goose and even peacock feathers are used.
Step Two: How to Wrap a Dreamcatcher Hoop
Wrapping the hoop is as simple and as hard as it sounds. You place a little glue—regular craft glue works fine—around the hoop and then wrap the suede lace around. It might be helpful to start with a clip to hold the first wrap in place, and then proceed around the hoop repeatedly, moving slowly but tightly, until your entire hoop is wrapped. Continue to use binding clips as necessary to keep things tight, and don’t be stingy with the glue; you want this to stick and stick firmly. After the lace is wrapped, set it aside until the glue sets before you remove the clips.
Step Three: How to String a Dreamcatcher
Dreamcatcher webs can be in any type of pattern, or in no pattern at all. The more you practice the more intricate the designs can be. But to start you need to simply tie the first knot. Then, working clockwise, pull the string tightly and wrap the string at quarter-hoop intervals, so when you’re done with the first revolution you’ve created a square within the hoop.
Once you have created the square within the dreamcatcher hoop, you can take it a number of directions. You can continue making smaller and smaller squares within each square, keeping the pattern geometrical, or you can string in a more assymetrical pattern.
As you string your dream catcher, incorporate any beads or shells that you’d like.
Step Four: How to Decorate Your Dreamcatcher
Once the weaving has been done, tie a loop at one end—this will be the loop that you will use to hang your dreamcatcher from. Then on the opposite side (the bottom) tie the strips of cloth, additional beads, and feathers. You can group as many as four or five feathers together to hang from your dreamcatcher.
There are no hard-and-fast rules to decorating your dreamcatcher. Feathers and beads are traditional, but follow your tastes.
Finally, hang your completed dreamcatcher in a prominent place. Traditionally, they are placed above beds, as they catch dreams, but are commonly seen in other parts of the home or car.