Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association

Women of the Indian Oneida tribe, Wisconsin, USA, showing their lace products. Women of the Indian Oneida tribe, Wisconsin, USA, showing their lace products.

The Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association is an early twentieth century USA group that organised schools for teaching various types of lace making to native Americans. The first school was set up by Sybil Carter in about 1889, following an invitation by Bishop Henry Whipple for her to teach lace making to Ojibwe women in the White Earth Reservation (northwestern Minnesota).

The aim was to provide a source of income for the Indian women. The laces produced included bobbin, cutwork and Renaissance forms. The initiative was successful and by 1893 Carter was supervising nine lace making schools in various reservations.

It would appear that Carter had a patronizing view of Indian women. She believed that making lace would make them more hygienical and encourage them to take better care of their homes. Carter hoped it would make women abandon traditional patterns of Indian life.

In general, most of the lace produced at these schools was indistinguishable from other laces in the period. Occasionally the lace designs featured stereotypical ‘Indian’ imagery, including birds, canoes and tepees. It is likely that these designs were produced for the tourist market. In general the lace was known for the quality of its products and it earned a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900, as well as prizes at other national and international competitions.

In 1904, friends of Carter set up the Sybil Carter Indian Lace Association to buy materials and hire teachers, as well as to collect finished items from the reservation schools. The group also managed a New York City shop and arranged for private lace sales in the homes of wealthy women in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

The administrative positions were highly paid, while the Indian women were excluded from such leadership jobs in the lace association. This led some people to accuse the association of underpaying Indian women for their work. When Carter died in 1908, the Lace Association lost her social connections and sales dropped. In addition, fashions changed and handmade lace became less popular and sales further declined. In 1926 the Association was officially disbanded, although in some areas, lace making continued for several years.


  • DUNCAN, Kate C (1980). 'American Indian lace making,' American Indian Art Magazine, 5 no. 3 (Summer), pp. 28–55.
  • EARNSHAW, Pat (1984). A Dictionary of Lace, Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd, p. 29.
  • LINCOLN, Louise and Paulette Fairbanks MOLIN (1994). 'Unanswered questions: Native Americans and Euro-Americans in Minnesota,' in Michael CONFORTI (ed.), Art and Life on the Upper Mississippi, 1890-1915, Newark: University of Delaware Press, pp. 299–322.
  • NESLUND, Bob (2003). 'Native American lace: An experiment in mission and self help,' The Historiographer 41, no.2 (Pentecost 2003), pp. 18–21.
  • (retrieved 19 April 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 28 June 2016).


Last modified on Thursday, 27 April 2017 11:17
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