Moose Hair Couched Embroidery

A Huron object decorated with moose hair couched embroidery and moose hair tassels, 1860s A Huron object decorated with moose hair couched embroidery and moose hair tassels, 1860s © Trustees of the British Museum, acc. no. Am.2586.

Moose hair couched embroidery is a technique that originated among the indigenous populations of the northern parts of North America. It was practised across the entire territory where moose hair was used for decorative work, although it was most commonly used by the Woodlands Indians in the northeastern part of the North American continent.

A moose (North America; called elk in Eurasia; species name: Alces alces) is the largest member of the deer family. The hair used for decorative needlework mostly came from the neck and cheek of the animal. It was used both in its natural white state and/or dyed.

Couched embroidery with moose hair was most commonly used to decorate buckskin, but sometimes it was used on birch bark or cloth. The process consisted of bundles of moose hairs being laid out in the desired pattern and then couched in place using sinew thread and an awl (later replaced by cotton thread and a steel needle).

Several couching techniques were used to create straight or curved lines, meanders, flower petals, flower buds and bristles. When creating lines, the Huron and Iroquois (and some modern embroiderers in North America) twist the hair bundles slightly and then attach the hair thread down with small stitches laid close together and drawn tight so they resemble strings of beads. Couched meanders (and sometimes lines) were used as borders.

Another technique, also popular with modern embroiderers, was the bristle effect. Bristles were created by attaching bundles of hair and making them stand erect; the hair was then trimmed to an even height.

Moose hair patterns were often complex, frequently incorporating two or more different couching techniques. Moose hair couched embroidery was used to decorate clothing, pouches and other small objects. It was sometimes used in conjunction with porcupine quillwork.

Moose hair was the preferred fibre of the Hurons who used it for couched embroidery, but when it was not available caribou hair was used, the latter being more frequently used in Alaska. The reindeer hair couched embroidery of Siberia is very similar to the moose hair couched embroidery of North America.

One of the best sources of information about Moose hair embroidery is by F.C. Speck, who wrote an article on the subject for American Anthropologist in 1911. Speck gives many details and illustrations about how to carry out this form of embroidery.

See also: moosehair wrapped work; reindeer hair couched embroidery


  • SPECK, F. C. (1911). 'Huron Moose Hair Embroidery,' American Anthropologist, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 1-14. Also available online (viewed September 2014).
  • TURNER, Geoffrey (1955). Hair Embroidery in Siberia and North America, Occasional Papers on Technology: 7. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford , pp. 30-32 Figs 3, 5, 7, 8, 9, Plates VI, XII.

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 27 June 2016). 


Last modified on Tuesday, 22 March 2022 19:03