How to Make Indian Cradleboards

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Cradleboards kept Indian babies safe and content.
Cradleboards kept Indian babies safe and content. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

North American Indian cradleboard design is as varied and unique as the Native American tribes themselves. A cradleboard was traditionally used to keep the infant close to the mother, to encourage bonding, and left the mothers arms and hands free to work. It was believed the boards promoted a straight spine and legs, and when used with a soft cushion, helped the baby develop a pleasingly rounded head.The boards were propped against trees, or hung from boughs, and enabled the child to have a good view of daily activities.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/2- inch thick sheet of plywood
  • Saw
  • Sandpaper, coarse and fine grade
  • 1 yard-45-inch wide cotton flannel material for casing and pillow
  • 1 1/2 yards-45-inch wide heavier cotton material for back and sides Thread to match material
  • 2 yards twill tape.
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors
  • Sewing pins
  • Lacing material, ribbon, cotton cord, leather strips
  • Woven cotton or silk cord to make lacing loops
  • Masking tape
  • Sewing machine

Cut the plywood to suit the size of the baby with a saw. A newborn board will measure about 23 inches long and about 10 inches wide. For a larger, older baby, cut a piece 28 inches by 12 inches. Round the top off. Sand the edges with the coarse, then fine, grade paper, till the edges are completely smooth.

Cut a square of soft flannel 32-inches by 32-inches. Fold one edge over 1/2 inch, iron the fold and fold again. Sew. This will be your top edge. Fold the material in half, right side in, and sew the bottom and side in one continuous seam, leaving the hemmed side open. This is your casing.

Cut a piece of soft flannel 22-inches-by-29-inches. Fold one of the shorter sides over 1/2 inch, and iron. Do not sew this side. Fold in half, right side in, and sew one short side, and the long side. Stuff the pillow with the pillow stuffing, and then over sew the open end. Do not over stuff the pillow, it should be soft but not bulging or firm.

Slide the casing over the board with the open end at the top of the cradleboard. Put the pillow down inside the casing. Fold the extra fabric over and down inside the casing underneath the pillow. You now have a washable, removable set of cradleboard linen.

Lay the board down on the heavier cotton material, and draw with chalk around the board adding 5/8-inch seam allowance all around. Cut and lay aside. Measure with the tape measure all around the board. Take this measurement, and add 8 inches to the number and then add 1-1/4 inch to that number. The extra 8 inches are distributed around the four corners of the board to accentuate the corners, and add a gathered effect. The 1-1/4-inch extra is the 5/8-inch seam allowance on each end of the strip. Cut a 5-inch wide strip of fabric as long as you calculated was needed. You may have to cut it in two pieces. If so, halve the measurement and add 5/8 inch on to each strip for another seam allowance.

Sew the two pieces together by the short ends, rights sides together. Then fold over one of the long sides by 1/2 inch and again by 1/2 inch, and sew continuously all around. This forms the sides of the baby bag that encloses the infant, and laces her to the cradleboard.

Position the circular side piece on the back piece that you cut previously, right sides together. Ease the extra 2 inches in each corner, distributing the extra fabric and pinning to hold the pleats. Sew all the way around twice, making a 5/8-inch seam allowance. Sew again 1/4 inch into the seam allowance to strengthen the seam. Turn the bag right side out and fit it around the board.

Cut the cotton, or silk, cord into 12 pieces 1 1/2 inches long. Fold each one in half and tape the ends together with masking tape.These are your lacing loops. Position them on the inside of the bag with the loops peeking out about 1/2 inch, and tape or pin them. Try the effect with lacing material through them to see how it looks, and reposition them until you are satisfied.

Lay the twill tape all around the inside edge, and sew in place, making sure to secure the loop ends well. Double stitch over the loop ends to reinforce the area. Thread your lacing material through.

Tips & Warnings

  • Check all of your attachments and lacing carefully before placing a baby in the cradleboard.

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