Trade Practices

Ribbon Appliqué Wearing Blanket
Artist not known, Osage
early 1900s

In this lesson students learn about the trade practices of the Osage using the Ribbon Applique Wearing Blanket as an example. They, in turn, will trade materials with each other to replicate the concept of trade.

Intended Age Group
Early childhood (ages 3-5)
Standards Area
Social Studies
Lesson Length
One 35 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • learn about cultural practices of people in the past;
  • practice trading with classmates; and
  • use oral and listening skills to process information from the lesson.


  1. As a class sit in a circle. Begin with a question: Have you ever wanted something a friend had because you thought it was beautiful or would be fun to play with?
  2. Relate the children’s experiences to the concept of trade practices in history. Explain the concept of trade. Talk about how a community of American Indians, called the Osage, traded goods for things they liked or needed with other groups of people (give examples of the materials they traded). You might want to mention that today Osage artists buy materials.
  3. With one of the students, role-play a trade scenario. Give the child two ribbons. Show that you also have a set of ribbons. Explain that you like two of the ribbons the child has and would like to exchange them for two of yours. (You may want to do this more times with other children in front of the class, perhaps using other materials that relate to the blanket).
  4. Review the concept of trade and relate it to the Osage trade practices.
  5. Display the Ribbon Appliqué Wearing Blanket. Explain that an Osage woman or fellow tribe member traded goods for the materials used to make the wearing blanket. The materials used were woven wool, silk ribbon, and beads. Pass around these types of materials for children to touch.
  6. Explain that the Osage were selective in choosing beautiful materials because their blankets were created with a special person in mind. They were often presented as a gift to the person to honor him/her.
  7. Ask children what they notice about the blanket. Prompt them with questions like: What shapes and colors do they see? What do they like about the blanket?
  8. Talk about the symbolism or the uniqueness of this blanket. Bring attention to the horses as a symbol of prosperity. Give examples of when and how the wearing blankets were worn. Refer to About the Art section for more information.
  9. Next, explain that the children are going to practice trading.
  10. Split the class into groups of two. Give each student a set of four ribbons. Have them display the ribbons in a row in front of them. Give examples of what they might say or ask the other person to start the trade. Have them begin to trade.
  11. After the trade session, ask children to share what they noticed when trading.
  12. Ask them to hold up their favorite ribbon. Tell them they may take their favorite ribbon home. Suggest that they can also give the ribbon to someone as a gift, like the Osage would give blankets to someone special.


  • Materials like those used to make the blanket: scraps of woven wool or similar fabric, silk fabric, and beads on a wire or sewn to fabric
  • Set of four colorful ribbons (4 to 6 inches long) for each child in class
  • About the Art section on the Ribbon Appliqué Wearing Blanket (included with the lesson plan)
  • Color copies of the object for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards
  • Visual Arts
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
  • Social Studies
    • Geography
    • History
  • Develop spatial understanding, perspectives and connections to the world
  • Recognize change and sequence over time
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Self-Direction

Ribbon Appliqué Wearing Blanket

early 1900s

59 in x 70.75 in.

Native arts acquisition funds, 1953.131

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

About the Artist

A woman from the Osage tribe sewed this blanket in the early 1900s for a special dance called the I-loⁿ-shka [ee-LONSH-kah]. European explorers entered the Osage territory in the early 1600s and the Osage began trading with the French for things like wool cloth and silk ribbon—materials that were used in the making of this blanket. Ribbonworkers are female and the art form is learned from female relatives. Each Osage ribbonworker creates her own patterns. To make the silk decorations, the artist used a template to trace a design on colored ribbon, then she cut and folded the ribbon to form stylized arrowhead shapes and horses. She then stitched each shape onto a second colored ribbon, which she sewed by hand onto the wool blanket. Once complete, the blanket would have been worn by an Osage woman over her shoulders or as a skirt. Today, artists continue to produce ribbonwork, but they might use sewing machines to construct the patterns. These blankets are still worn today on ceremonial occasions.

What Inspired It

Every Osage who dances the I-loⁿ-shka, both male and female, wears clothing decorated with ribbonwork. Blankets like this one are often given as gifts at the dance. When worn during the I-loⁿ-shka dance, the blanket moves and sways with the dancer, surrounding him or her with a sense of history and tradition. Symbols and use of colors may vary between clans or even families. Horses, like those on this blanket, often symbolize prosperity and may also indicate a family’s name.

I-loⁿ-shka means “playground of the eldest son.” An eldest son is chosen keeper of the drum for a year or more. The drum-keeper chooses committee members who are knowledgeable in tribal traditions to plan the dance. His family gives gifts to committee members, pays for the dance, and prepares food for participants. Dances are held outdoors and dancers circle around a drum, moving in a counterclockwise direction. In the early days, only warriors danced the I-loⁿ-shka. Today all men and boys, and some women, dance around the singers and the drum.



The horses and border are made from silk ribbons. After the French Revolution of 1789, silk had become unpopular in Europe and the French silk industry turned to America as a market for the unwanted ribbons.

Wool Cloth

The Osage acquired wool cloth through trade with Europeans. Wool came in different colors including red, black, navy, and white.


Horses symbolize prosperity and can also indicate family names. Notice the tiny yellow beads that outline the silk horses.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.