Hailey Polson ‘26: Sewing ribbon skirts and sharing Indigenous knowledge

via MIT Morningside Academy for Design on Instagram

Hailey Polson ’26 has been sewing ribbon skirts to distribute to children of the Cherokee Nation and is sharing the knowledge of making them with the Indigenous Community at MIT.

Q: What did you make and why?
A: As a Citizen of the Cherokee Nation, I want to support others in proudly expressing their Native American identity by making the ribbon skirts accessible in my communities (they typically cost at minimum $50). I was able to accomplish that mission by sewing 43 children’s sized skirts for children back on my reservation as well as obtaining all tools/knowledge to enable ribbon skirt making in the Indigenous People’s Center (IPC) here at MIT. This included a live demo for the community, the creation of a physical step by step guide, and a stocked workspace in the IPC.

Q: Where did you work on this project?
A: I started my project at home in the Cherokee Nation (Northeastern Oklahoma) where I was able to learn from my mother and the ladies at the Rogers County Cherokee Association about the art of making ribbon skirts. I then brought that knowledge back to MIT and made skirts in the IPC.

Q: What was the most challenging part of making the skirts?
A: Figuring out the logistics of the materials in order to maximize both equipment acquired and number of skirts I was able to make. There was also a significant time commitment as I’d guess I averaged 3 hours per skirt after learning the process.

Q: What was the most rewarding part of working on your project?
A: Seeing the Indigenous Community’s engagement with the project and the beginnings of the Indigenous Makerspace I’m trying to establish in the IPC. I’m very excited for the future reward of actually distributing the skirts I’ve made over spring break!

Q: What do you plan to make next?
A: I plan to host more demos and help facilitate a workshop for the Indigenous Community later in spring semester for students to make their own skirts/shirts.

Hailey is an AeroAstro undergraduate interested in space exploration and systems engineering and is also planning to minor in public policy.