Regalia reflects customized designs ◆ By Mike Hiles
While hundreds of spectators at the 21st annual Soboba Inter-tribal Powwow in September will enjoy the colorful movements of the dancers that will be competing at the Soboba Event Center, Gloria Vivanco will be watching with added interest.
For many years she has made regalia for dancers and singers and said it is an awesome feeling to see her creations come to life at various events, such as the annual powwow. Her hobby keeps her busiest during the summer months of powwow circuit season. She is almost halfway through a dozen current orders.
"If I wake up at 5 a.m., I'm working right after my first cup of coffee," said Vivanco, who lived at the Soboba Indian Reservation for about 17 years but now lives in San Jacinto. "I do give myself a lot of small breaks, though. If I'm on track with my orders, I treat myself to an outing such as bingo, dinner or the beach."
Her foray into regalia began in 2004, when she was asked to create some traditional ribbon shirts for a friend to wear while doing Native American bird singing. She was given a ribbon shirt to use as a pattern and later did adjustments and made her own pattern as a guide for future shirts.
"I started sewing at the age of 10 but this was something new for me," Vivanco said. "I have made everything except lingerie and swimsuits."
She gets rave reviews for high-quality Halloween costumes as well as the regalias, all made from scratch. She recently added Native-themed handbags to her collections so as not to waste any leftover print fabric. Pendleton wool bags and totes were also included after she made a male vest and some gourd rattle bags from the material.
"All orders are custom made and I never use the same pattern twice," said Vivanco, 68. "The designs are an individual preference. Some customers might use a design related to their name – such as a rose, mountains, hummingbird and even a smoke pipe. I just finished one that wanted Monarch butterflies and California poppies."
She works directly with the customer for about 30 to 45 minutes to get the order exact.
"I make simple sketches and notes of how they want the pieces of regalia, the colors and design. Then I measure the person and add measurements to my sketches," Vivanco said. "I tell my customers it will take about a week to 10 days to complete. I order my ribbon online and that takes up to five days to receive. My first two days I do drawings and text for approval from my customer. The next two days I sort my fabrics and start cutting design patters – then trace and fuse to the fabrics. Sewing it all together is really the easiest and fastest step to do."
After a goddaughter asked her to sew a camp dress for her toddler, she began making camp dresses for her granddaughters and their cousins.
"My daughter then brought me a small fancy shawl regalia to use as a guideline to make her girls their first regalia when they danced at the Ramona pageant," Vivanco recalled. "Things kind of escalated and then she handed me a drawing of what I was to use to make my youngest grandson a grass dance regalia. Soon, people would ask me to make their son or daughter one."
Her 16-year-old granddaughter Autumn Vivanco, has bird danced for numerous years at Soboba's powwow and danced Fancy Shawl there last year.
"My grandma really made my regalia how I wanted and it came out beautiful," said Autumn, of the Soboba Indian Reservation. "She made sure it was everything that I wanted from the designs to the colors. She helped me out with the overall design and we went shopping together to get the fabric."
Over the years, Vivanco has also seen her designs on dancers at the Ramona Outdoor Play in Hemet, on a granddaughter who danced in the New Year's Rose Bowl parade and has had customers order them for honor ceremonies and conferences. Some were included in a Soboba Elders Mother's Day Luncheon and Fashion Show this year.
She enjoys her hobby and takes pride in being able to keep it as a one-woman operation. Most of her orders come through word-of-mouth referrals, with about 80 percent being from Soboba tribal members and other friends and family members.
Tekla Diaz, 27, has been dancing Fancy Shawl since she was three years old and has been dancing at the Soboba powwow since the first one. She teaches the dance to younger tribal members. Vivanco is currently making regalias for her students.
"They keep coming to class excited to show off their new regalias – all of them are very beautiful," said Diaz, of the Soboba Indian Reservation. "Regalia is very personal. Sometimes you can tell where a person is from with the designs. Sometimes regalias are passed down. Each carry their own meaning to the dancer."
Diaz said she worked very closely with Vivanco when she ordered hers. There were several pieces needed for each regalia: the skirt, bib, leggings and shawl.
"I was very involved with the designs and Gloria went above and beyond what I had asked for," she said. "I like the colors of the rainbow and I let Gloria do her thing. I'm so thankful for her beautiful work."
Vivanco said as the dancers get older they start wanting much more detail.
"I tell Tekla to encourage the girls at a young age to start drawing designs. I must have at least 10 tablets with sketches for future ideas," she said.
This fall's powwow at Soboba will feature some changes to contests, including an adult age split and combined for the dances. Men's and Women's Northern and Southern will be featured as well as buckskin, chicken, cloth, fancy, gourd, grass, jingle and shawl in different age/gender categories. Northern and Southern Drum contests will be combined with eight overall places/prizes awarded.