Sutlers of Note: Creative Cockades

Miss Heather Sheen

Our tax lady looked twice at a stack of receipts from Heather and asked the obvious questions, “What exactly is a cockade, and why are they a tax deduction?” I laughed and thought about it for a while.

I have been interested in cockades–the ribbon rosette forerunner of today’s lapel pin–since I began to notice them on hats, chests, and shoulders of soldiers and civilians alike, from the First French Revolution onward. I suspect they appeared much earlier, as I remember something about chariot race fans in Rome sporting colors to show their team affiliation. At some point, I decided I needed a mourning cockade in memory of Colonel Ellsworth, so I began to look for a source. I found one. Meet Miss Heather Sheen, proprietress of Creative Cockades and ribbon artist extraordinaire.

In Heather’s own words, she explains how she became interested in such ephemeral things as cockades:

            In 2011, three generations of my family spent 10 days in Charleston participating in events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter. In preparation for the trip, we did a lot of research on our impressions for April 1861. One item that kept showing up over and over in primary sources was the wearing of secession cockades. So we made ourselves cockades. But then our friends wanted some too! We finally decided to open an Etsy shop to sell the cockades and that’s when we discovered that reenactors and history buffs around the world were interested in them!

Initially my dad, mom, sis and I were all involved in making them. (If you’re wondering what dad did, he was a great help in braiding palmetto fronds!) But as time went on, it became my special hobby and I really started digging into the stories behind the cockades. The more research I did, the more I realized that the cockade stories are endless – and they go back for centuries, in many countries.

Heather at Sumter
A Palmetto Cockade made of actual palm

Luckily for those of us who love such things, Heather was successful. She sometimes vends at reenactments, but her website is where the real treasures lie. Heather makes cockades for everything pre-1950 (yes, that is the correct year!). In America, she has created cockades beginning with the French and Indian War. Her European customers ask her to go even further back, Heather claims, ” . . . they are just a little addictive–people who buy one usually find a reason to buy another . . . and another!”

But, even in the land of ribbons and history, sometimes things go awry. June 2015 brought a disturbed young man to a church in Charleston, South Carolina, whereupon he shot and killed nine people. One of the results of his actions was that many businesses decided to ban images of the Confederate battle flag from their sites and stores. Etsy was one of those sites. Creative Cockades sells both Union and Confederate cockades, and rightly so. Nevertheless, cockades with images of the Confederate battle flag were found to be “objectionable.” Hence the kerfluffle. Boycotting Etsy meant no access to Heather’s merchandise, and that was bad for everyone concerned:

I was really encouraged though because so many of them contacted me to say they still wanted to buy my cockades, just not through Etsy. This was the motivation for me to set up my own storefront on my website. As it turned out, this was not only helpful for my customers, it was a great business decision for me. I was able to save a lot of money in fees I formerly paid to Etsy, and I have a lot more control over how the shop works and what options I can offer my customers. I still have a presence on Etsy for those who want to use it, but the majority of my cockades are now available at my website.

Problem solved.

Lincoln campaign badge

Heather also writes a blog about her product. She presents images of historic cockades and tells about their history. It shows up in one’s inbox once a week and is always timely and entertaining. To subscribe, check Creative Cockades on line and sign up.

My personal experiences with Heather are copious. When I do a talk or presentation for a group, I try to have something for people to take away with them. Cockades, although a little pricey, are the perfect item. They are of themselves a reminder of the past, and they are unusual. I have asked Heather to create cockades for Jonathan Letterman, the United States Sanitary Commission, the Union Medical Corps, and of course Colonel Ellsworth. I even got her to create campaign ribbons for me to distribute when I talk about Lincoln’s 1860 election! Every time they have been a huge hit, and even as time passed, the memory of receiving the cockade has apparently not faded. Her work enriches my presentations and helps people access a bit of the past.

According to Heather:

What I’ve come to realize is that a cockade isn’t just a little piece of pleated ribbon. It is an expression of a deeply held sentiment somebody once had. It might have taken courage to wear it, because sometimes you could be attacked, arrested or shot at for wearing a cockade. That makes it more than just a historical curiosity – it’s a literal expression of somebody’s heart.

And that, dear readers, is why I have a lot of Heather Sheen’s work listed as tax deductions. I give many of them away, proudly and publically. Send her an email with your favorite idea for an original cockade. I guarantee you will be thrilled!

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