Introduction: How to Make a Crow Indian War Shirt

About: Retired software engineer. Like the outdoors, canoeing, camping, hunting and fishing. I’ve built 3 cedar strip canoes and 2 cedar strip kayaks and use all of them. I built 3 acoustic guitars and play all of th…
visited the Field Museum in Chicago and was impressed with the collection of Native American clothing. Something about the collection of War shirts really stuck with me. They were simple, colorful and beautiful. I decided then that it would be interesting to make a reproduction. A War shirt that belonged to Nez Perce Chief Joseph sold at auction for $877,500

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Step 1: The Fabric

The leather for the shirt is brain tanned and smoked elk hide, which was donated by my mother-in-law. I cut the body using one of my smaller shirts (from when I was less sedentary) for a pattern. The sleeves were just basically long rectangles of leather sewn into a tube shape. Using artificial sinew, I hand stitched the body halves together then stitched on the sleeve tubes. I cut a V for the neck so the opening was large enough to fit a child’s oversized head through. The neck opening was covered with a flap of fringed V-shaped leather onto which was stitched a thick piece of bright red wool fabric. The flap was only sewn on one side of the V and held closed with a tie near the neck opening. The hair is some that I sneeked into the barn and clipped from the tail of my wife’s horse when she was not around. It was bunched, and held together at the end with silicone calking then wrapped with red yarn. A long piece of sinew was attached before the yarn wrap to allow the tassels to be tied to the shirt.

Step 2: The Beading

Beads were sewn onto long narrow buckskin leather panels, then stitched onto the front of the shirt, but draping slightly over the shoulder. I used thin monofilament fishing line as thread. The beading pattern around the neck was applied directly to the wool fabric. Beading is a painstaking process. It takes lots of practice to make it look good. Talent certainly helps also, but I had neither. I found that the beads needed to be sorted by size as they varied in thickness and just counting beads in a string did not make a consistently wide pattern. I also found that stitches needed to be made about every 3-4 beads to hold the string in place or else the beads would droop.

Step 3: The Finished Shirt