Native American Headdress / War Bonnet




Introduction: Native American Headdress / War Bonnet

About: Hi, I'm TheRedsmith. I'm a maker. I make stuffs. You can support my work on ( You can see my work on youtube &...

Hi! I'm The Redsmith, I'm a maker.

For a long time I wanted to make a Native American Headdress. And here's why. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of movies and have always been impressed by the Native American culture and craftmanship. As a maker and a leatherworker / leathercrafter, I had the will, skills and opportunity to make one, not only as a challenge for myself or to fulfill my childhood's dream to own one, but also to pay a tribute to a culture I've always been interested in. And my kid loves to play Cowboys & Indians. So I decided to make one to play with him.

I'm not an american citizen and I don't live in the USA. I'm french, and in my country, a lot of children love to play Cowboys & Indians. So please, don't see anything else than respect, admiration and interest in the Native American Culture and Craftmanship in this Instructable.

I made a full tutorial video that you can watch here :

I also divided this video in five parts one for each part of the build.

The whole playlist is here :

You will have to make four separate parts, which each one takes quite some time. So plan ahead, don't try to make it a one-day-build. I will explain step-by-step how to make every parts of this build.

  1. The beading (Steps 1 to 8)
  2. Feathers preparation (steps 9 to 14 )
  3. Making the bonnet (steps 15 to 22)
  4. Ornaments (steps 23 to 34)
  5. Final assembly (steps 35 to 46)

Let's get started! :)

Step 1: Materials

For this build you will need :

  • Nylon beading thread
  • A bead loom
  • Needles for thread
  • American Indian glass beads (4.5 mm diameter)
  • A plastic paint plate tray or few cups
  • A knife to cut the thread (don't burn the thread with a lighter, it may destroy all your work)
  • Soft tanned cowhide
  • Some rabbit skin
  • 1.5 mm thick vegetable tanned leather
  • Leather oil
  • Leather dye
  • Long natural feathers (30 cm / 10 inches long) x 20 (the number depends on the size of the headdress)
  • Small feathers (10 cm / 3 inches long) x 40 (or 80 if you use two colors)
  • Cotton fabric
  • Thin Cotton thread
  • Thick Cotton thread
  • Some big glass beads
  • Two 1mm thick aliminium round plates
  • A mannequin foam head
  • A sewing meter
  • Some plastic cooking wrap
  • Some duct tape
  • Spray adhesive
  • A black sharpie pen and a pencil
  • A size 4 diamond hole punch
  • A mallet
  • Crazy glue + accelerator (optional)
  • Utility knife / scissors / ruler

Step 2: Part One: the Beading

You will have to use a bead loom, you can buy one or also make your own as I did. But for that you will first have to consider the length and width you will need. My final piece will be 25 cm long so the bead loom needed to be at least 30 cm long and 15 cm wide. (11" x 6"). I used simple plywood cut, glued and screwed together. On top of each side I screwed down a spring to keep the threads equally spaced.

Then gather all the parts you will need :

  • nylon beading thread
  • needle for thread beads
  • indian beads (4.5 mm diameter)
  • a plastic paint plate tray or few cups
  • a knife to cut the thread (don't burn the thread with a lighter, it may destroy all your work)

Now it's time to design.

Using graph paper to design your piece will make it easier enabling you to count all the little squares which represent the beads you need for your build. Personally I designed my pattern first and ordered my beads accordingly. Just be sure to have enough beads for the entire build.

I drew two different designs just to be able to choose the one I liked the most.
Please keep in mind the length and width of your final piece.
My pattern is quite simple but I will repeat it four times to get the final 25 cm (10 inches) length.

Step 3: Thread the Loom

1. First attach your thread to the loom. You can make a loop or just a knot. Attach it to the hook or screw on the end of the loom and begin to thread your loom. Bring the thread across the loom through the springs to the corresponding coil.

2. Then wrap the thread around the hook/screw and bring it back across the loom. Don't forget you will need one more thread than the number of beads in each of your raw. For example I had 19 beads in each row, so I needed 20 threads. In the picture, you will see I only have 19 threads... I had to add one afterwards... Don't make the same (easy to fix) mistake :)

3. Now prepare your needle. Take a good length of nylon thread (around one meter/three feet) pass it through the eye of the needle and secure it with a simple knot. Tie the other end to the first wrapped thread of the loom leaving a little tail and bring the needle underneath all the threads of the loom.

Step 4: The First Beads

1. You can now prepare the beads. Pour some on the plate tray and if possible keep the different colors apart. It will be easier to pick the right color and number of beads you will need for each raw.

You can now follow your pattern and begin the beading. String as many beads as you need reading your pattern from left to right.

2. Then push the beads up between each set of wrapped threads. The first few rows can take a little time to get right but with a little of practice it becomes soon easier and quicker.

3. When your first row of beads is in place between the wrapped threads pull the needle into the beads over the top of the wrapped threads to bring back the needle to your left. Don't pull too tight it would make your ends buckle.

Now you have your first row!

Try to make it as aligned as possible and bring back the needle to your right just like you did previously underneath all the wrapped threads.

4. Repeat this operation as many times as needed to build your pattern.

Step 5: Go Slow and Check Often

When you get used to it you can string all the beads of one row at once. It's only a matter of time and repetition before you become faster and more precise.

You will see your pattern slowly appear and it's a very nice feeling!

If you make a mistake (e.g. switching two beads of different colors) it is really easy to correct your mistake as long as you didn't pull the needle through all beads. So before doing so always double check your pattern and the color / sequence of your beads.

If your run out of sewing thread just tie it to a wrapped thread before you start the next row. A simple knot is enough but for safety I made two knots. Then you can take some more thread tie it to the exact same place and continue your beading.

Step 6: Secure the Beads

1. Once you have completed your pattern you have to secure it.

2. Stitch back through your last several rows of beads. You can do it on top or underneath the wrapped threads.

3. Pull the needle through the beads from right to left then left to right three or four times then only through the first three or four beads of the next row. Sew underneath the next wrapped thread and pull the needle to make a small loop you will use to make a half hitch knot between the two beads.

4. Once you have secured all the beads this way you can go to the next step.

Step 7: Cut It Loose

Congratulations! Your pattern is completed.

But it's still on the loom which is not needed any longer.

If you have a loom with hooks you can just remove the pattern from it. If you have one with screws just cut the wrapped thread at each end as close as you can from the screw.

Step 8: Secure Once Again And....done!

1. Now you have to take care of these tails. For this repeat the previous operation. Bring the first tail (right or left) through the eye of your needle, and start sewing through the first three or four beads of the first row.

2. Then pass it trough the three or four beads of the second raw then the third one.

3. Finally tie the tail to a thread with a double half hitch knot.

4. Repeat this step with all the tails at each end of your workpiece.

And...congratulations! Your beading is done! :)

Let's start the next part.

Step 9: Part Two: Feather Preparation

Now we are going to work with the feathers.

A little preparation is necessary to mount them on to the headdress.

For this step you will need :

  • an utility knife and a pair of scissors
  • 20 long natural feathers (30 cm / 10 inches long)
  • 40 or 80 smaller feathers (10 cm / 3 inches long)
  • cotton fabric
  • cotton thread
  • crazy glue + accelerator (optional)

First you will have to clean the quill of the long feathers with an utility knife to remove any paint reveal the raw material itself or just clean a 3-5 cm / 1-2 inches length. This way the glue will adhere better and you will have a better result. When it's done you can trim the tip of the feather to rectify the shape or clean some damaged spots.

Then if you are like me and you bought some of your feathers in long strips take them off the strip now. Just take your time and be careful the little feathers are very fragile.

I recommend you to store your long feathers and short ones in different boxes or tall glasses. It will be easier to work with them later and if you can't complete this step in one day you won't lose any of them. They are light and fly away very easily.

Step 10: Cut, Cut, Cut

1. For each long feather you will need a piece of cotton fabric and a piece of tanned leather. The cotton piece should be 5 cm x 5 cm (2 inches square). Mine were a little bit to long so I had to re-cut them afterwards. You can use any color you like but I chose to use white fabric to put a lot of contrast between this part and the feathers.

2. Now cut some leather strips. You will use it to attach the feathers to the headdress bonnet. The strips should be 1 cm x 8 cm (1/2 inch x 3 inches approx.) long. No need to overwork these pieces by dyeing it or burnishing the edges because they will be hidden in the final assembly.

Step 11: Feather and Feathers

1. Put a little drop of crazy glue on the quill of the long feather and some accelerator on the quill of the small one. You can now put one on top of the other. Using pliers is a good way to not glue your finger tips. I often use an eraser pencil to make these delicate glue ups. I can push gently and don't get my fingers glued together.

2. When your feathers are glued together and the glue is fully cured cut 30 cm (10 inches) of cotton thread. It will be completely hidden so you can use any color you have / want.

3. Just wrap the thread around the quills of the feathers to tie them together permanently. On natural feather quill sometimes the crazy glue fails and you don't want it to happen once your headdress is fully done. Plus it is how it is done traditionally. It's a long process so once again take your time and go slow. After five feathers you will gain in confidence and will go a lot faster.

4. Once all your feathers are glue and tied you can take a break! ;)

Step 12: Leather Loop and Wrapping

1. Put the strip of leather on the quill of the long feather forming a little loop. As you will need to pass a lace of leather trough this piece be sure the end of the quill doesn't touch the inside of the leather strip and you have a half centimeter gap. To ease the next step you can use crazy glue and accelerator if you want.

2. Just like you did before cut around 30 cm (10 inches) of cotton thread and wrap it around the leather piece. It will secure it in case of the glue fails.

3. Once it's done you can wrap the cotton fabric around the feather to hide the small feathers quill and both ends of the leather piece. Once again you can use glue to make the assembly easier. You can also adjust the length and width of the cotton fabric pieces to match the size of the feathers you have but be sure to re-cut all the cotton pieces to the same size otherwise it may impact the final look of the headdress.

Step 13: Cotton Thread Wrapping

1. Cut around 30cm of cotton thread and wrap both ends of the cotton fabric piece with it. It will secure the assembly and make it look awesome.

2. Wrap three or four times around the lower end then cross the thread twice going up and wrap it again three or four times. Secure the thread with a knot and cut the excess.

Step 14: A Lot of Feathers

The second part is done.

You have now a lot of beautiful feathers. But you can't use them just now. We still have to make the bonnet and the ornaments.

So I recommend to store them in a box with a lid. It will keep the feathers clean and dry and more importantly you won't lose any of them.

Step 15: Part Three: the Bonnet

This part is pretty easy if you have the right tools.

You will need:

  • a mannequin foam head
  • some soft tanned cowhide
  • some duct tape
  • some plastic cooking wrap
  • a black sharpie pen
  • solid cotton thread
  • two needles
  • a sewing meter

First check the size of your head and the size of your mannequin head.

Mine was a little bit too small so I put a skullcap on it and this way I obtained the exact right size for me to work with.

Step 16: Duck Tape? No, Duct Tape!

To make the 3D bonnet out of a flat cowhide we will need a pattern. So let's make one.

1. Wrap the mannequin foam head with plastic cooking wrap and duct tape. First put a some cooking wrap on top of the mannequin head then wrap it around the head three or four times. If you don't have a skullcap you can also make your mannequin head bigger with the cooking wrap.

2. Then wrap the head with duct tape. Just like you did before put some strips of duct tape on top of the head, and cross them to cover the entire surface. Then wrap the tape around the head.

Step 17: Measure and Trace

1. Measure the length between your forehead and the back of your head and transfer this length to your mannequin head. This step is very important because it will determine how the headdress will fit you when you wear it.

2. Do the same and measure the length from one ear to the other putting the measuring tape on top of your head and trace some lines on the mannequin head.

3. Then just draw the outside lines of your bonnet with your black sharpie pen. You can copy my design or make your own. The most important is to have a flat side above the forehead and a lower side for the back of your head for the headdress to have a good balance.

4. Once it's done draw a cross on the top of the head. This will become the four parts of your pattern.

Step 18: Bonnet Pattern

1. Number your parts from 1 to 4 and carefully cut the duct tape layer.

2. Once you can take the pattern of the mannequin head cut your pattern following the lines and you should end up with the four parts of the pattern you need to make the bonnet.

Step 19: Now the Cowhide

The pattern will allow you to trace and cut the parts you need onto the soft cowhide.

1. Flatten the duct tape pieces by hand and place it on the cowhide. Trace the outside lines with a pencil and cut it.
2. You can now use a groover to mark the stitching lines. Putting a 5mm gap between these lines and the edge of the piece is what I usually do.
3. Don't forget to number your pieces otherwise the sewing will be a lot harder.
4. Now you can make some stitching holes with a size 4 diamond hole punch. You only need to open holes on two sides of each pieces. The bottom doesn't need to be sewn, but you can always do it. It will add to the design.

Step 20: Gluing the Edges

This step is optional. But it helped me a lot for the sewing.

1. Use some crazy glue and accelerator to assemble the four parts.
2. Crazy glue on the edge of one part and accelerator on the edge of the next one will bond instantly. Just be sure to be on a flat surface to do it and don't add too much glue the parts would stick to the table. Just take your time.

Step 21: And Now, Some Stitching...

1. Once your four pieces are put together you can strengthen the whole piece by putting some more glue inside the bonnet.

2. Then you can oil the bonnet. It will soften it and make it easier to stitch by hand. There are many ways to stitch it. You can use a sewing machine or do it by hand. The stitch you use doesn't really matter as long as it is aesthetic and strong.

Step 22: The Bonnet Is Done!

And you're done with the bonnet! Congratulations!

Just a few ornaments to make before the final assembly.

Step 23: Part Four: the Ornaments

The headdress will not be completed without some ornaments.

For this step you will need:

  • some rabbit skin
  • 3mm cotton thread
  • needles
  • some small feathers
  • few glass pearls
  • crazy glue and accelerator
  • an utility knife and a pair of scissors
  • two 5 cm (2 inches) diameter round plates of steel or aluminium

Let's get started!

First cut two 6 cm (2 inches approx.) wide strips of rabbit skin.

Step 24: Measure, Cut and Punch Holes

1. Trace a line every 1.5 cm on one end of the strips to separate it into four parts.

2. Punch holes in each of the four parts you've just drew.

3. Cut following the lines.

Step 25: Coton Thread

1. Make a knot at one end of the 3mm cotton thread.
2. Measure the needed length. It should be 15 cm longer than the rabbit skin strip.
3. Pass the thread into the holes as shown in the picture.
4. Cut the excess thread next to the knot and glue it inside the skin.

Step 26: Gluing the Edges

1. Glue the 4 parts of skin together to close the strip.
2. As you did with the bonnet parts glue the edges of the strip and close the second end.
3. Be sure the cotton thread comes out of the strip otherwise you won't be able to attach it to the headdress.

Step 27: Just Like the Feathers

Now just repeat the steps you saw in the feather preparation part.

1. Cut some cotton fabric.

2. Glue it and wrap it around the rabbit skin.
3. Add some small feathers.
4. Wrap it with some cotton thread following the feathers pattern.

Once you have two you can go to the next step.

Step 28: Pearls...

1. Attach a small feather to a piece of 3 mm cotton thread.
2. Wrap it with some smaller cotton thread.
3. Put four (or more) glass pearl on top of the feather.
4. Sew this part to the rabbit skin ornament.

Step 29: More Tanned Leather

Now we will mount the beading on a leather piece to be able to attach it to the headdress later. The following steps are pretty quick and straightforward.

1. The pattern is simple rectangle with a half circle at each end. Its size match the beading part you made in step 2. Trace the pattern with a tracing tool or a pencil.
3. Straighten the edges with a nail file.

Step 30: Cleaning the Edges and Dyeing

1. Bevel and round the edges with a edge beveler (If you have one: this step is optional)
2. Mark the stitching lines with a groover and punch the stitching holes with a size 4 diamond punch.
3. Dye the leather the color you like (I choose black to make the piece as discrete as possible under the beading)

Step 31: Cotton Fabric

1. Use some spray adhesive to glue the leather piece onto some cotton fabric.
2. You can use the same color you used before. I chose to use some red fabric I already have. It doesn't really matter this part will be hidden against your forehead but it will make the headdress much more comfortable.
3. Trim the excess with an utility knife.

Step 32: Oil and Holes

1. Oil the leather with some wool or a clean cloth.
2. Punch two holes in the middle of the half circles.

Step 33: Last Sewing? Hum...almost

This will be the last sewing I promise.

1. We need to attach the beading to the piece of leather we just made. Use some nylon thread to sew the two pieces together.

2. Be sure to sew every raw to have a better result.

3. Attach the nylon thread on the back of the leather piece with two knots and cut the excess.

Step 34: Almost Done

1. Cut two thin cowhide strips (25 cm / 10 inches approx.) you will use them to mount the beading on to the bonnet.
2. Punch or drill two holes in the center of the aluminium round plate. If you don't have aluminium you can use whatever you have: leather will do just fine!

Now all your ornaments are ready.

We can begin the final assembly!

Step 35: Part Five: Final Assembly

You're almost done. Brace yourself to have an awesome Native American Headdress in few minutes!

1. Gather all your pieces (beading, bonnet, feathers and ornaments)
2. Cut two thin strips of rabbit skin (1 cm wide / 0.5 inch approx.)

Step 36: Add Some Details

1. Use some crazy glue and accelerator to glue the rabbit skin strips on the sides of the beading.
2. Be sure to glue on the leather and NOT on the beads. The rabbit skin will hide the nylon thread and the stitches.

Step 37: Back and Angle Too

1. Once the rabbit skin is glued on the edges of the leather stitch the rabbit skin down and glue the back too.
2. Once the skin strips are all glued and the leather well hidden you can go to the next step. Be sure to not put glue on the hair otherwise you will have to cut it.

Step 38: Start the Assembly

1. Use a lighter to clean the bonnet stitches. Be quick and pay attention if you burn the thread you will have to sew it again.
2. Put the bonnet on the mannequin head once again. It will help to align the beading properly.
3. Use some binder clips to hold the beading part on the bonnet.

Step 39: Marking the Position

1. With a needle or a sharp metal object mark the stitching holes of the beading parts onto the leather bonnet.
2. Then attach a nylon thread to a needle pass it through a stitching hole of the beading piece (approximately in the middle of the piece).

Step 40: Last Sewing. I Promise!

1. Sew the beading on the bonnet. You don't need to sew the entire length. Few centimeters / inches are enough to hold the beading in place. The two ends will be attached differently.
2. Hide the last knot inside the bonnet and cut the excess.

Step 41: Attach the Ends

1. Use a pencil to mark the end of the beading piece.
2. Then under the beading mark another spot about 2 cm from the first one.
3. Cut the bonnet open with an utility knife.
4. Pass the leather strip through these two holes and just one through the beading leather piece hole. Don't close the strips with a knot yet. You still have to add some ornaments.

Step 42: Choose Wisely

You have now to choose the feathers you want to use and sort them by orientation.

1. I prepared a lot of feather (50 if I recall correctly) but I didn't use all of them. I wanted to choose the most beautiful ones. So I made a first selection. Then I sorted the leather by orientation. The ones oriented to the left for the left side of the bonnet the right oriented ones for the other side. If you have just enough feathers to make the headdress just sort them by orientation.
2. Place the first feather on top of the bonnet and trace a line with a pencil. Be sure to not place the feathers on any stitching because you will have to cut the leather to attach them.
3. Space the feathers out around the beading. I let one feather width between each one. Don't forget to draw two lines (1 cm long approx.) on the left and the right of the feather.
4. Cut the lines open with an utility knife.

Step 43: One More Strip

1. Cut one last cowhide strip. This one needs to be long enough to pass through all the holes you just opened and hold all the feathers.
2. Let's mount the first feather. Pass the strip into the first hole and into the piece of leather you attached on the quill of the feather.
3. Repeat the process until all your feathers are mounted.
4. Attach the strip at the back to the bonnet making a simple knot.

Step 44: Almost!

For the feathers to stand right you can open a little hole in the shaft of the feather and attach them all together with a nylon thread. The headdress will gain in strength, the feathers will be well oriented and the thread is almost invisible. But if you did it all right this step is optional. Just if you like the headdress without it. If you don't attach the feathers with the nylon thread.

Step 45: Ready?

1. Attach the ornaments on the side of the bonnet to the cowhide strips.
2. Cut the excess of cotton thread.
3. Take the aluminium plates and hold them with the cowhide strips.
4. A simple knot will hold the beading, ornaments and plates to the bonnet and if anything goes wrong or a part breaks you can still disassemble the headdress and fix it. That's why no sewing is needed here.

Step 46: And You Are Done!


You're done and now you have an awesome Native American Headdress.

You can customize it the way you want: choose different colors of feathers, thread, leather or rabbit skin.
You can make it the size you want and change the design. For example, you can put feathers all around the bonnet, or put two long strip of leather in the back and put feathers on it too.

Here is the full tutorial video :

I tried to make this Instructable as clear and easy as possible if you have any questions or requests for clarification don't hesitate to comment.

I hope you liked it and if so please vote and like, share and watch the videos.

See you soon for my next Instructable!

The Redsmith.

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    33 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Yeah.... ummm..... definitely NO!!!!!

    head dresses and war bonnets are to be earned not made for fun.


    Reply 2 months ago

    I have to agree with Clafferty.85 on this one. Your craftsmanship is excellent, but you did not make a toy. Head dresses and war bonnets are to be earned, not made for fun. Please, research cultural appropriation.
    Despite meaning well, your creation is not appreciated by Native Americans. If you wish to honor Native Americans, research and tell our story. Treat nature with respect and teach your children to respect nature as well.


    Reply 8 weeks ago

    Hello Fred. Sorry you didn't understand what I did here.
    This is not cultural appropriation but an tribute.
    I got a lot of comments on my Youtube video coming from Native American people saying that they truly appreciated the video, the craftsmanship and the tribute. I hope you'll see it as well.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I see several things here, but cultural mocking isn't on the list.

    A gift for a child to enourage play and imagination
    Impressive craftsmanship
    A great instructable and pictures
    Great video content


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you Sir ! I appreciate it !
    You're right, I had several motivations for this project, but mocking or discrimination wasn't part of it.
    Glad you liked the whole project / video / instructable pack :)


    1 year ago

    Thank you so much for the wonderfully produced video and expert information! I have a 100 year old Boy Scout ceremonial headdress that needs restoration work. I am an accomplished seamstress but this is outside my realm of expertise. However with your video I feel much more confident. Thanks so very, very much! I will take before and after pictures to share with you.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks a lot for your comment. I'm glad my Instructable can be useful for your restoration. Please do send me picture! I would love to see them! Have a great day.


    3 years ago

    I loved watching this develope -


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks Jimi !


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you very much !!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you very much ! :)

    Cats Dragon
    Cats Dragon

    3 years ago

    Very impressive. Excellent instructions and videos. I am tempted to try this. Thank you very much for posting this great instructable. You definitely have my vote.


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you very much for watching and your vote ! Don't be tempted, do it ! And keep me posted ;) Cheers !


    3 years ago

    this is a great craft to make and pay homage to the Native Americans, reminds me of the items my boys made while in Boy Scouts, very clear instructions, this is a very well-made Instructable! thanks for posting :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you. I'm very happy you liked it. I tried to make this Instructable as clear as possible for anyone to be able to understand it and give it a try. Thanks again ! :)


    3 years ago

    This is very impressive. The amount of craftsmanship and detail is excellent. I don't know why some folks would detract from this... what I see here is a tribute to Native American culture, and their craftsmanship that if not kept alive like this would be lost. - Jim


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you Jim for your nice comment. I really appreciate you taking the time and your kindness.


    3 years ago

    This is awesome. I love the craftsmanship. I know this took a long time.