How to Make a Buckskin War Shirt

Written by kathy bellamy
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The Native American war shirt was a status symbol worn only by warriors whose bravery in battle had earned them the right to wear it. Although Native Americans later adopted European clothing styles, the war shirt remained a traditional favourite for centuries. Authentic war shirts were made from elk, deer or mountain sheepskin. They were crafted to follow the natural line of the pelt, but you can create a reasonable copy using a rough piece of leather and a simple tee pattern.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Shirt-sized piece of leather
  • Clothes model
  • Sewing machine
  • Trim
  • Scissors

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  1. 1

    Fold the leather from top to bottom and mark the centre of the folded end. Draw a line about 4 inches in both directions. Cut along this line to make a hole for your model's head.

  2. 2

    Slip the material over your model's head like a poncho. With his arms outstretched, pin the two sides of cloth at the wrist and about 4 inches down from wrist, under the arms and at the waist and hemline. It should fit fairly loosely.

  3. 3

    Pull the shirt off over your model's head--if this is difficult, the shirt is too tight. Lay the folded and pinned material flat. Draw a line between the two wrist pins and another line from underarm to hemline. Sew at the wrist and down the sides of the body. Cut leftover material at the sides of the shirt into fringes. Leftover material under the arms may be cut into fringes, left to hang or decorated.

  4. 4

    Cut fringes into the hemline of the shirt. The fringes should be shorter in the middle than at the sides.

  5. 5

    Decorate by running trim with a Native American motif along the top of the arms, down the front and at the neck.

Tips and warnings

  • For a cheap costume version, use suede or velour and cut the sleeves and shirttail in an irregular shape.

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