How to Make an Authentic Sioux Indian Headdress

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Historical photos illustrate authentic Sioux headdresses.
Historical photos illustrate authentic Sioux headdresses. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The most recognizable Native American headdress belongs to the Sioux. The tribal feather warbonnet consisted of golden eagle feathers, each earned by an act of bravery. With eagle feathers protected by law, use traditional materials of leather animal hide, feathers, beadwork and ribbons to make an authentic Sioux headdress.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Animal hide or flannel headband
  • Leatherwork needles
  • Leatherwork thread
  • Thimble
  • 12 feathers (or eagle feathers and eagle feather permit)
  • Indelible marker
  • Beads
  • Beading needle
  • Beading thread
  • Ribbons

Preparing the Base

Take a head measurement of the person who will wear the headdress. Place the tape measure across the forehead, just above the ears and to the back of the head. Add 3 inches to the measurement to allow for a seam.

Cut a headband from medium-weight leather animal hide. Allow a width of 2 to 3 inches and a length equal to the head measurement, with the extra inches added.

Try the headband on. Use an indelible marker to make a small dot on either side just in front of the ears. This marks the range of the feathers.

Attaching Feathers

Place the headband flat on your work area, right side up. Arrange the real or imitation feathers at equal distances from one small dot to the other, with the pointed quill section flush with the headband and the feather section lying above the headband.

Images from the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Images from the Battle of the Little Bighorn. (Image: Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Move each feather from the top of the headband to underneath so that the quill is hidden and only the feather section is visible. Pin each feather in place.

Thread a needle with double thread and a double knot. Begin from underneath one of the small dots on the headband. Use a basic stitch to sew along the bottom edge of the headband. At each feather's quill tip, take a tight stitch around the quill to hold it into place on the headband.

Repeat the basic stitch along the top edge of the headband. Take a tight stitch around each quill to hold it into place on the headband.

Adding Beadwork and Ribbons

Find images of authentic Sioux headdresses for inspiration. Design your own beadwork pattern or find printable patterns. Use an indelible marker to sketch the beadwork design onto the leather headband.

Thread a needle with 2 feet of leatherworking thread. Double the thread and tie a double knot.

Bring the needle and thread up from underneath the headband. Make sure the double knot holds underneath. Slide one or more beads onto the needle and thread, according to your design.

Repeat the process to complete the beadwork design. Finish by pushing the needle and thread underneath the headband and tie a double knot.

Select the desired length of ribbons, anywhere from a few inches to 12 inches long. Pin the ribbons on either side of the headband by the small dots. Sew the ribbons in place.

Completing the Headband

Place the two ends of the tips together and pin them 5/8 inch from the edge -- do this with the headband inside-out. Double-thread a needle and double-knot the thread. Use loose stitches to baste the ends of the leather headband together.

Try the headband on. Make sure it fits snugly. If the headband is too loose or tight, cut out the basting thread and baste it again.

Reinforce the basting with smaller stitches when the headband fits properly. Finish by tying a double knot on the underneath side of the headband.

Tips & Warnings

  • Attend powwows to see authentic Sioux headdresses.
  • Laws in the United States and Canada require government permits for possessing eagle feathers. Avoid using feathers from federally-protected birds. If you are unable to acquire eagle feathers, purchase feathers from reputable feather sellers or use imitation eagle feathers.

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