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Deerskin Strap Dress

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  • Deerskin Strap Dress

    Has anyone seen a traditional two deerskin strap dress worn at any pow wows? This style of dress was common among the Cree, Ojibwe and Metis people of the Great Lakes in the past but sadly, I have never seen a contemporary version of one worn in the circle. I have heard of people wearing a cloth strap dress but I have not actually seen one worn at a pow wow. I would love to hear from anyone who is familiar with this style of dress. Megwetch!

  • #2
    Originally posted by laughingcrow View Post
    Has anyone seen a traditional two deerskin strap dress worn at any pow wows? This style of dress was common among the Cree, Ojibwe and Metis people of the Great Lakes in the past but sadly, I have never seen a contemporary version of one worn in the circle. I have heard of people wearing a cloth strap dress but I have not actually seen one worn at a pow wow. I would love to hear from anyone who is familiar with this style of dress. Megwetch!

    I seen a modern twist to this dress in LCO, WI about 5-7 years ago. Sadly, never seen it in WI, MI or MN since then.

    It was made of red velvet with floral beadwork.

    The top/cape with loose sleeves & cuffs was done really well.

    Even though the sleeves were sewn up (so that no skin was exposed) the back was loose (like the original style).

    It was as if they had used a pattern for a regular fitted velvet coat with no collar and had overlaid the old style top/cape. The front had brass buttons so it could be easily worn. It was very beautiful, and you could tell that the seamstress was very skilled.

    Unlike the old style where it is a sheath dress with the top/cape over it, this one was more like a jacket and a skirt, but you could still tell the type of dress it was.

    Its always been on my 2 do list to make a dress like the one I had seen for a friend of mine from White Earth.


    • #3


      Thank you for replying to my post. The dress you saw in WI sounds beautiful! It is a very traditional style of dress and I'm glad that I am not the only one admiring it and wondering why it is seldom worn today. I do not currently dance in Women's Buckskin but I am considering making a strap dress from deerskin or elk hide to be worn over a simple cloth underdress (so, as you mentioned, no skin is shown). My heart is telling me that it is the right time to start such a project but I'm nervous about working on something different than what I am accustomed to. I will have to work up some courage! I want to make a dress worthy of honoring those who came before me and the people in my life now that have so generously shared their wisdom with me.

      I am not a competition dancer so it should be acceptable for me to wear something other than a dress with super long fringe as is common among many dancers from various tribes in the circle these days.


      • #4
        I have seen this style of dress only twice. One was buckskin and the other was floral beaded black velvet. Twas so long ago, I don't even remember where I saw them, but definitely somewhere in the Great Lakes region. My small historic photo collection has a few pictures of this dress. I also have some general directions on making one also but have never done it.


        • #5
          Thank you


          Thank you for replying to my post. You are lucky to have found some good historical photographs! The best I have done is found books with minimal details. There is some information regarding the strap dress in Arts & Crafts of the Native American Tribes by Johnson and Yenne and a watercolor painting of a woman in the 1820s wearing one by Peter Rindisbacher in The Spirit Sings: Artistic Traditions of Canada’s First Peoples by McClelland and Stewart. The elders are our preferred source of knowledge on these matters but this dress does not seem to have been regularly made and worn since the late 19th century.

          Here are my thoughts about making this dress:

          For cloth construction- I think making a basic version with cotton (lined for added weight) to see how the dress hangs and check its fit is a good idea. Not sure how I would go about attaching the straps…perhaps with buttons as the historical examples seem to show. Cotton is good for hot summers too although here in Michigan it does not get real hot and humid. Velvet with floral beadwork sounds beautiful but velvet is beyond my ability as a novice seamstress.

          For buckskin construction- I think sewing the side seams of the dress would be best accomplished by making small holes with a sharp scratch awl and then using a fine piece of buckskin lace (cut from the same hides as the dress) to make a running stitch about 1/2 inch from the edges. My reason for choosing this method is that the buckskin lace is durable and will stretch evenly as the hide of the dress naturally stretches. No sewing machines, no hole-punches and no glue of course! I have seen non-native people use such methods and I do not like to be negative or mean but it makes me cringe. The straps of the dress (in the past-the legs of the deer or elk) could be fastened to the body of the dress with buttons to make it easier to wear and decorated with old-style trade silver brooches.

          Let me know what you think. Hopefully we can all help each other and bring this traditional dress back to life in our own times.


          • #6
            I'm not familiar with this type of dress, and would like to see a pic.
   is what it is...


            • #7

              Here is a trade wool dress at the State Historical Society of North Dakota. circa 1875. The sleeves are removeable and are open at the top but closed at the wrists. When worn it forms kind of a cape. The dress itself is basically a tube from the armpits down held by straps over the shoulders. A belt or sash was worn at the waist.


              • #8
                Awesome!! Thanks!
       is what it is...


                • #9
                  I have several Ojibwe Strap Dresses

                  Boozhoo. I made four Ojibwe strap dresses (with sleeves). The first three are all stroud wool tradecloth with the white selvedge edge. I used antique military braid and silk ribbon (new) to decorate them, plus added trade sliver brooches.

                  My second dress is dedicated to the water -- I refer to it as my Nibi Dress. That is dark blue velveteen with copper brooches and silk ribbon. The sleeves are more cape-like and have the Cree / Ojibwe constellations beaded on them.

                  Working on two new velveteen dresses. The stroud wool with the white selvedge edge is impossible to get. I just bought 2 yards from a woman in Germany of all places. Looking for other colors.

                  My beadwork is old patterns, colors and a mix of Chippewa geometric designs and of course, Ojibwe florals. I researched for almost two years as I was collecting the pieces needed. There is not much information out there on these strap dresses... I've only found a handful of photos / sketches.

                  Would love it if other women were wearing these dresses... are you as well? I'm on Facebook if you want to see photos. Would like to connect and share.

                  miigwech, Siobhan Marks
                  Last edited by siobhanmarks; 10-06-2013, 04:11 PM. Reason: spelling


                  • #10
                    hide strap and sleeve dress


                    If you are still interested, there is a woman with a web site "stitching up history" who has done a lot of research and has made both hide and a trade-cloth versions of this dress. Her research, including photographs of museum specimens, is included along with documentation of her progress as she worked on her dresses.

                    As I plan to make, first a cloth and then a hide, strap and sleeve dress, I stumbled onto her web site. If you Google
                    "Ojibwe strap and sleeve dress" and then choose "images" on the Google menu bar you will then be able to click on and open images, once open, you may then opt to visit the webpage from which the image originated.

                    Her site should be easy to find.

                    Good luck !
                    Last edited by Kiiwedinaashik; 12-17-2013, 01:46 PM.


                    • #11
                      Kii--Her outfits "Stitching up History" are very very very neatly cut and machine precise. She shows side by side museum finds and her adaptation. The thing is, her adaptation (at least what I saw) didn't look like the museum pieces, not even remotely except that they were both dresses.

                      I guess what she's doing is showing what she's doing in hide work, but I think it's a stretch to call these modern pieces as anything but modern hide dresses.


                      • #12
                        This derss can be confortable ? ;D


                        • #13
                          Deerskin Dresses are influenced by styles worn by women of Native American tribes of the Old West.


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