How to make a buckskin shirt

Buckskin garments are designed for everyday comfort as well as long lasting durability. Because buckskin is basically just preserved skin, it allows airflow and conforms to the body for a custom fit of all body shapes.

Decorations can lend a unique look with a variety of stitches to choose from, fringe or no fringe, and abalone shell or horn buttons. Lacing can be done with durable buckskin lacing, sinew, or the artificial sinew which can be purchased in craft stores today. Personally, while more time consuming, I prefer to use leather lacings for a more decorative touch.

A well designed custom garment is created through careful measurements, and considering factors like the curves of the body, and how the shoulders sit. A shortcut method is to take a comfortable T-shirt that fits the person comfortably and take it apart for the basic pattern, then improvise it a bit.

When I was first starting out,once a pattern had been developed, I would make a cloth prototype to see how it would hang. As I gained experience I found I could skip this step.

Hides are then selected paying attention to the placement of holes and scrapes, thickness and color. Usually you would put the smooth side of the hide next to your skin, so natural scrapes on the hide won’t show in the finished garment.

You will need three to four large deer hides, depending on the size of the shirt. The first step is to thoroughly rinse the hides in cool water and hand wring out as much water as you can. Rinsing reduces the smokey smell and also lets the hide settle into its natural shape. Smooth out the leather on a flat surface and brush out the wrinkles with your hand without stretching hard. Let the hide dry until it is barely damp. Then comes the cutting.

Taking the first hide in your hands, stretch it out so the legs of the deer are towards your hands with the hide folded evenly in half. Bring your hands together folding the hide again into quarters. Mark the center of the fold with a water soluble marker.

Measure the circumference of the head of the wearer with a flexible cloth tape measure. Divide that number by four and add an inch. Make a straight cut in the leather on each side of the mark you made earlier for that far on each side along the fold when the hide is folded in half like you did with your arms outstretched so the total length of the cut is centered in the hide. Then on the side that will be the front cut a line about six inches long in the center forming a tee. This will be your neckline.

Take the next hide and hold it with the legs pointing towards the floor. Fold the top edge over in a straight line and bring it up under the armpits. Adjust the fold to the length you want the shirt. Usually this would be somewhere between mid hip and knee. Mark the sides with your water soluble marker. Allow an additional three-fourths inch on each side for the seam and cut off the excess. This will be your side seams.

Measure from where the upper arm joins the body to the middle of the armpit. Mark this measurement on the front panel edge measuring from the top. Starting about two to three inches in cut a curve. (Here you can cheat and use the dismantled tee shirt to figure out the curve.)

Cut the back panel the same way, taking into consideration the curve of the rear on a large person and making sure the length will be the same as the front when worn.

Slip the first hide over the head and mark where the top of the armpit is on each side on the inside of the hide. Turning it inside out and using a ruler draw a line connecting the dots on either side.

Making sure both hides are lying with the inside surface facing you glue the front and back panels one at a time along the line with a tacky glue like Alene’s or rubber cement. I usually do the front and let it dry, then double check the markings on the back to be sure the seams will match up on the sides. This will hold the leather in place temporarily while you stitch and keeps the seam from slipping or stretching.

Lacing is dampened and stretched out hard, so as to reduce any stretching in the finished product. Then the lace is pulled through hand placed awl holes with whatever lacing pattern you choose.

If you want to bead the yoke, its easiest to do this next before you stitch the side seams. Don’t cut any fringe yet or it will get in your way.

If your hide had any holes you can patch them the same way by gluing a patch over the hole and then lacing, or just whip stitch the edges of the hole and leave it open for ventilation. Or, if you prefer, after lacing the hole shut, you can add a bone disc or concho with a few fringes hanging as decoration to disguise the hole.

Cut two rectangles for the sleeves as wide as the distance of the two sides and as long as the arm measuring from the shoulder to where you want the sleeve length. You can either work the damp leather with your fingers to make it lie flat as you glue it into place or to make this easier use the sleeve from your T-shirt to cut a curve in the top of the rectangle. When the glue has dried place the sleeves into place at the upper end. Stop your lacing about a three-fourth inch short of the ends, allowing for the side seams.

If you want the fringe to extend down the sleeves cut two more rectangles four to six inches long and the length of the sleeve side seam. Overlap the sides of the shirt with the front side of the shirt overlapping the back about three-fourth inch and glue into place. Glue the sleeve fringe flap between the two layers. Then stitch into place.

The neckline may either be whip stitched around the edges or you can cut a rectangular or triangular piece of leather to make a facing. Whip stitch them together with right sides facing each other, then turn in. Add a row of decorative stitching to keep the facing inside and the seam lying flat. Adding a collar is optional.

The very last thing you do is cut the leather below the lacing on the yoke and sleeves into fringe. The natural contours of the leather are left in lieu of a hem.

It has a fitted shoulder and a curved yoke with long fringe in front and back, that continues down the arms. The neck line laces up, and although this sketch does not show it, there will be a collar. The bottom edge preserves the deer hide’s natural contours.

It has a fitted

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