Women's Southern Plains
by Marcia Ash (Risdon)
published as CIHA Indian Craft Series No. 10
The breastplate described here is worn with
taffeta and buckskin outfits. Though the stringing of beads and bones may
seem a simple task, there are several guidelines to follow in constructing
this rather elaborate breastplate to insure proper fit and appearance.
4" or 3" plastic or real shaped bone
hairpipes are basic with 1˝" or others used when desired.
Plastic, glass or crystal faceted 8 mm
beads are most common. Nickel silver, brass and tile beads are also
used. The weight and cost of plastic faceted (imitation crystal) beads
and the variety of’ color make them quite popular.
For spacers use heavy latigo or tooling
leather (brush with mineral oil after cutting to size.)
Plastic coated wire (Tiger tail) fishing
line if you use glass or crystal beads as they will cut anything else.
Heavy necklace cord for plastic beads.
Front and back strand ends are finished
with a cowrie shell. Drilled pennies and tin cones are alternatives.
See diagrams 1 and 2 for basic layout.
These are but two standard examples of a huge variety. The number of beads
in proportion to bones depends on personal preference. Breastplate width
varies from 10-20 strands. The number of rows or strands depends on the size
of the wearer. Missing strands in the center section provide a bead opening.
When worn, spacer A should be placed at the bust line or just above
the bust. It should hang at least to the bottom of the belt but not more
than 5 inches below. In the back, spacer B should be placed 2-3
inches below the nape of’ the neck and it should hang from 6” long to 5”
below the waist. Yet, a length to the middle of the back is a happy median.
In this manner the front of the breastplate is longer than the back.
Beads and Bead Color
Few beads in one or two colors and lots of
bone make a more traditional or conservative breastplate as in diagram one.
More beads and a variety of color seems to represent the present
day trend. Pick colors that will provide
contrast with bones and with each other. Pick dark beads to go next to
bones. Don’t choose all pastel colors and avoid alternating colors every
other bead as red, yellow, red, yellow etc. A pattern of bone, dark, median,
light, median, dark, bone is quite typical. All colors are seen. Each row is
strung the same. Determine number of’ beads needed by using over all
length, length of bones, number of rows and each bead is 8 mm in
One of two styles of spacer can be used,
figure 3 and 4, the second one is recommended. See the diagrams for
dimensions. Cut out spacers and punch or drill small holes ˝" apart which
means shaped hairpipes should just touch. Spacer length should not exceed
width of bead and bone rows! String the 3-5 outside rows individually and
string the center rows in pairs. The 2-4" portion of the rows that will lie
at the shoulders should be strung in beads only, see diagrams. Avoid placing
the long 3-4" bones right on the bust line. Leave the front and back ends,
last 4-8", spacer free so that they will sway freely when dancing. Try on
the breastplate before tying final knots as you might need to shorten,
lengthen or adjust bead sequence. Before breastplate is completed one may
have to string it up 3 or 4 times.
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