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Lakota Music and Dance

The Traditional Swing Bustle

Traditional Regalia is recognized by its' basic element: the dance bustle. The "U" or "swing" bustle has become the standard traditional bustle at powwows all across America. However, among certain tribes other distinct bustle styles do exist.

At the 1989 Rosebud Fair, twelve "old style" bustles were worn by traditional dancers, as compared to approximately one hundred of the newer style. While these earlier type bustles are not common, they are still worn occasionally.

The materials used in traditional bustle construction vary a great deal from dancer to dancer. some dancers have renewed the bustle symbolism of their forefathers; however, many dancers construct their bustles with more readily available materials just to enable them to dance "Traditional". Regardless, the bustle gives the dancer a sense of traditional ways and ideals, yet allows him to express individuality.

The "U" shape bustle ocnsists of two spikes or uprights, a primary row of feathers (the "U"), and bustle trailers. All three principal parts are attached to a rawhide, fiberglass or wood base.

The feathers for the "U" are most often Golden Eagle wing and tail feathers which are left in their natural state, with only tip decorations added. Optionally, feather tips can be left undecorated, but often, leather spots in nickel or dime size, horsehair, and/or small white fluffs can be attached.

The two spikes are made from the longest available wing pointer feathers, with plumes attached to their tips. The spikes can be decorated with feather clusters, ribbon, small hawk bells, horsehair, and/or sweetgrass braids.

The two bustle trailers are generally made from red or blue tradecloth, felt or solid colored wool cloth. Decorations for the trailers vary from fringe and ribbon edging, to beaded medallions; however, wing feathers attached in two or three rows are dominant.

Traditional bustle centers are decorated with beaded medallions, beaded pieces of all descriptions, silver conchos, mirrors, or even small rows of feathers. The bustles are tied to the body by anything from simple shoestrings to intricately woven sashes, which are quite long and hang down the sides of the dancer.

Traditional bustles, like fancy dance bustles, are made to break-down for easy transportation and storage. The spikes pull off, the "U" collapses, and the trailers fold up for a quick disassembley.

Materials Required:

42 Imitation Eagle Feather Spikes
Backboard (rawhide or heavy leather base)
Sinew (imitation sinew available from trading companies)
4 shoe laces
Bustle center decoration (mirror or beaded rosette)
3 1/2 yards ribbon, 7/8" to 1 - 1 1/4" wide
14" wooden dowel, 3/8" in diameter
1/2 oz. white horsehair
White buckskin for spots
Material for trailers (broadcloth or felt)
1 Coat hanger


Before beginning actual construction, several steps should be taken that will make the job go much easier. first, make sure that all the required materials have been collected. There is nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through the construction and discovering that something is missing. Begin by selecting the two longest and best feathers to be used aat the top of the bustle for main spikes, and set them aside for now. You will also want to straighten each feather by lightly crimping them with your fingernail. Next, trim the rest of the feathers to the same length by rounding the tips as shown on my Eagle Feather Preparation page and Fig 1. Finally, separate the feathers into lefts and rights.

Step 1. Cut 40 leather strips 1/8" wide by 3" long, and tape them as shown in Fig 2. For extra strength, Crazy Glue (wood type) can be used before attaching tape. to cut the buckskin spoits for the feather tips, use a penny as a template and lay out and cut enough circles for each feather. The next step is to separate the horse hair into equal bundles, one bundle for each feather as shown in Fig. 3a. Once this is complete, start gluing the horsehair bundles and one spot to each feather tip, insuring that the horsehair sticks straight up from the tip of the feather.

Step 2. To prepare the two upright spikes, simply glue fluffs to the tip of each feather, along with the ribbon. Then glue one buckskin spot over this area. Cut the bottom tips off of these two spikes, leaving them hollow to allow them to slip over the upright wires. See Fig 3b.

Step 3. To prepare the feathers for the lacing process, take an awl or small screwdriver and insert it through the side of the quill on the backside of the feather, being very careful not to make the hole so large that it cracks the quill. Make the hole 5" from the loop on the bottom of each feather. Now lace the feathers together at the bottom loop, using a heavy shoelace (see Fig 4). Begin with the top spike on the right side and work around to the top spike on the left side. Now take a secondary shoestring and lace each quill together through the holes you made on the backside of the feather, being sure to leave enough lace to tie off the left and right spikes. The finished laced feathers should resemble a "U" shape.

Step 4. The shoestring ends are now laced through the two upright spikes and tied together with a square knot.

Step 5. Construct a base for the bustle using a heavy piece of leather or thin plywood (1/4") by following the sketch shown in Figure 5. Mark the position of all the holes on the base, then drill holes "B" and "C" 1/4" in diameter. The holes marked "A", "D" and "E" should be drilled 1/8" in diameter, or the same size as your coat hanger.

Step 6. Bend this piece of coat hanger wire into the shape shown in Fig 6, and insert the long ends into the holes marked "A". Then secure the wire by tying it to the base through the holes marked "D" at the top. Mount the wooden dowel at the bottom of the base through the holes marked "E".

Step 7. Lay the completed circle of feathers on the base so that the top of the circle touches the holes marked "B". Using the ends of the shoestring at the bottom of the feathers, lace the ends through the base and tie at the back to secure the circle of feathers. Slip the two main spikes onto the wire hanger ends that protrude through the base. Space the feathers evenly along the secondary lace, which should be tight enough to them in position.

Step 8. Fasten a leather thong to the back of a beaded rosette or mirror and string it through the holes marked "c", and tie it tightly to the base.

Step 9. For the trailers, cut a piece of felt or broadcloth into two pieces, 3-1/2" X 36". Fold over and sew a small loop at the top edge of each piece. this "tube" should be large enough to allow the dowel to pass through. Ribbon can now be folded and sewn to the outside edges of the trailers, and any other decorations such as feathers, etc, can be attached. Slide the completed trailers over the ends of the dowel and secure to the dowel by applying a small amount of glue under the loop, or by sewing to the thongs holding the dowel to the base.

Variations and Finishing touches:

The bustle described in these instructions can be left withour horsehair and/or small fluffs may be added. A secondary ring of feathers can be secured beneath the center rosette. See the bustle pictures on this website for ideas on other variations and individual styles. I strongly recommend that you do not copy a specific bustle, but desigh one that is uniquely yours, within the boundaries of tradition.

Your bustle is now ready to wear!

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