The Bone Hairpipe Breastplate, Bandolier and Choker
A matching breastplate, bandoliers and choker set
A hairpipe is a term for a wide slim bead, more than one inch long, which were popular with American Indians,
particularly from the Great Plains and Northwest Plateau.
In 1878, Joseph H. Sherburne became a trader to the Ponca people. The Ponca purchased great quantities of corn cob
pipes from Sherburne, but only used the stem of the pipes as beads. White Eagle showed the trader a necklace made of the pipstems and
asked if they could be ordered in bulk. Sherburne contacted S. A. Frost in New York about producing tubular bone beads and within a year,
he had enough hairpipe beads to sell to the Ponca as well as other Indian traders.
Hairpipe beads were extremely popular from 1880–1910 and are still very common in powwow regalia today. These beads
are used in chokers, breast plates, bandoliers, earrings, and necklaces worn by women and men.
80 Bone Hairpipe, 4"
40 Bone Hairpipe, 1-1/2"
200 Brass or Crow Beads
4 Strap Leather Pieces
Simulated sinew for stringing, or 45 thin leather thongs 18"in length
Step 1. The simplest method of construction is to lay out your materials (leather spacers, bones, and beads)
exactly as you want them to appear in the finished breastplate. See Figure 1. They can then be rearranged several times until
the desired effect is achieved. For instance, you may decide that you prefer beads instead of short bones in the middle section.
In this way, you can see how the finished product will look without stringing and restringing.
Step 2. The strap leather for construction should be cut into 4 pieces, each 3/8" wide by 18" long; however,
you may wish to alter this size depending upon the look you wish to achieve. Now, cut the strips to the desired length, if necessary.
Step 3. Paying close attention to the spacint required by your layout, punch 40 (or more depending on the desired
length) evenly spaced holes in the first strap with an awl, leather punch, or electric drill with a small bit. Using this as a
pattern, mark and punch or drill the remaining straps. As a variation, these straps can be punched from side to side rather than
from front to back, with the smooth side of the leather out, as illustrated in Figure 2. They may now be dyed a dark brown if you
like. Any good leather dye, such as Feibings, will work well for this.
Step 4. Cut 40 leather thongs 18" long to string the bones on. Stringing can be made a little easier by punching
a tiny hole in the end of each thong, tapering it slightly, and putting a 9" piece of thin wire (such as florist wire) through the
hole, then doubling it and twisting the ends tightly together to form a needle. Often breastplates are strung with simulated sinew
and fringe added to the outer edges. Greek leather thong can also be used for stringing.
Step 5. Knot one end of a thong and thread it through the top hole of the first leather strap. A typical stringing
order is as follows: Bead, strap, 4" hairpipe, strap, 1-1/2" hairpipe, strap, 4" hairpipe, strap, bead. Allow even amounts of thong
to extend on each side of the outside spacers as fringe, being sure to knot the ends as you finish a row. Repeat until all 40 rows
are completed. See Fig 1.
Step 6. Refer to Figure 5 for the method used to secure the neck ties to the breastplate. Take two short sections of
leather thong, approximately 12" long, and tie them into the breastplate at the first sections on either side. Then take another, larger
piece of thong (approximately 15" long) and make a cut in one end to within 1/2" of the very end of the thong. Run the longer thong under
the short thong, pushing one end through the slit and pulling tight to form the tie needed on one side. Repeat this process to secure the
tie on the other side. Make certain all thongs are secured with double knots to prevent the finished piece from coming apart later. Extra
decorations can now be added if desired, and go a long way toward making your breasplate authentic and unique!
Variations and Finishing Touches
Placement, types, and sizes of bones and beads can vary according to personal taste. Conch discs, mirrors, brass tacks,
ribbon, hawk bells, mescal beans, otter fur, buckskin fringe, etc. are often used to dress up breastplates.
48 Bone Hairpipes, 2"
480 Crow Beads
6 Elk Teeth, Deer Toes, Coins, etc.
1 2" Abalone Disc
24 Leather Spacers
1 Similate Sinew Piece
Step 1. Before actually beginning to string your bandolier, lay out the materials (bones, beads and spacers)
according to the diagram in Figure 1. In this way, you can obtain an accurate idea of how the finished bandolier will look.
The beads can be rearranged as many times as necessary, before stringing, until the desired effect is achieved. As with most
traditional dance regalia, the bandolier has many variations and reflects the individual's taste and creativity. Numerous
variations in design are possible, simply by changing the order in which the colors of beads are strung, position of the hairpipes,
and combinations of the beads, spacers and hairpipes within a section (group of beads between each spacer).
Step 2. The strap leather spacers normally should be 3/8" X 1-1/2" and one spacer should be 3" or double length
for use where the ends join. These work nicely with a 3-strand bandolier; however, you may wish to alter this size depending upon
the look you wish to achieve. At this time, cut the spacers to the desired size if necessary.
Step 3. Paying close attention to the spacing required by the layout, punch holes in the first spacer with an awl,
leather punch, or electric drill with a small bit. Using this as a pattern, mark and punch the remaining spacers. They may now be
dyed a dark brown if you like. Any good leather dye, such as Fiebings, will work well for this.
Step 4. The length of a bandolier depends on your height, and the average size is 36", doubled. Cut 3 lengths of
sinew approximately 80" long, one for each strand in the bandolier.
Step 5. Knot one end of the simulated sinew and thread it through the hole of one of the elk teeth, or deer toes.
Begin stringing the first row of the bandolier, then when complete, end it by tying on another elk tooth or deer toe, knotting
securely, and then pushing the loose end of the sinew back up into the row of beads to hide it. Don't forget to include the double
length spacer when stringing.
Step 6. Before stringing the entire bandolier, you may wish to try on this first strand. Any adjustments can be made
now. Now is the time to string the other two rows of beads exactly as described in Step 4. Also, you may wish to burn the ends of the
sinew slightly with a match, after knotting. This will cause the sinew to "ball up", thus making them less likely to come untied.
Step 7. The shell or mirror or beaded rosette can now be attached where the two ends of the bandolier come together,
at the double length spacer. A buckskin thong is recommended here instead of simulated sinew. This thong can even serve as additiional
dangles, which is quite attractive and authentic. Your bandolier is now ready to wear!
24 Bone Hairpipes, 1-1/2"
48 Brass Beads or Crow Beads
1 Conch Disc, 1-1/2"
1 Strap Leather for Spacers
19' Similated Sinew
1 Shoestring or 12" leather thong for tie
Step 1. The simplest method of construction is to lay out your materials (leather spacers, bones, and beads) exactly
as you want them to appear in the finished choker. See Figure 1. They can then be rearranged several times until the desire effect is
achieved. In this way, you can see how the finished product will look without stringing and restringing.
Step 2. The strap leather spacers should be 3/8" X 1-1/2" and will work well with almost any choker design; however,
you may wish to alter this size depending upon the look you wish to achieve. Cut the spacers to the desired size, if necessary.
Step 3. Paying close attention to the spacing required by your choker layout, punch holes in the first spacer with an
awl, leather punch, or electric drill with a small bit. Using this as a pattern, mark and punch the remaining spacers. As a variation,
the spacers can be punched from side to side rather than from front to back, with the smooth side of the leather out, as illustrated in
Figure 2. they may now be dyed a dark brown if you like. Any good leather dye, such as Feibings, will work well for this.
Step 4. Knot one end of the simulated sinew and thread it through the top hole of the first spacer. Begin stringing the
first row of your choker. End each row by knotting, then without cutting the sinew, continue stinging each successive row. See Fig. 3.
This prevents the loss of the entire choker should one row break after hard use. The sinew may be doubled for added strength if desired.
Step 5. At the end of the last row, tie several knots in the sinew for added security and then slightly burn the ends
together with a match. (This is dangerous and should be supervised by an adult. If the sinew is heated too long it may become molten and
drip, possibly causing burns.)
Step 6. Tie thongs can be made from a buckskin thong or from a shoelace. Cut 2 pieces approximately 6" in length and tie
them around the two end spacers as shown in Fig 4. If a shoestring is used, simply tie on the spacer on the end.
Step 7. For achoker containing a shell disc and dangles, string dangles and shells on a length of sinew as show in Fig 5
or 6 depending on whether your choker has a leather spacer in the center or not. this sinew passes through the beads used for one dangle,
the shell, around the choker and back through the shell and the bead dangles on the other side. The ends of this sinew may be finished by
simply knotting around the last bead, or by the addition of tin cones or even something more exotic such as ermine tails, which make a very
attractive finishing touch. Another method of attaching the shell and/or dangles is to use a buckskin thong instead of the sinew. the ends
of this thong can even serve as dangles themselves, which is quite attractive and authentic. Your choker is now complete and ready to wear!
Variations and Finishing Touches
Additional choker materials include faceted glass beads, mescal beans, tile beads, and even dentalium shells. The center of
the choker is often decorated with a shell disc made from abalone or Bahamas conch, and occasionally a metal backed mirror is used. the
centerpiece normally has dangles made from buskskin thongs, beads, tin cones, ermine tails, etc. The photos on this website show many different
styles of chokers that are possible.
Woman's Hairpipe Breastplate
The design shown here makes a large 10 inch wide breastplate. It may be made larger by adding to the length with extra beads or bone,
or by adding to the width with extra strings. The arrangement of beads and colors are varied by the craftsperson to attain a unique design.
600 crow beads
45 inches of 1⁄2 inch wide strap
2 inch x 10 inch piece of strap leather
84 four inch long bone hairpipes
5 two inch bone hairpipes
40 yards of simulated sinew
16 tin cones
1 piece of soft leather for cutting short thongs
MAKING THE BREASTPLATE
Adjust if changing the size.
Step 1. Cut the 1⁄2 inch wide strap leather into 3 ten inch pieces and 4 three and one half inch pieces. Mark straps for punching holes.
Start 1⁄4 inch from left edge and make holes every 1⁄2 inch.
Step 2. From the 2x10 inch piece of strap leather, cut and punch holes making the yoke as shown in Figure 1.
Step 3. Cut 12 four foot lengths of simulated sinew for your outside rows.
Step 4. Cut the soft leather scrap into small strips about 3⁄16 inch by six inches in length. (See Figure 2) Tie one end of each sinew around
the center of a leather thong. Wind the sinew around the leather several times then use your best knot to tie tightly. Trim off the extra end of sinew.
Thread a cone on to each of the sinew lengths and pull the cone down to cover the knot. Finished it looks like Figure 3.
Step 5. Lay the strap leathers out on a floor or table in position and string bone and beads according to your pattern and as in Figure 4. To
finish these strings off, at the top of these lengths, the last row of bone is the 2 inch hairpipe. Combine two strings through each bone, then through one
last bead and tie each pair of sinew strings through a hole in the yoke. (See Figure 4a) Tie your best knots several times tightly. Cut off excess sinew
ends. (Hint: Applying super glue to each knot will help prevent the knots from unravelling.)
Step 6. Cut 4 five foot pieces of simulated sinew for the center strings. Tie one end to thongs and slip a cone over each as in step 4.
Step 7. String the beads and bone on each of these according to your pattern in Figure 4. For each row, when you reach the third strap 10 inch
strap, thread back down through the next hole over, and continue to follow the pattern to the bottom. Finish each of these lines off as in Figure 5, using
thong and cone, but tying the knots on top of the cones after winding around the thong several times and pulling the thong into the cone, while binding the