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Lakota Music and Dance

Otter Breastplate and Sash

Otter Breastplate

Materials Required

1 12" X 48" Otter Hide (or imitation otter fur)
1 12" X 48" Red Felt or Solid Color Active Wear Material for Backing
16 Metal Backed Mirrors, 2-1/4" diameter
1 10" length simulated sinew

The beautiful, otter hide breastplate was a common accessory worn by the Old Time Sioux Grass Dancer of the 1900-1935 period. Often simply called "Otters", they were highly regarded as an important part of one's outfit. Today, this same article is frequently worn by the Traditional Dancer and lends itself well to the overall appearance of the style.

Usually cut from a full hide aproximately 10-12" wide and 36-40" long, it was split down the center with 3 - 4" at either end left uncut. This allowed the dancer to slip his head through and position it as high or low in front as desired. Most examples had the tail intact and uncut, extending down the dancer's back, although the rectangular shape shown in Fig B was quite common as well.

The typical "Otter' was decorated qith 16 to 20 metal backed mirrors, with 8 to 10 being attached down the length of each side. Variations include decorating with bone rings, quillwork along the bottom edge in front, or along boths sides and the front, while others sported a trade cloth backing with a row of large brass sequins sewn along the edge. Oftentimes the edge of the quillwork was decorated with tin cones and small fluffs.

Step 1. Determine the length and width desired based on personal taste and your size. Then cut the imitation otter fur to one of the shapes shown in Figures A - D above, so that it will either resemble the shape of a natural otter with tail intact, or the rectangular shape shown in figure B. Figure E gives dimensions for a typical of average size. Be sure when cutting that the hair lies in the direction of the tail, just like on a real otter hide.

Step 2. Cut the red felt or active wear backing the same shape as your "hide", but slightly larger, leaving approximately 1/2" overhang all the way around. When sewing to the fur, turn this under as shown in Figure F, using a whip or overhand stitch and red thread. Leave the edges unsewn at the center for now.

Step 3. If desired, fluffs and tin cones may be prepared as shown in Figure H. These should be spaced evenly along both outside edges and the front, or bottom, edge of the otter.

Step 4. Space the mirrors evenly along both sides of the otter, preparing them by removing the metal backs, punching 2 holes in them and adding simulated sinew as shown in Figure G. Next, reassemble the mirrors and then tie them on the otter, running the sinew completely thru the fur and the felt backing, for additional support.

Step 5. Now sew the felt backing to each edge of the center cut as described in Step 2 above.

Step 6. Try the breastplate on and after determining the desired wearing position, add an 8" thong or piece of sinew running from Point A to Point B to act as a tie thong to hold the Otter in the proper position. Your Otter is ready to wear!

Otter Sash

Materials Required

1 5" X 72" Otter Hide (or imitation otter fur)
1 5" X 72" Calico or Solid Color Active Wear Material for Backing
16 Metal Backed Mirrors, 2-1/4" diameter
1 Piece of Ribbon for binding and trim
1 Buckskin Thong for lace

Step 1. Widths may vary from 3" to 4", based on personal taste or size of the dancer. After choosing a width, determine the desired length of the sash by wrapping the otter strip over one shoulder and crossing the ends at the opposite hip. See Figure 1. Cut off any excess length from the strip, or you may leave 3" to 8" for overlap if desired. Remember to stay within the boundaries of tradition.

Step 2. The method of backing and binding is shown in Figures 2 and 3. cut the calico backing the same size as the otter strip. For extra body and better appearance, you may wish to add a layer of pellon stiffener between the fur and backing. The calico, pellon (if used), and fur are stacked as shown in figure 2. Then, as shown in figure 3, lay the ribbon binding upside down along the edge of the fur and stitch it with a sewing machine, 1/4" in from the edge. Begin at a corner so the end of the ribbon will be less visible when completed, and use a continuous strip of ribbon rather than cutting it at each corner. Next, fold the ribbon around the edge of the fur and calico, and sew it in place by hand, using a blind or whip stitch as shown in Figure 4.

Step 3. After completing the basic otter sash with binding, drape it over your shoulder in the manner you intend to wear it. Overlap the ends as shown in Figure 1, leaving 3" to 6" on each end. Punch a pair of holes directly in the center of the over-lapping ends, then lace the ends together with the knot in the back.

Step 4. You are now ready to add the mirrors. If you wish to add ribbons to the sash, cut 8 strips 6" long. Fold them over and make a V-cut in the ends as shown in Figure 5. Put one of these under every other mirror and stitch the top of the ribbon through the fur and backing.

Step 5. Mirrors are typically placed 2" - 4" apart, but spacing depends to some degree on the length of your sash. there are usually no mirrors attached at or below the overlap. Space the mirrors evenly down the center of the sash, then prepare them by carefully removing the metal backs. Care should be taken not to bend the metal backing more than necessary to remove a mirror. They will be difficult to replace if the backing is deformed too much. Punch 2 holes in each back and cut 16 laces just under 3" long, and then lace as shown in Figure 6. Carefully reassemble the mirrors, and tie them to the sash, running the lace completely through the fur, ribbon, and the calico backing. Your Traditional Dancer's Otter is now ready to wear!

Variations and Finishing Touches

Otter sashes are not always worn with ribbon hanging from behind each mirror, and often no ribbons or mirrors are used at all in its construction. One modern variation has alternating quilled wheels or powwow buttons and mirrors.

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