Women of
             the
             Fur Trade

       The Two hide Dress                           

                                       

                                                        Photo by Al Theilen

   The two hide dress, or deer tail dress was the 
    prevalent style for northern Plains and Plateau tribes
    during the rendezvous period of the fur trade.  How to
    construct these dresses is one of the most frequently
    asked questions so we are offering the details here in
    order that you may avoid some of the mistakes that  
    we
have made while learning!

 


   The name "Two Hide" dress is somewhat misleading,
    because many dresses were pieced in order to get the
    size needed. They were not always made with deer
    hides either, actually big horn sheep were preferred by
    many tribes. These dresses utilized the natural shape
    of the animal with minimal tailoring. This showed
    respect for the animal and it's grace and beauty was
    thereby imparted to the wearer.


    The hides are used flesh side out, with the tail end
    folded down so the center is about 6" wide, tapering to
    only about 1" on the sleeve ends. A note of interest is
    that two different shoshone elders both told me that
    their tribe would never have done it this way because
    it shows no respect for the animal to wear its skin
    wrong side out. We have not had an opportunity to
    examine any Shoshone museum dresses, but if any of
    you have, let us know.


    We use large size leather needles as pins to hold the fold
    down in place while sewing.  The fold is laced on with a
    fine size leather thong. Be sure to make close, fine lacing
    here, about 1/4" apart. Then on the back side cut next to
    the lacing and unfold that back piece.  This gives more
    material at the top for the shoulders. When two hides were
    not large enough, a third hide was used for the yoke and
    cut to simulate the shape of the true two hide dress
    fold.  Cut the center neck about 10 to 12" and trim the
    shoulder lines evenly. 



                         



    Do this for both front and back hides, then lace the sides 
    together with another leather thong, using whip stitch. I 
    use a leather thong and running stitch at the shoulders
    since I have found that whip stitch here makes the seam
    more stiff and bulky. All seams are done with a welt sewed
    in, a narrow one at the shoulders and a 2 to 3" one on the
    sides which is cut into the side fringe. The last 6 to 7" of
    the sides are sewn with real sinew for added strength. 
   The bottom 5" is not sewn at all. Though most dresses
    were sewn with the welt, I have seen a few that were laced
    with thong a few inches in from the side and then the
    sides fringed.


    Plateau dresses had filler pieces of hide sewn into the 
    bottom to make a straighter edge there. Other tribes have
    wool plugs inserted to fill the open areas left by the
    natural shape of the hide. The open areas were
    accentuated by trimming them even more. These wool
    pieces were sewn onto a longer leather backing that was
    fringed at the bottom. Sew the top edge of the plug to the
    dress with real sinew, or tie it in with leather thongs so
    that it hangs gracefully below the arches
.

                                          



    Long thongs are often added to the skirt using about 1/2"
    squares of wool.  The bottom and sleeve edges are 
    fringed and ragged. Sometimes thongs and fringes are
    moistened and twisted, though this is seen more with 
   Southern tribes. Wool is often added at the neck with a
    leather thong whip stitched around it.


                                   Some helpful tips:
    Holes for lacing can be made with a sharp awl, or even
    faster is to hammer the hole with a nail. Cut plenty of
    thongs and taper the end to a point. Put a little hide glue
    on that tip and let it dry. Then you have a stiff tip that goes
    easily into the holes. On the dress illustration see how the
    fringe is cut at an angle so it lays pretty. Be careful with
    decoration. After you put all this effort into making a
    period correct dress you want to be sure that your
    decorating is just as correct. a separate article on
    beadwork and decoration will soon be added to this site.
    Work dresses were not decorated, and as a Woman of the
    Fur Trade you should consider this type of dress also,
    since we are all about getting out on the ground and
    actually doing all those things that women would have
   done back then.

 

 


     This sketch shows the basic shape of the two
                                     hide dress.


                             


                             


        


  



    These dresses were made of brain tanned leather and I
    strongly recommend it for authenticity, and I assure you
    that you will much happier with the finished product. If it is
    simply not possible, then at least make sure you do it with
    leather that is the color of smoked brain tan and use it
    rough side out. 
DO NOT USE CHROME ORANGE!
     


 

Chris
Upper Missouri style
 
 
 

                                                
                                                  

 
 




 

Get to work and Enjoy!
Sandy and Jill


    References:
    Carl Bodmer's America
    People of the First Man
    Book of Buckskinning Vol V.
    George Catlin [any of the books with his paintings]
    Primitive Indian Dresses by Susan Fectaeu

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