Women's Southern Plains Breastplate
by Marcia Ash (Risdon)
originally 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.


Bones 4" or 3" plastic or real shaped bone hairpipes are basic with 1˝" or others used when desired.
Beads  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.
Leather For spacers use heavy latigo or tooling leather (brush with mineral oil after cutting to size.)
String 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.
Cowrie Shells 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 length.


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.


Womens Southern Plains Breastplate - Construction


Supplies Needed for Making Breastplates
We carry all the supplies you need for this craft project. Here are some quick links:

Bone Hairpipe
Plastic Hairpipe
Leather Spacers - For cutting your own spacers
Pre-punched Breastplate Spacers
Buckskin Thong
Scrap Buckskin - For cutting your own thong
French Brass Beads
Czech Glass Crow Beads
Fire Polish Beads - AB Finish
Fire Polish Beads - Regular Finish


Last modified on April 29, 2019
Copyright © California Indian Hobbyist Association & Marcia Ash (Risdon)
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