How to Make a Warbonnet

Three Parts:Preparing the FeathersMaking the WarbonnetUsing the Warbonnet Appropriately

Warbonnets are worn by honored men of many Great Plains tribes, and are still used today in religious and cultural ceremonies. The use of warbonnets by people outside of the tribe is controversial, as many Native Americans associate this with cultural appropriation. If you are not a member of one of these tribes, consider using the warbonnet as a wall decoration instead of wearing it yourself, or at least avoid wearing it in contexts where it may cause offense.

Part 1
Preparing the Feathers

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    Acquire feathers. Traditionally, the feathers most commonly used include pheasant, grouse, turkey, and eagle feathers.[1] The right to wear these feathers, especially eagle and turkey feathers, is usually won through acts of bravery. You may prefer to use less sacred, and more commonly available, feathers available at craft stores. Long, firm feathers work best.
    • Tail feathers on different sides of the bird will curve in different directions. For the most symmetrical warbonnet, separate the feathers into left-curving and right-curving and arrange them on different sides of the bonnet.[2]
    • See the section on using a warbonnet appropriately if you are not familiar with its history.
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    Straighten the feathers (if necessary). If the feathers are bent or extremely curled, straighten them first to create an even, attractive warbonnet. Grip the feather on both ends, and move it over a hot lightbulb, flipping the feather over occasionally. Let the feather cool while holding it straight.[3]
    • Alternatively, move the feather through the steam from a kettle or clothes iron, or crimp the feather along its length with your thumbnail. Both of these methods have a higher risk of breaking the feather, so you may wish to practice on spare feathers first.[4]
    • Note that a slight bent to the left or right is desirable, as long as you have enough of each type to arrange them on opposite sides of the warbonnet.
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    Trim the feather tips and stems. Trim each feather to a rounded butter knife shape, then smooth the veins of the feather together between your fingers so there are no stray or frayed edges.[5] If the stems are broken, cut off the broken portion to make an even end.
    • If the unbroken portion of the stem is shorter than 2.5 inches (6.4 cm), insert a wooden dowel into the hollow end of the stem to make it easier to attach to the warbonnet.[6]
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    Attach a leather loop to each feather. Cut strips of stiff, thin leather about ¼" (6 mm) wide and 4¼" (10.8 cm) long. Fold each strip to make a "sandwich" over the end of a feather quill, so the bend in the leather forms a small loop beneath the quill tip, just large enough to insert a cord through. Attach the quill to the leather strip with glue, and let the glue dry before you continue.[7]
    • If you want to use traditional materials, you may attach the feather to the leather by punching a hole through the feather with an awl, and tying them with a waxed cord.[8]
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    Wrap the quills in felt. Cut red felt swatches approximately 1½" (3.8 cm) wide and 4¼" (10.8 cm) long. Wrap each swatch around the leather sheath of each quill, but leave the loop at the bottom uncovered. Tie a loop around the felt at the top and bottom of the quill stem, using strong thread, and apply a drop of glue to the knot to increase durability.[9]
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    Add a red tuft to the end of each quill (optional). In traditional Plains Indian society, red tufts were only awarded for the greatest honors, or "grand coups." If you wish to imitate this, glue a small, downy red feather onto the tip of each feather.

Part 2
Making the Warbonnet

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    Find a skullcap or headband. Sometimes called a crown, the typical base for a warbonnet is a round cap made from leather or felt. You may also use a long strip of material that can wrap around the wearer's head and be laced together.[10] If intended to be worn, rather than displayed, the cap should be cut so it fits the wearer's head, extending just above the eyebrows and halfway down the ears.
    • Traditionally, this skullcap or headband was made from buffalo or deerskin.[11]
    • You can make your own crown by curling a piece of leather or felt into a dome, cutting off the overlap, then stitching the two pieces together.[12]
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    Punch holes into the rim of the cap. Lay the feathers out along the cap or band at regular intervals. Punch holes along the rim of the cap with an awl, or cut small slits using a sharp knife. There should be two holes per feather, directly on either side of the quill stem.
    • The feathers of a warbonnet generally extend at minimum from one ear to the other, curving over the forehead. Feathers can also be worn individually or in small groups on the forehead, as a lesser status symbol.[13]
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    Sew a cord through the feather loops and cap holes. Attach the feathers to the cap by sewing a waxed leather cord through the holes on the cap, and through the feather loops, in the order you arranged them. Tie off the cord at each end with a strong knot, using glue to strengthen it if necessary.
    • You may use strong thread instead, but this is unlikely to last.
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    Add another cord (optional). Ideally, the feathers should stay straight and parallel to each other, or flared outward in a cone shape. If the feathers fall in other directions, you may punch additional holes in the cap, halfway between the dome and the rim. Sew a second cord around the quills at this location to keep them in place.[14]
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    Attach a browband (optional). Many warbonnets, but not all, have a beaded or quilled browband displayed on the wearer's forehead. You can buy ready-made browbands at some stores, or you can make your own by gluing colored beads onto a strip of felt or leather. To attach a browband, sew it on from the center outward with a leather cord or strong thread. Sew in holes no more than ½" (1¼ cm) apart.
    • Consider purchasing the browband from a Native American tribe of the Great Plains, to support the original practitioners of the tradition.
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    Add side drops (optional). Another common decoration or status symbol, the side drops are two long strips of fur, one hanging from each side of the warbonnet just above the ears. Traditionally, ermine tails were used, but long strips of white rabbit fur are more easily available. Sew them on using the same cord you used for the feathers or browband.
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    Make and attach rosettes (optional). The term "rosette" refers to any circular decoration on the side of the warbonnet. These may be made from beads, fur, or even additional feathers tied in a circular position. They are usually attached using additional leather cords, and may cover up the attachment points for the side drops.

Part 3
Using the Warbonnet Appropriately

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    Learn where the warbonnet was used. Only members of the Native American tribes in the Great Plains region traditionally wear the warbonnet. Films and tourist shows in the United States often dressed up other Native Americans or even white actors in fake warbonnet costumes, and many people now incorrectly associate it with native Americans across the New World.
    • Examples of tribes that use the warbonnet include the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree.[15]
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    Understand what the warbonnet means to its traditional wearers. In the original tribes that invented the warbonnet, only male chiefs and warriors wear them. They were, and still are, presented as a great honor and reserved mostly for formal ceremonies. Much like a military uniform, a crown, or other status symbols, people in these cultures do not make and wear warbonnets for fun, or without earning the right to wear them.
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    Consider removing the warbonnet if someone asks you to. If you are not wearing a warbonnet as part of a ceremony organized by a Great Plains tribe, many members of those tribes may not appreciate you wearing the warbonnet. Even Native Americans of other tribes may ask you to remove it, as they or their relatives may have been forced to wear it for tourism purposes, or stereotyped and bullied with references to the warbonnet. Even if you do not agree with another person's interpretation, removing the warbonnet in his presence demonstrates respect and politeness.
    • The eagle feather is sometimes considered a mark of special honor, and using one of these in a warbonnet may cause additional offense. Many tribes have additional sacred feathers, such as owl feathers, although these are not usually used in warbonnets.

Things You'll Need

  • Approximately 30 long, strong feathers (try turkey feathers or imitation eagle feathers)
  • Leather or felt skullcaps or bands
  • Strips of thin, stiff leather
  • Red felt
  • Awl or sharp knife
  • Lightbulb or source of steam
  • Waxed leather cord (at least 25 inches / 64 cm)
  • Small red feathers (optional)
  • Beaded/quilled browband (optional)
  • Rosettes (optional, see instructions)
  • Rabbit fur strips (optional)


  • This process can be quite complicated. Give yourself plenty of time and spare materials to complete this project.


  • Be aware of the fact that wearing a Native American headdress by non-natives is considered highly disrespectful or insulting by many Native Americans who reserve the symbolism of their cultural heritage for their own rituals and practices. This is particularly true of the "warbonnet," which is only worn by tribal elders after many years of worthy accomplishments.

Article Info

Categories: Historical Costumes