NativeTech: Native American Technology & Art

Instructions for Native American Style Duck Decoys


How to Make a Decoy Using Cattails:


The decoy's Head:

1. Use soaked, previously dried cattail leaves. To begin making the decoy's head, cut about 25 in. from the base of 3 or 4 leaf stalks (10-15 individual leaves). Putting them together they should make a short bundle about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

2. Using string, twine, or raffia, begin tightly wrapping up, starting about 12 inches from the top of the bundled stalks. Starting your lashing roughly in the middle of the bundle, wrap over the beginning of the string. (When your done you will have a foot long 'tail' of loose untied leaves hanging from your neck. These ends will later be incorporated into the bottom of the decoy's body.)

3. Bend the bundle of cattails to an angle of 90-120o, wrap the string around the bend, in a figure-eight, to hold the angle of the cattails. Tie the string temporarily.

4. Using 1/3 of the leaves from the 'beak', fold them over the binding to fill out the back of the head. Hold the cattails in place with your hand for now.

5. Use another 1/3 of the cattail leaves to fill out the 'beak', fold the leaves in half and tuck them under the leaves for the forehead. Using the string, wrap around the folded-over leaves of the head and forehead and tie off the string.

6. Use a single full-length cattail leaf and begin wrapping the beak, starting at its tip. Wrap over the beginning end of the cattail and keep wrapping fairly tight. Wrapping a single leaf should cover up to the forehead of the decoy's head. Tuck the finishing end under the lashings, or under the previous wraps of the cattail.

7. Starting just below the chin, use another single leaf and wrap up towards and then over the forehead of the decoy. When the top of the head is covered in wrapping, make a figure-eight with the cattail leaf and begin wrapping down the neck, picking up where you left off.

8. Finish wrapping the neck, about 6 or seven inches from the top of the head, leaving a foot long tail of loose cattail leaves. Secure the last wrapping leaf by tucking the end under the previous wrap of the cattail.


The decoy's Body:

1. Cut a large handful of individual cattail leaves to 24 inch lengths (a bundle about 2 1/2 inches in diameter).

2. Using a single leaf, wrap around a six inch section in middle of the bundle. Use another leaf, wrapping over your end, if you run short with just one leaf. Gently bend the whole bundle cattails in half, so they form a U-shape, around the previously-wrapped neck of the decoy.

3. The ends of the cattails should roughly come together at the end opposite the head. Bend the loose leaves at the base of the decoy's head at a right angle along the underside of the body bundle.

4. First, tie a temporary lashing around the loose ends of the cattails (as in "A"). Use a large needle and string to sew through and around the cattails just behind the neck . Sew in a double figure-eight pattern (as in "B", following numbers 1 to 6), sew lashing around twice if necessary .

5. If the decoy appears to need more 'body', stuff cattail scraps inside the bundled cattails, into the center of the decoy body behind the neck (as in "A"). Sew through and around the center of the decoy body in a figure-eight pattern (as in "B", following numbers 1 to 3). Cut the temporary lashing at the tail of the decoy (as in "C").

6. Sew through and around the tail (as above in 4 "B", following numbers 1 to 6). Trim the tail to shape.


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1994 - Tara Prindle