NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art

Buckskin Leggings
Buckskin Leggings
Construction of
Buckskin Leggings

by Pete Thompson, Rick Obermeyer
and David Mott (May 1991)

in 19th Century Seminole Men`s Clothing
Rick Obermeyer ~ Editor

Buckskin was the Southeastern Indians' plastic: cheap, readily available, and throwaway. The pattern illustrated here represents its persistence in form, remaining relatively unchanged in design from 18th century Creek/Southeastern through early 20th century Seminole, having been similarly described among the Choctaw, Creek, and Cherokee. The more conservative Seminole retained use of buckskin leggings long after the others discontinued them. Moreover, continued Seminole use was reinforced by their south Florida swampy locale, where cloth leggings would not have long survived frequent wear.

Each legging requires a full skin, and a third is needed for fringe aprons, if desired. Use braintanned hides if at all possible. If using commercial hides, pale creamy white should be the first and (almost) only choice. A dark brown or rusty color is marginally acceptable, because darker Seminole leggings resulted from smoking or dyeing braintanned hides with bark dyes. Early literature sometimes reported red leggings because of the availability of red dye, or cochineal.

As a rule of thumb, if a hide is 24 by 30 inches, it is big enough. It wasn't too unusual for two hides to be spliced together to make a single legging. The generally smaller size of Florida deer could have on occasion required four hides to make two leggings.

1) Cut a pattern from heavy kraft paper. Grocery bags are great, even if you have to tape a couple together. Wrap the paper around your leg. The bottom should rest on the top of your foot; the top should come to mid-thigh, or at least 3 or more inches above your kneecap. No, 5erninole buckskin leggings don't extend nearly as high as plains Indian leggings. You might squat to make sure the leggings have room enough for a flexed thigh.

Seminole leggings should conform closely to the shape of the leg, so keep this in mind when you pin the kraft paper together around your leg. Put in a pin every inch or two, paying special attention to the ankle, knee, and thickest part of the calf.

2) Unpin the kraft paper, and open it out f1at. You'll have a big rectangle with pinholes marking two narrowing lines. Here, you have some choices to make:

How wide do you want the leggings' sideflaps to be? These can be so narrow as to be almost nonexistent, or two to three inches wide at the top and widening even more towards the bottom.

How close do you want the leggings to fit? You can maintain the formfitting outline marked by pinholes, or you can just round them off into a straight line angled from hip to ankle.

Using your pattern, mark the buckskin accordingly. Use chalk or charcoal, not pen or pencil to make your marks.

3) Cut out the buckskin. Punch pairs of holes with an awl (refer to "Moccasin" section for tips on awls and punching). The holes would he about 1/8" to 1/4" apart, and the pairs about 1-1/2" to 2" apart (see photos).

Cut out thongs. Length varies from 8" to 12", but all the thongs on a pair of leggings should be the same length.

4) Thread thongs through the holes, one thong for each pair of holes, tying the back of the leggings to the front. The loose ends hang down the front. Remember to reverse the leggings for a left one and a right one!

The Seminoles closed the leggings by tying the thongs together. If your leggings are not too tight you could leave them tied with a square knot all the time. If your leggings are close fitting, you might want to put knots in the ends of your thongs so they don't accidentally slip through the holes, and tie the thongs up whenever you put on the leggings (bow is optional). Any thongs hanging longer than the bottom of the leggings are trimmed off.

5) The suspenders are forks made from a spare piece of buckskin. each fork has two to three fingers that are 3" to 4" long. The fingers can alternate on each side or, more commonly, divide so all of a fork's fingers accommodate a single side. At least one example has a only a single fork on the legging's front, but two forks make for more comfortable wear. Each fork could be separate straps tied together, or be two parts of a single strap. The long strap is merely attached to the breechcloth belt, either with a permanent loop (illustrated) or a convenient knot (clove hitch is recommended over a square knot).

6) Mid to late 19th century Seminole buckskin leggings practically always had a fringed garter apron. The fringed area was wide enough to completely encircle the leg just above the calf and below the knee. The fringe could be 6" to 12" long. The illustrations show one-piece and two-piece construction. The apron should be cut lengthwise out of a buckskin, to be strongest along the direction of pull (see "Moccasin" section for explanation).

There are several ways the garter apron could be attached:

A) Entry holes could be put into the side flaps OUTSIDE the thong line, and the fringe apron tied inside the flaps. The loose ends hang between the sideflaps.

B) Entry holes could be put into the legging just INSIDE the thongline, and the fringe apron tied with a bow in front of the legging. The loose ends hang down among the thong ends. This method holds the legging tight without crimping the sideflaps.

C) Darry Wood explains punching a hole in an upper corner of the garter apron, and threading the thong end through the back, front, and garter apron, held tight by cutting that section as a wedge. This method is not recommended unless you have a lot of familiarity with working with buckskin.

7) Another customizing option is the sideflap edges. They were almost always left straight, but some were finely sawtoothed up to just past the knee (Historical Society of Martin County, Stuart; Historical Association of Southern Florida, Miami; Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville). There is even a late example that is sidefringed (Denver Museum of Natural History).

Construction of Cloth Leggings

Bibliographic References for Leggings

Return to the Introduction on Seminole Leggings

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing

Contributed by Rick Obermeyer E-mail:
From the book 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
© 1991-2000 Sherwood F. Obermeyer Jr., 2124 Miscindy Place, Orlando, FL 32806

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