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Lakota Music and Dance

The Fancy Feather Swing Bustles

Fancy Feather Bustle Set - back bustle, neck bustle, arm bustles and dance whips


o Each bustle has 46 spikes. (order more spikes, because there are always some that aren't usable)
o Approximatley 4 oz of hackles per row of color per bustle (allowS for matching arm bustles and whips)
o One package of cable ties
o one bag of plastic crow beads from a hobby store
o Glue - two kinds of glues, one is called Gemtak, and you can buy it at WalMart. It sorta looks/smells like elmers, and dries clear but is a lot stronger for feather work, at the tips, and, second, is Liquid Nails, the clear stuff labeled for small projects, found at any DIY store. Use this for the quill loops, where the feathers attach at the back boards. It dries quickly and is unbeatable for its strength and durablility.
o Wooden dowels (1/4" diameter)
o Approximately 1/4 lb horse hair
o Cotton crochet thread, it comes in bright colors that can contrast with the hackles and spikes. (use the same color as the hackles on the outer rows to blend in better)

A nice pair of bustles is the distinguishing feature for a fancy dancer.

First of all, when you get your feathers (turkey spikes) you have to understand the difference between left and right wing spikes. The attached drawing shows a left wing feather on the left and a right wing feather on the right. Notice where the "fat" part of the webbing is in relation to the quill. The view of these feathers is as if you were holding them in front of you, looking at the TOP of the feather. The BOTTOM of the feather has a little groove running down the center of the quill.

After you can tell the difference between left and right wing spikes, they all have to be straightened. This is a pretty time consuming step, but it is very important to have all feathers absolutely straight before beginning.

The feathers, before straightening, have a large amount of natural curve in them. There are several methods to straightening the feathers.

Using an iron: just hold the feather flat against an ironing board and iron it on medium heat. Be careful not to scorch the feather. You may have to gently pull up on the quill to gently bend it against the heat of the iron. In some cases, where the quill is thick near the base of the feather, you may have to crimp the quill against the side of the iron by pulling up on the quill until you feel it soften and give way.

Practice on some of the roughed up feathers that you don't plan on using and you'll get the hang of it.

Another method is to bend the quill backwards over a lightbulb. 100 watt lightbulbs work well, but wear DARK sunglasses. This method makes me see spots.

Some people can just crimp the quills with their fingernails. I find ironing to be the fastest and easiest way.

The way I do it, get a thin towel, place on a hard surface. Put the iron on steam. put the feather in the middle of the towel and steam it straight. I will put it curve side up, so the weight and pressure will help straighten it. Usually I will have to take it out of the towel and curve it in the opposite direction of the curve. It works perfectly for eagle feathers or turkey.

Once you have the feathers straightened, pull off the "Fluff" at the base of the spikes. This makes for a cleaner look. Especially if you're not going to have an inner row of hackles. This also makes measuring the spikes easier in the later steps. Once you pull the fluff off the base of the spikes, they should look something like the feather on the right.

Once all of the spikes look like those above, make a template to measure and cut all of the feathers. To make a very clean looking set of bustles ALL feathers have to be cut the SAME. This attention to detail will show in the final product.

There will actually be two for the right wing spikes and one for the left wing spikes. These templates can be drawn on a wooden yard stick with a Sharpie or marked directly onto the top of a work bench. Anyway, use the templates to mark all of the feathers.

Allow 1.5 inches per row of hackles. This will give you enough room to tie and give a good separation of colors for a nice clean look. For this set of virtual bustles, let's have three rows of outside color and one row of inner color. Our web length, or amount of white webbing will be 5 inches. This set of bustles will be trimmed on the tips with surveyor's flagging tape.

The templates for this set of bustles should look like this: This is the right wing template (5 inches 1.5 inches for the 3 rows of hackles).

This would be the same template for the left wing spikes. The 5 inches for the webbing is on the right and the 1.5 inch slots for the rows of hackles are on the left.

Mark all the feathers according to the templates. For this example, this template is for the right wing spikes. Mark them with a pencil or pen along the quill as such:

Cut all of the right wing spikes based on the marks you just made. Repeat this process for the left wing spikes using the left wing template. Just cut straight in towards the quill and remove the webbing with your fingers. You'll want to round off the 5" portion of the webbing that will show. Try to make this as even and uniform as possible on all of the feathers.

The triangular pieces of webbing that are formed by making the cuts can simply be tied over, when you start tying hackles. I think this adds to the strength of the quill. Some people strip this portion of the feather down to the quill, so there is no webbing left. Others may trim a little of the webbing so that you don't tie over all of it. It's personal preference.

Please note that the tip of the feather as shown below is considered excess. The quill at the tip is just too thin and weak to support hackles.

Tie the surveyor's flagging tape (pre-cut to the desired length). A little glue and thread will do the trick. Be sure to tie it tight. I cut the flagging tape double the desired length and tie it to the quill in the center of the tape. This gives two pieces of tape per feather.

Other things that I've seen used for tip decoration is horse hair, plastic streamers from chearleaders pom-poms, strips of plastic garbage bags and mylar "icecicles" that you get at Christmas.

After the tip decoration is tied securely, the feather should look like this:

Now that all the tip decorations have been tied, you have to start tying hackles. There are several methods to do this.

1. I'm lazy. The hackles come strung. I prefer to cut about an inch or so of strung hackles and wrap them around the feather and secure with a little glue and thread. This gives what I call the Firecracker effect, where the hackles stick out everywhere. I think this is more common on Northern bustles.

2. Hackles, like the wing spikes naturally curve left and right. Some people unstring the hackles and separate the lefts and rights. Then tie the hackles on the feathers so that the hackles all lay the same way. This gives the bustles a very clean look that is common in the south. I would suggest tying NO LESS than 12 hackles per feather to make a full set.

3. Some people separate the hackles and strip off the fluff at the base of the hackle, tying just quill to quill. This is very time consuming but probably worth the effort.

4. I've found that, even with the first method, the natural wearing of the bustles and hanging the bustles when not in use will make the hackles eventually droop similar to the other methods.

Note: Almost always, the outer row of color is a bright color. Stick with something light and bright for this row. Some bustles have the first (top) four or five wing spikes decorated with a contrasting hackle color. (If flagging tape tip decoration, there may be a contrasting flagging tape color on these spikes as well)

After you tie the first row of hackles, the spikes should look like this:


Attach a very small snap swivel (like used for fishing) to the tips of the spikes before you start tying hackles. Again these can be attached by several methods. I believe the size swivel is a #14. One method would be to attach a small ring or loop to the feather and use the swivel and snap for the tape part and just clip it to the small ring. Just hide the ring far inside the hackles. I don't like to use a wire the full length of the feather, but to do the swivel trick, I would use a wire double the length of the hackle section. I would fold the wire in half and make a loop at the fold then wrap the loose ends around the quill a few times (spiriling down the quill) and tie the hackles right on top of that.

Anyway, after the bustle is made, you can "snap" in your flagging tape or ribbon. The good thing about that is, you can change it out for a different color/look or when it gets dirty. They really don't add a lot of weight. In addition, they are completely hidden by the hackles.

Weight is a pretty big issue with fancy bustles.

After all the outer row of hackles have been tied, tie the second row of hackles in the second 1.5" spot marked on the feathers.

After the second row of hackles is tied, the spikes should look something like this:

The next logical step after all the second row has been tied, is to tie the third row.

Take your time tying this row. Not only are you tying to keep the hackles on, but this will be very visible. So tie very neatly and cover up all of the base of the hackle with the crochet thread.

A lot of people use a contrasting color thread here. It adds to the look and flash of the bustles.

When done, they should look like this:


when you are measuring your lines on your spikes you will want to make sure you start measuring from the edge of the webbing that is closest to the bird. Do not start measuring from the tip of the spike as the quill is thinnest there and will undoubtedly lead to broken tips. I shoot for the tip of the quill to be right around 3/16ths of an inch in diameter whenever possible. If its much smaller than that throw it out and get more spikes. Spikes are cheap and flimsy ones that break after the bustles are done are a real pain to repair.

After I tie the first row of hackles, I don't trim the ends of the crochet thread close. Instead, I tie the second row of hackles over the thread ends from the first row. I then tie the third row of hackles over the excess thread ends from the first and second rows. After the third row has been tied and the ends trimmed close, I then trim the threads from the first and second rows so they don't show. I just cut them with an exacto knife.

That way, there is thread running through the entire tip of the spike. Depending on where the tip broke, it would probably just dangle due to the thread.

I have also known people to put a short length (using your template example above, it would be 4.5 inches) of a pipe cleaner along the tip of the spike for the same purpose. The fuzzies on the pipe cleaner keep it from pulling out as easily as a thread may.

At this point, all outside rows of hackles have been tied. Some people will go ahead and tie the inner row of hackles in the next step.

I prefer to go ahead and extend the quills here. The extended quill gives me more to hold on to while tying the inner row of hackles.

Extending the quills is fairly simple. Most people use wooden dowel rods.

You will see now, the importance of pulling the fluff off of the base of the spike. This makes it ALOT easier to measure for the extensions.

I start by cutting off the quill approximately 1.5 inches below the start of the webbing. If you have enough quill on all of your feathers to cut 2.0 inches below the webbing, you may choose to do that.

You will notice that some of the feathers have a white pith in the quill. This can be removed with a drill. Just be careful not to drill through the side of the quill.

Buy dowel rods that most closely match the diameter of the quills. However, stick with one size dowel. Don't mix sizes. Remember, weight is an issue, so consider that when buying dowels. 1/4" is usually a good size.

Simply sharpen one end of the dowel rod and insert it into the hollow quill. I've found that Elmer's Wood Glue works really well here. It makes an extremely strong bond with the wood and the quill of the feather. Wipe of the excess glue when it oozes out.

After it dries, measure down from the BASE OF THE WEBBING and cut the dowel at the desired length. For this set of bustles, the extensions would probably be 4" to 6" depending on the size of the dancer.

If you cut the dowels before you insert them into the quills, they may not all end up the same length. This is because some dowels go further into the quill than others.

It is ok...... in fact it's pretty much unavoidable that some of the quills will split when you insert the dowel rod. This is fine. If you know that the quill is too small, sometimes I'll split the end of the quill in a couple of places with an exacto knife before I insert the dowel. This way, the quill kind of wraps itself around the dowel.

If it splits, simply wipe off the excess and tie it tight with string until the glue dries or maybe wrap it with tape to ensure a good bond. This string or tape can be removed once the glue dries.

Once the dowel is inserted and glued into the quill, it should be cut off to the desired length as mentioned earlier. Attached is a drawing of an extended feather. Notice the small crack in the quill.

After all of the quills have been extended with the dowels, you have to put "loops" on the ends of all the dowels so that you can string the primary lace.

There are several different materials to do this. I like strong leather the best. I have also used plastic cable ties that you can get from any hardware store.

I've never used it, but I've seen it used, and it looks like it works well are the thin nylon straps that are used to bundle newspapers, cardboard and other stuff like that.

For this example, lets go with the leather. I cut leather strips 1/4" wide and approximately 1.25" long. Use a little glue and tie them on the dowel as shown in the drawing.

The direction you tie them is VERY IMPORTANT. Looking at side of the feather (with the webbing pointing straight to you) you should be able to see light through the loop at the end of the extension.

This is a picture of the leather loop looking from the top of the feather. Notice, you can't see through the loop.

I used nylon cable ties that I got from Home Depot. They come in all different colors. I bought ties to match the color of the bustles.

One trick that I did when attaching the loops.... I slightly flattened the end of the dowel (approximately 1" of it) in a vice. I did not tighten down on it too much, just enough to press flat surfaces on the top and bottom of the dowel.

These flat surfaces gave me a better surface on which to glue the nylon cable tie. A little Elmers Glue and wrap neatly with matching color crochet thread. Tie the ends of the thread securely and smear a thin layer of glue over the thread wrappings.

The final step was the quill wrappings. I used yarn. I find that it's really easy to work with and less time consuming than crochet thread. Plus, it's cheap and you can find it in all sorts of colors.

After all the quill wrappings were done, I strung them using plastic beads as spacers. I used a heavy shoelace for the primary laces and nylon "mason's twine" for the secondary lace.

There are two laces that hold the bustles together. The Primary lace is strung through the loops at the base of the feathers. There is no space between the feathers here. This lace ties the feathers to the bustle base at two points.... basically like the top of a horseshoe.

The secondary lace is the lace that spreads the feathers. I've seen it done two ways. One, the lace is threaded through holes drilled in the dowel rods. The other, the lace is threaded through holes drilled or punched through the quill of the feather. Believe it or not, I think that going through the feather is stronger than going through the dowel rod. Most of the time, the feathers are spread evenly by spacing them with beads on the secondary lace.

The secondary lace ties directly to the uprights on the bustle base.

To make the bustles have a nice cone shape, string the feathers together and lay flat on a table or the floor. When all the feathers have been strung together, and without the bustle being mounted on the base, you want the top left spike to be between 9:00 and 10:00 on a clock face. You want the top right spike to be between 3:00 and 2:00.

Then, when you mount the bustles to the base and tie the secondary lace to the uprights, it will pull the bustle into a nice cone shape.

If you can imagine the clock face again.... If the top spikes go past the 10:00 and 2:00 positions on the clock, then they probably lay too flat when mounted. (Then they rub together, collapse and all kinds of nasty stuff)

Just reduce the number of beads between the feathers or actually reduce the total number of feathers used to get the desired shape. It's all trial and error.

To get the nice cone shape so that the bustle doesn't lay flat... string the feathers (secondary lace) putting two crow beads between each feather. Work start at the bottom, in the middle of the bustle, and work your way up either side from there. String the bustle until the top spikes are at approximately 9:00 and 3:00 as if looking at a clock. Don't go too much beyond 9:00 and 3:00. DEFINITELY not beyond 10:00 and 2:00.

If the bustle is at the 9:00 and 3:00 position when laying flat on a table or floor, then when mounted to the base, the secondary lace will pull it into a nice, neat cone.

Don't be dead set on using all the feathers. You may need to add some or remove some to get the 9:00 and 3:00 position right. If you have to leave some off, save them as extras for when and if you break a spike.


For starters, the best material to use is plexiglass, 1/4 inch thick. Its not indestructable but its a good start. Make the shape like a trapaziod, a square larger on the top edge and smaller on the bottom edge, make two of these, one for each bustle, about 7 inches tall and 6 inches wide at the top and 5 inches at the bottom. For the neck bustle base, make a hole in each corner, about 3/4 of an inch big enough for silk scarves to tie on, these you will tie around your neck, shoulders or whatever. For the back bustle, you can either use a belt or I like to use leather ties, they are easy to replace if they break. Use 1/4 inch holes for these and all other holes. You have to figure how you keep the bustles upright, I use 1/4 inch steel dowel, bent into a "W" shape.

Coathanger wire really isn't strong enough. I use thin steel rod that I get from Home Depot. Either that, or, I have found some HEAVY duty coathangers from Target. They work pretty well when straightened. But, regular coathanger wire won't work. I wouldn't think dowels would work either since they can't be bent.

I bend the wire into a "W" shape and lace it onto the back of the base with a thin shoelace. I bend the wire into the "W" shape and trace it onto the back of the base with a pencil. Drill several small holes along the tracing and then lace the wire on in that fashion. Gently bend the uprights into the desired position and, using a pair of vice-grips and needle nose pliers, bend the top of the uprights into a little ring. This is where you'll tie the secondary lace.

If the bustle lays at the 9:00 and 3:00 position when unmounted, then mount the bustle to the base. Tie the secondary lace to the uprights, and THEN, finish bending the uprights to the desired position so that the ends of the quills (primary lace) lies flat against the base.

Remember, each set of bases is made to fit a particular set of bustles.

Attaching the bustles to the bases. The primary string (the string that goes through the loops on the ends of the quills) is strung through two holes in the base. These holes are drilled just above the center of the base and are far enough apart that the ends of the feathers at the center forms a nice horseshoe. The shoelace is just tied in the back of the base. The secondary laces are tied to the uprights. The uprights should be just long enough so that the secondary lace comes out of the top feathers and directly to the tip of the upright. This secondary lace should not have to stretch up or down to tie, as that puts too much stress on the top feathers.

With the bustle now mounted in this fashion, two holes should be drilled in the center of the "horseshoe" formed by the primary lace. This is where the rosette or the centerpiece will tie. The centerpiece not only looks good, but its function is to keep the bustle from collapsing in on itself. Some dancers tie the bustle to the baseboard at the bottom and maybe the sides of the horseshoe also for more stability. I've found that with mine, with the rosettes pulled tight, I don't have too.

You can also use a "donut", here's a pic. It is a circular piece that is sandwiched between the rosette and the backboard. I use a two hole tying method, I think most others use three, two works with a good rosette.

The donut helps by shaping the bustle as well as helping the rosette to hold the bustle.

The donut in this pic is a roll of blue electrical tape.

And I never take the rosette/donut off the backboard.

Your bustle is now ready to wear!

Fancy Dancer Arm Bustles

Fancy arm bustles can be made in a number of ways and variations. This instruction is a simple way to make small to medium sized bustles quickly.

The basse material can be either heavy strap leather or 1/4" plywood or 3/16" paneling. Cut out two round discs, 4 inches in diameter (Disc A). Drill two holes in the center for the main tying thongs. Drill a circle of small holes about 3/4 " in from the outside edge, and each being about 1/4" to 3/8" apart. See Figure 1.

Cut out two more round discs, 2 inches in diameter (Disc B). Also drill two holes in the center for the main tying thongs. See Figure 2.

The outside row is hackle feathers; the ones left over from constructing your back and neck bustles.If you use strung hackles, leave them strung and just untwist the string of feathers until they are all facing the same way. If you have loose hackles, you will have to glue each feather individually , and it will take longer.

Start with Disc A's. Begin by spreading Elmer's glue on one half of the disc, covering about 1 inch in from the outside edge. Cover heavily. While still wet, embed the strung hackles into the glue, covering the small holes, as in Figure 3. The feathers should have the natural curve bending up towards you. After this half has set in the glue, coat the remainder and complete the circle with the feathers. Let dry, and again firmly press the feathers into the glue.

Using a darning needle with a length of simulated sinew, sew this row of feathers in place around the disc by using the row of small holes. See Figure 4 for the idea on the best stitching.

Take Disc B's and thread leather thongs through the center holes as in Figure 5. Using fluffs for this row, trim them from the bottom to about 2-1/2 inches in length.

Spread glue heavily on the top surface of a Disc B. While wet, place the fluffs evenly, and commpactly around the disc, bases to the center. Figure 6. Let dry and firmly press the fluff bases down.

The very centers of Disc B's now need to be covered. It looks best is you use beaded rosettes that match your back and neck bustles. Coat the backs of these centers with glue and let dry util tacky. Spread a thin coat of glue in the center of Disc B, covering again the bases of the fluffs. Let dry until tacky. Contact the two pieces together firmly until dry.

Trim the outside edges of fluffs of Disc B with scissors until a nicely round shape takes place. You want this row of fluffs to cover the sewing and bases of the feathers of Disc A, so judge the length of fluff you will need.

Thred the tying thongs in Disc B through the center hholes in Disc A. Hang upsid down so the hackles take shape. When all of the glue is dry, your bustles are ready to wear.

If you want to have two rows of hackles in the bustles, increase the size of Disc A to 5 inches and make two rows of small holes about 1/2" apart. Follow the same procedures for the second row of hackles before butting Disc B on to Disc A.

Fancy Dancer Whip Sticks

Male Fancy Dancers commonly carry a pair of these as dance sticks, but recently some Grass Dancers are using them as well. The project we are showing here uses some modern materials, but other decorating techniques can be added to the project as special additions.

Materials needed:

2 - 10 inch long 1⁄2 inch diameter wood dowel
8 - French style solid metal beads
1 - Roll of electrical tape
2 - Packs of 1⁄4 ounce hackle feathers
2 - Soft leather thong, about 42 inches each
2 - 2 x 2 1/2 inch leather squares to match thongs
1 - Bobbin of simulated sinew (at least 5 yards)
1 - Bottle of Tacky craft glue.

The step by step process is shown in the pictures from 1 to 12. Start by cutting the soft leather thongs in half making four pieces about 20+ inches long. Divide the hackles up into four equal piles for each color. Repeat the following instructions to create two wands on each of the sticks.

(1) Cut a pointed end on each end of the leather thongs. Thread one through the hole on one end of a stick and pull to the center of the thong.

(2) Tie the thongs into a knot to hold them in place.

(3) Thread two of the heavy metal French beads onto each of the thong ends. For the next steps, complete each thong as follows:

(4) Place a bead of Tacky glue on the last 1 inch of the thong. Lay it in the center of the first color of hackle feathers.

(5) Gather the hackles around the glue with the thong in the center. Using about 12 inches of simulated sinew. Wrap around the base of the hackles covering about 1⁄2 inch of the base and tie a tight knot.

(6) About 1-1⁄2 inches up the thong, glue about a 3⁄4 inch length with Tacky glue. Place in the second color of hackle as shown and wrap the hackle bases around the thong. Again using simulated sinew, wrap and tie the base of the hackles in place.

(7) Cover this wrapping area with electrical tape. Use about a 2 inch length of tape. Complete all four hackle bundles the same way.

(8) Wrap the stick with electrical tape as shown.

(9) Thread the remaining thongs through the other end of the stick and tie a knot.

(10) Cut fringe on the top and bottom side of the leather squares.

(11) Smear Tacky glue on the underside of the uncut square. Wrap the leather decoration around the top side of the stick as shown. You can either wrap bead this leather piece or

(12) cut a 3 inch length of tape and wrap around the center of the decoration as shown.

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