I have always wanted to be able to wear buckskin clothing. Buckskin is soft and fluffy, but also very durable. Buckskins have been worn as clothes and made into bags, shoes, and so much more for millennia. This dress is a very straight forward design, only requiring two deer hides (in fact, the dress is only two pieces). Luckily my hides were just big enough to get a dress out of. I was definitely on the edge of not having a large enough set of hides. Unless you have really big hides, any dress that will be larger than a size 8-10 would probably need at least one more hide (but more on that in the next step). All seams are laced together with buckskin lacing.
I began with a dress. For a pattern, I used a fabric dress that I had made from an old scarf. Around the edges on the sides, I left about an inch for seam allowance. I left the necklines very high and cut them down to shape later. Something to remember when sewing buckskin is that there’s no need to leave a hem allowance because the edge won’t fray like fabric, although binding the edge can be a very nice touch. To cut the hides, I used a very sharp scissors that I keep for cutting fabric and leather.
Cutting and sewing buckskin is not like cutting and sewing fabric. Buckskin is very three dimensional and varies in thickness. This is all very important to keep in mind when cutting because if you cut your pieces out of the edges of a hide where it’s wavy and thin it will result in a final garment that is not as strong as it should be, is difficult to sew because of the thickness, and will not lay smoothly on the body. It is worth not squeezing every possible inch out of the hide and just using the good thick consistent part.
The sides of this dress are laced. Lace is made but cutting a thin piece off an edge of a hide. In simple terms, lace is leather string. I used an awl to punch holes along the side of the dress and threaded the lace through. It’s just like sewing fabric, but on a much larger scale.
To check the fit, I tried the dress on, cutting a slit in the neck line to fit my head through. I discover that the dress needed a dart in the front and the back on the arm holes because there was a loose wrinkle as the shoulders curve into the arms. I also cut the neck to shape. The lower edges that I had left rough at the bottom, I cut smooth. The back laces, to shape the back without making darts, are threaded though the side lacing. I considered darting the back to fit the curve of the lower back, but then the waist would have been too small for my shoulders to get through without adding an opening and buttons.
“Buckskin is more than just a beautiful leather and an amazing clothing material, it is also part of the evolutionary history of the human species.” –Woniya Thibeault Buckskin Revolution