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    CRAFTWORK TECHNIQUES Of The Native Americans Learn from these examples, while creating beautiful Native American objects. This important addition to your library features 316 photos & 23 detailed illustrations, both in color & contained in 108 pages.
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Powder Paint Preperation & Application Tips


© 2005 Crazy Crow Trading Post Revised 3/8/06

Powder Paint Preperation & Application Tips

There are several steps in using powder paints/earth pigments to paint rawhide:

  • Paint & Sizing Preparation
  • Making Brushes
  • Painting the hide
  • Application of Fixative (Sizing)

Paint & Sizing Preparation

Powdered paint pigments were made from a variety of crushed native rocks and mineral deposits and were used from the earliest times for painting rawhide and buckskin. They also were stocked regularly in many early trading posts. Buckskin was often painted by merely rubbing in dry powder, but, for rawhide, powdered pigment was usually combined with hide glue for sizing. This solution can also be used to paint tanned hides, but a somewhat thinner solution should be used. (See solution mixing below.

Listed below are the paint supplies that are required:

  • Powdered paint or earth pigment
  • Fixative/Sizing
    • The painting instructions below refer to the use of either powdered or liquid hide glue.
    • A good substitute for powdered hide glue is Knox gelatin, found at most supermarkets. Knox gelatin is purified hide glue.
    • Another traditional sizing is prickly pear cactus juice
  • Bone or wooden "paintbrushes" or very stiff artist's brushes
  • Several small containers for mixing paint and sizing

Before mixing paint with fixative, the earth pigment should be ground to a very fine powder, then sifted through a fine sieve to remove any noticeable particles. When making the paint solution, do not make very much at one time. A little paint goes a long way, and it is best to experiment at first until learning what works best. Different colors can be mixed together in order to obtain the exact shade desired. For example, a little black mixed with red will make the characteristic dark brown used for outlines, while a little yellow mixed with blue makes green. Sometimes, a drop of black can be added to the green for a slightly different shade, etc.

NOTE: A common misconception is that the painting on parfleches should have a watery, washed-out look. This comes from observing museum specimens whose colors have faded over time. While the paint should not be "electric", it should be reasonably saturated and bright.

Sizing Consistency -
For painting tanned buckskin, the sizing solution should not be sticky but also should not feel quite like plain water, being only very slightly sticky when felt with the fingers. This will help keep the design properly dull, as a shiny, modern-paint look is to be avoided.

A bit heavier glue solution is preferred when painting rawhide pieces, thus giving the paint more of the characteristic shine. Experiment with different consistencies on scrap rawhide until you find your preference. A good place to start is with a solution that gives a little bit of sticky tension to your skin as you try to separate your fingers.

Make up some liquid sizing by adding a small amount of liquid or powdered hide glue to warm water. Experiment until you've added enough hide glue to make the mixture just a little syrupy, then thin this mixture with a little more warm water until watery, not syrupy. Then, in a separate container, mix 1 part powdered pigment paint with 2 parts of this liquid hide glue and one part 100% clear aloe vera gel (available in stores under "skin care products").

Test this mixture on a dampened piece of your parfleche. If it sits on top of the rawhide and doesn't soak in, then thin the mixture with aloe and more of the watery glue solution. If it soaks in and bleeds, then thicken the mixture with more powder paint. The ideal paint mixture will soak into the rawhide with no bleeding. The same holds true for painting tanned hides. The solution should not sit on top of the leather, but should also not bleed after it soaks in.

Brushes -

Handmade Knife Sheath - Parfleche Knife Sheath Kit

Earth pigment paint was traditionally applied by a piece of bone fashioned into a "brush" (figure 2). An alternative to bone was a wood stylus. Both are easy to make, but the bone holds more paint. The bone "brush" is actually a stylus made from a very porous section of bone. The end joints of long bones or pieces of rib are ideal. Use a saw to cut off sections from thoroughly cleaned bones. Cook greasy bones for a short time in very hot water to remove the fat. (Do not boil.) Use a belt sander or large file to make a beveled end on the most porous part of the bone. This end may be ½" to 1" wide and should be 1/16" to 1/8" thick. (These dimensions are not critical.) Make at least one brush with a very thin edge to be used for design outlining.

A wood brush is also simple to make. Cut a wooden dowel, such as a 6" long piece of dried, cured tree branch, about 3/8" - ½" in diameter. Willow is easy to find and works well. Remove the bark from the stick. Cut a long bevel (approximately 30 degrees) on the larger end of the stick. This is your finished brush. Since this "brush" is not especially porous, it will hold much less paint than the bone brush, and thereby requires frequent dipping.

Painting the Hide -
You can paint the hide while it is still on the frame, but it must be lightly hydrated. If a hide is not stretched, then parfleches will warp if painted while wet, then allowed to dry. The trick is to stretch the wet hide, let it partially dry, paint it, then allow it to completely dry. Details are as follows:

For the large, flat folded parfleches, first, remove the dried hide from the stretching frame and cut out the hide in the general outline of the parfleche but with extra hide around all edges. Partially rehydrate the hide by dipping it in a tub. When fairly wet - but not soaked - stake out or re-stretch the hide in a frame. When it is almost dry (just barely damp), paint it (as below), then allow it to dry. Once completely dry, unstake the hide and cut out the exact shape of the parfleche.

For smaller parfleche articles, cut out a piece of rawhide larger in all dimensions than the expected finished product. Nail it to a piece of 3/4" plywood to hold it in place while painting but stretch it only very slightly. This will also keep it from warping when it dries.

Paint is to be applied to the flesh side. If the area to be painted has dried out, it should be slightly dampened with a sponge or cloth. If it is very wet, the paint will bleed.

Handmade Knife Sheath - Parfleche Knife Sheath Kit

Painting should be done with a very stiff brush, wooden stick or bone brush in order to get the proper effect, and the paint should be rubbed into the hide during its application. Some old pieces actually have an incised appearance from this procedure. Note that, in old parfleches, the different paint colors do not touch. In a triangle design, for example, the outline of the triangle is first painted. Then the fill color is added to the inside of the triangle, but the fill color only comes close to - but does not touch -the triangle outline (figure 3). This prevents color bleeding.

Fixative Application -
The use of "sizing" (also called fixative) is the same as applying a thin, clear varnish over a finished modern painting on canvas. Sizing should be applied while the parfleche is still tacked out or stretched.

When the entire parfleche has been painted, the next step also requires a damp surface. For a small parfleche, the surface may still be damp. But if the entire piece or any part of it has dried, it should be lightly rehydrated. Take a damp (not wet) rag or old towel and lay it over the hide. Do NOT rub the rag into the hide but, rather, lay it down gently over the painted area. Allow the hide to absorb some of the moisture for just a few minutes. The idea is to make the hide damp but not so wet that the paint will smear.

When damp, the surface should be gently coated with a light layer of thinned hide glue, aloe vera gel, or prickly pear juice. The sizing solution should be a little thicker than the paint and hide mixture described above, but it should still be thin enough so that if flows on very easily. Practice on a piece of scrap rawhide until you get a satisfactory solution mixture. (Note: The hide glue, when dried, may produce a yellowish cast on the finished hide.) Use long, gentle strokes, and do not go back over your work (to avoid smearing the paint).

Allow to dry. If you deem it necessary, a second coat of fixative can be applied over the first. The hide does not have to be re-dampened for this second coat. But, again, use long strokes and do not go back over the work.

Instead of using hide glue fixative, painted parfleche may be coated with a dull finish spray varnish or artist's fixative. This works quite well in humid parts of the country where traditional sizings can remain tacky for some time after application. Although the use of commercial products is not traditional, it does give satisfactory results.

NOTE: Some parfleche makers actually coat the entire parfleche surface with fixative BEFORE they apply the painted designs, then apply another coat of fixative over the design. You may wish to experiment with this variation in technique to see if you prefer the final "look" of the design work.

Completing the Parfleche-
After the rawhide thoroughly dries, remove the tacks holding it to the board and cut out the finished shape. Rawhide can be cut with tin snips, heavy leather shears, or even a hand-held electric jigsaw.

Holes will be required for lacing up sides or tying a flap cover in place. Ideally, holes should be burned. Small, commercial soldering irons with pointed tips work well for this and are available in hobby shops or hardware stores. Or you may prefer to use a large, heated nail held with a pair of pliers or vise grips. Burning the hole seals the hole edges and helps prevent lacing from tearing the hole. Small holes created with an unheated awl can be used for sinew-sewing the sides of an envelope.

Make all the holes, then attach the laces. Your parfleche is now finished and ready for use.

Additional Resources -
Just as there are many tanning techniques among Native Americans, there is an almost endless number of "tricks of the trade" for making and painting parfleches. The information above will help get you started, but we also recommend that you experiment on your own, talk to others who do parfleche work, and seek out written resources such as the following:

The American Indian Parfleche: A Tradition of Abstract Painting by Gaylord Torrence, Univeristy of Washington Press in association with the Des Moines Art Center. 1994. ISBN 0-205-07333-1.

Indian Rawhide: An American Folk Art by Mable Morrow, reprinted by Crazy Crow Trading Post.

Crazy Crow Trading Post

Powder Paint Preparation & Application Products

The following items are used in the above-article, or may provide added reference and helpful information.

Click the product link for product detail, quantity price breaks & a larger image.

Feather Preparation Products
Stiff enough for drums, parfleches, etc. This commercial product is a perfect substitute for Indian cured rawhide (except moccasin soles). Code: 1709-050-800   Price: 90.00
Feather Preparation Products
Stiff enough for drums, parfleches, etc. This commercial product is a perfect substitute for Indian cured rawhide (except moccasin soles). Code: 1709-100-800   Price: 169.00
Feather Preparation Products
We are extremely pleased to bring you these hard-to-find rawhides in traditional materials! Deer rawhides (avg. 10-12 SF) are fairly light in weight and better for smaller projects such as quillwork, smaller hand drums, etc. The elk (avg. 20-22 SF) is larger and better suited for larger drums and parfleches, while the buffalo (avg. 28-30 SF) is considerably larger and much heavier and darker in color than the elk and deer. Code: 1712-100-800   Price: 249.00
Feather Preparation Products
We are extremely pleased to bring you these hard-to-find rawhides in traditional materials! Deer rawhides (avg. 10-12 SF) are fairly light in weight and better for smaller projects such as quillwork, smaller hand drums, etc. The elk (avg. 20-22 SF) is larger and better suited for larger drums and parfleches, while the buffalo (avg. 28-30 SF) is considerably larger and much heavier and darker in color than the elk and deer. Code: 1713-100-800   Price: 399.00
Feather Preparation Products
Thick, white 16 diameter rawhide to make your own shield. Pre-cut circles, all you do is add the finishing touches. Code: 1725-001-026   Price: 35.00
Feather Preparation Products

An informative video on the preparation of rawhide and the making of parfleches and other containers. Beginning with the preparation of the hide by fleshing, de-hairing & drying, it explains the steps involved in lay out, painting, cutting and finishing a parfleche. Based on Bill & Kathy Brewer's extensive experience in preparing and using rawhide, this interesting discussion details the methods, tools and materials they have used over the years, along with tips, tricks and do's and don'ts. 56 minutes.

The Indian Lore Seminar series features recorded seminars from some of the masters of Indian crafts. Neither edited nor condensed each presentation gives you the full experience of being there and learning with the participants.

Selected for quality, content and authenticity they will help you learn all about Native American & Buckskinning craft techniques, outfits, dance styles and much more. To help you improve your skills and knowledge, nothing is better than observing and learning first hand from an master craftsperson in the field, sharing the tips & techniques gained over many years of experience.

Code: 4085-007-005   Price: 19.95
Feather Preparation Products

Mable Morrow- First published in 1975 and last available in 1993, until reprinted by Crazy Crow Trading Post, this definitive study has long been the primary resource on the unique American Indian art form of rawhide parfleche production. "Indian Rawhide: An American Folk Art" includes detailed discussions on methods of preparation, tool usage and tribal decorations and is essential for anyone interested in collecting or reproducing rawhide containers. Of special interest is a chart of parfleche design characteristics, so that articles can be identified according to tribe or area. Includes 55 photographs, 80 color pattern designs and 74 line drawings. 256 pages. SC.

2 Book Overstock Special: SAVE 40%

Regular Price: $49.45 - COMBO SALE PRICE: $30.00 - SAVE $19.45! Use item #4101-001-999 to get combo price.

Someone forgot to tell the printer to turn the press off (seems that way)! We have an overstock of these titles (Indian Rawhide: An American Folk Art by Mable Morrow and Costumes of the Plains Indian by Clark Wissler), and offer great savings on these titles. SAVE 40 PERCENT when you buy both books together! Code: 4107-005-900   Price: 29.50

Feather Preparation Products

Indians and frontiersmen alike often made sheaths from parfleche, the specially prepared rawhide perfected by Indians.

Basic Parfleche Knife Sheath Kit Includes:

  • heavily illustrated instructions and designs
  • pre-cut sheath blank
  • red and blue wool binding
  • leather lace
  • old-style low dome brass tacks
  • old-style brass beads
  • lacing needle
  • powdered hide glue

Deluxe Parfleche Knife Sheath Kit Includes:

Deluxe Kit contains all of the above, PLUS Earth Pigment Kit (red, blue, yellow, & black powder paints, powdered hide glue, wooden "paint brushes"

Code: 4860-012   Price: 14.50
Feather Preparation Products

Makes a thick, white rawhide shield 16 in diameter.

Shield Kitincludes:

  • 1 round piece of thick rawhide
  • 1 piece red felt 3 x 72
  • 12 imitation eagle feathers 12-14
  • 1 leather thong
  • 1 bobbin thread
  • illustrated instructions
Code: 4832-001-001   Price: 49.00
Feather Preparation Products
For an authentic age-old adhesive, try our powdered hide glue. Simply mix with water for arrow hafting, sinew backing of bows and parfleche sizing. Use with powdered paint mix as a fixative. Join wood or repair cracks. The list is endless. Liquid hide glue has a shelf life within which it must be used, but the powder version will last indefinitely. Code: 4953-044-004   Price: 1.50
Feather Preparation Products
A traditional adhesive in a modern-day convenient form. Helpful in many craft applications including sinew backing of bows, arrow making & flint knife construction. Sold in 4 oz. ready-to-use bottles. Code: 4953-041-016   Price: 6.95
Feather Preparation Products

This natural earth paint can be used to color everything from parfleches to articles of buckskin clothing. Simply rub dry powder into buckskin or mix with water and paint on other items. It also doubles as a safe, non-toxic face paint when mixed with mineral oil.

For more information, see Powder Paint Preperation & Application Tips

Order Instructions:

  • You may select assorted colors for the quantity discount.
  • Select the color desired. .
  • To order multiple colors, use the "continue shopping" button to return and enter another selection..
Code: 6506-001   Price: 3.50

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Warriors Of The Plains: Native American Regalia & Crafts By M.S. Tucker and Joe W. Rosenthal, Published by Crazy Crow Trading Post
Warriors Of The Plains: Native American Regalia & Crafts By M.S. Tucker and Joe W. Rosenthal represents years of research efforts. We offer a preview of several pages to show the quality of the construction detail, historical images, contemporary photos and illustrations of the many dance outfits presented.
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The Plains Warbonnet: Its Story and Construction - by Barry Hardin, Published by Crazy Crow Trading Post
The Plains Warbonnet: Its Story and Construction by Barry Hardin has been in the works for years, and is the result research and contributions from many fine craftspersons. Preview several pages to show the quality of the construction detail, historical images, as well as contemporary photos.
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