Knife Sheaths

American Indian wearing a neck knife in a sheath

Knife Sheaths
Description and Definition of Knife Sheaths: A sheath is a protective covering for a knife. The Knife were one of the most important weapons that were carried everywhere by the Native American Indian.


They were held in knife sheaths and generally worn in a sheath around their neck as the above picture shows, or around their waist either sheathed in a knife belt or tucked into clothing. Knives and daggers came in all shapes and sizes, such as the throwing knife, scalping knife, as did the sheaths that held them.

Knife Sheaths
Many knife sheaths were elaborately decorated by intricate quillwork and beadwork. The knife sheaths might also be painted and adorned with feathers or brass studs. The designs on knife sheaths included traditional Native American designs used by specific tribes or symbolic designs, for more information refer to Native American Symbols, the designs on knife sheaths might also be personalized to the wearer or reflect the symbols associated with his clan.

Making Knife Sheaths - Materials used to make the Knife Sheaths
Knife sheaths were made by using a combination of raw materials but the basic sheath was made from hides or leather. Tanned hides, rawhide or buckskin was the most common types of leather used to make sheaths for knives.

  • Tanned hides: Tanning is the process of treating skins of animals to produce leather. The animal skin was softened by soaking in water. The hide or skin would then be pounded to remove any remaining flesh and fat and scraping any hair fibers off the hide. The process would then continue by soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains or urine
  • Buckskin or Deerskin: A soft yellowish suede tanned leather originally from deerskin i.e. the skin of a male deer, a buck
  • Rawhide: Rawhide is not leather, but a de-haired hide that is not tanned. Most rawhide comes from cows, but it can come from any animal, such as elk or deer. Rawhide is tough and durable

The hide or leather material was then often decorated with quillwork or beadwork. An additional embellishment was to add a fringe to the knife sheaths.

Making Knife Sheaths - Quillwork
Sheaths for knives were decorated by a technique called quillwork. The quills refer to porcupine quills. Porcupine quilling is an ancient Native American Indian art used particularly among Great Plains Indians and Woodland Indians. The method for creating quillwork involved softening and dying stiff porcupine quills and weaving them on to the leather knife sheaths.

Making Knife Sheaths - Beadwork
Knife sheaths were also decorated by some tribes by a technique called beadwork. Native American beads were carved from natural materials like shells, coral, turquoise, wood, amber, animal bones, horns and teeth and used to produce beaded leather for making knife sheaths. The beads were sewn onto the leather individually, or in loops, or rows, of beads previously stitched together into strings using animal sinew.

Knives and Daggers
Native Indian Weapons and Tools
Native Indian Tribes Index

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