Fancy Shawl Dance participants dance to drumbeats.

Since the 1950s, Native American "fancy dancers" have donned formal regalia, including heavily decorated shawls, to perform and compete at ceremonial inter-tribal powwows. During the Fancy Shawl Dance, female dancers perform intricate, choreographed steps, using the shawls to represent fluttering butterfly wings. Most shawls are personal creations, hand-crafted with elaborate embroidery, appliques or painted designs. Lightweight fabric is used, for both comfort and freedom of movement. The fringe, made of colorful ribbons or chainette fringe, is considered the most important component of a shawl because it flies in tune with a dancer's movements.

Measure the width of your shawl by having your model stand with arms outstretched. Measure from fingertip to fingertip using a tape measure. Add 2 inches to the total width to allow for seams. Cut a rectangle using that measurement as the width and 32 inches as the depth. Cut a second rectangle of the same size from a contrasting-color fabric.

Pin the rectangles together, right sides facing in. Sew around all four sides, 1/4 inch in from the edge. Leave a 6-inch opening in the center of one side, back-stitching on both sides of the gap to lock the stitches. Turn the fabric right side out by pulling it through the gap, then press the seams flat.

Cut the 1/8-inch double-sided satin ribbon into 12-inch lengths.

Fasten one end of every ribbon using a glue stick 1/2 inch in from the edge of the shawl. Glue the ribbons about 1/2 inch apart along three sides of the shawl. Leave one long side free of ribbons. This will be the neck area of the shawl.

Pin the 3/4-inch satin ribbon face up around edge of the entire shawl, covering the glued ribbon ends and lining up with the outer edges of the shawl.

Pin starting at one corner while leaving a 1/4-inch end of ribbon at the end. Miter each corner -- which means to create a beveled edge -- by extending the ribbon about 1/4 inch past the edge; then make a 45-degree diagonal fold in the ribbon at the fabric corner. Pin each miter at the fold.

Join the loose ribbon at the last corner by pinching the inner sides together at the fabric corner, then finger-pressing them flat. Stitch the ribbon together along the fold and trim the ends to 1/4 inch after checking the fold and angle.

Stitch the ribbon to the fabric along both edges of the ribbon. Trim all loose thread ends.

Touch the very end of each fringe ribbon sparingly with an applicator brush of clear nail polish or nail hardener to prevent unraveling. Allow the polish or hardener to dry for about 10 minutes.

Things Needed

  • ['2 yards of polyester gabardine fabric in one color', '2 yards of polyester gabardine fabric in a contrasting color', 'Measuring tape', 'Sharp scissors or rotary cutter', 'Pins', 'Iron', 'Sewing machine', 'Thread', '20 yards of double-faced 1/8-inch satin ribbon', '6 yards of single-faced 3/4-inch satin ribbon', 'Water soluble glue stick', 'Clear nail polish or nail hardener']


  • Mix contrasting colors of fabric and ribbons to add interest to a shawl.

    The nail polish or hardener can be applied to the ribbon tips before attaching them to the shawl if allowed time to dry. Keep ribbon tips separate from each other while they dry to prevent them from sticking together.

    A dance shawl can either be held during the dance as an accessory or attached to your outfit through sewing or pinning.

    Customize your shawl any number of ways, including the addition of glitter, sequins, rhinestones and tassels.


  • Using too much nail polish or hardener can discolor the ribbon.