Beadwork Origins: Native American Beadwork

Some of the first beadwork I can remember seeing as a child was Native American beadwork in the collections of our local natural history museum. I was totally captivated by the bright colors of the beads and the intricate patterns that were formed on the buckskin dresses and moccasins in the display cases. For weeks, I wondered about the people who created the detail on these ceremonial and everyday items, all of it made with tiny seed beads and tiny stitches.

Native American beadwork as we know it has its origins in the arrival of the European explorers and settlers. Seed beads arrived in North America around 1770 and were traded for things like buffalo hide robes and horses. As the seed beads got smaller and smaller, the art of Native American beadwork began to evolve, reflecting the traditional patterns already established by Native American weavers and artisans.

During the social turbulence surrounding Native Americans during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, creating beadwork became a way for Native Americans to hold on to their cultural identity. Using the designs that had been passed down to them from previous generations was just one way for families to establish a family history – all by using beads!

Loomwork is one of the easiest Native American beadwork techniques to recognize, even though it was one of the last beadwork techniques to be developed and used by the Native Americans. This beautiful Ojibwe Pendant by Mary Thompson uses both loomwork techniques as well as classic Native American bead colors. The blue beads would have been highly prized by Native American bead artists, as they were considered to be "owning little bits of sky".
Peyote stitch was originally taught to the Native Americans by their European teachers around the end of the 19th century, and it was quickly adapted for use in covering rattles, canes, fans and other objects. While the Europeans were using peyote stitch to create flat pieces of beaded fabric, Native American beadwork used peyote stitch in the round and in tubular forms. Mary Tafoya's Peyote Tassel Earrings are made in this same tradition of tubular peyote stitch with more of those blue "bits of sky" beads!
The Native Americans of the Great Lakes region are known for their stunning bead embroidered work, and this gorgeous Flower Bracelet by Amy Clarke Moore echoes the style and nature-inspired themes of modern Native American beadwork from that region. Native American bead embroidery, also known as applique beadwork, was developed first by tribes that produced intricate quillwork. It was later refined with the teaching of European beadwork techniques.

Today, you can find many different styles of Native American beadwork, all of it infinitely beautiful in the colors, lines and designs that come from centuries of heritage and tradition. I'm just as fascinated today by Native American beadwork as I was when I was a little girl, and I treasure the modern pieces of Native American beadwork in my collection.

Are you inspired to add a few Native American-inspired beadwork pieces to your collection? Take advantage of our eProject sale and stock up on your favorite beading projects now! You'll find dozens of Native American-inspired beadwork projects in the Beading Daily shop, so why not pick a new technique, download a few projects, and continue on your beading journey? Check out the eProject sale today and add a new story or two to your own beadwork!

Do you love Native American beadwork? Have you ever been to a pow-wow or other gathering and watched this kind of beadwork being created? Share your stories here on the blog!

Bead Happy,


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