Native American Beadwork: Finding the Connection Between Quill Work and Lazy Stitch

If you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself on Broadway in Saranac Lake, New York, there’s a wonderful Native American shop nestled at the bottom of the hill in the shadow of the Hotel Saranac called Two Horse Trade Company. Most days, you can find Carla, the owner, and her enormous, sweet, shaggy rescue dog there, working behind the counter and sharing her vast knowledge of Native American culture — including Native American beadwork — with her customers.

Two examples of Native American quillwork done on leather bags

I recently found myself on Saranac Lake on a cold winter morning, and I decided that I could use a little retail therapy in the form of some of Carla’s beautiful beads and other body adornments, so I stopped in for a visit. While browsing through the beautiful handmade Native American beadwork and crafts, Carla showed me a couple of interesting pieces and told me a little bit of the story behind how Lazy Stitch, also known as Lane Stitch, was developed.

Originally, Native Americans created embellishments on leather bags using quills. The quills were cleaned, cut, dyed, flattened, and then stitched down to the leather using sinew. A laborious process from start to finish, but it resulted in some beautiful and intricate decorative and symbolic designs. Quills were also used on looms to create decorative bands that were then stitched to clothing, bags, and ritual items. Quilled birch bark boxes were a particularly valuable trade item for the Native Americans throughout the east coast and Great Lakes regions of the United States.

Quillwork (left) and Lazy Stitch (right) Native American beadwork: loom work (left) and Lazy Stitch (right)

Once seed beads were introduced to the Native Americans, it wasn’t long before seed bead work was being done to re-create the same kinds of lines and patterns for beaded embellishment. Working with seed beads was far faster than using quills, however, because there wasn’t the need to flatten or color the beads before stitching them to the leather. Soon after Lazy Stitch was developed for use as beaded embellishment, beads were being used on looms to create more embellishments.

Yes, I got feathers to wear in my hair!

And, yes, while I was there looking for new beads to use in my designs and learning about the history of quillwork and Lazy Stitch…I might have bought a couple of feathers to wear in my hair!

Don’t forget that if you’re attaching beads to leather, don’t try it with a regular beading needle! Always make sure that you use a special Glover’s needle with a triangular tip to make sure that you don’t ruin your fingers or your needle.

Seed beads have such a long and rich history, it’s no wonder that I love using them! Seed bead patterns have evolved so beautifully since their creation and introduction into handwork, both Native American and European. If you want to be a witness to the continuing evolution of the use of seed beads for beaded jewelry and self adornment, check out the 2014 Beadwork Magazine Collection, available as both a CD and digital download. You’ll get over 100 seed bead patterns and beading projects, plus all of the great content that you love in Beadwork magazine: The Challenge, artist profiles, product reviews, and so much more! Get your 2014 Beadwork Magazine Collection today and make sure that don’t miss out on a single issue of your favorite beading magazine from 2014.

Bead Happy,


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