Peyote Stitch: A Brief History
Humans have been making beads for as long as we’ve existed. The earliest archaeological examples of modern humans, Homo Sapiens, include beads made from durable materials. Stringing and weaving beads together to decorate objects and ourselves is in our very nature.
The origins of the specific off-loom bead-weaving stitch now known as peyote stitch are lost to time. But we can trace it through the ages by looking at artifacts, and, later, photographs. Historical examples of peyote are found in Ancient Egypt, all over Europe, Malaysia, and from Native Americans.
Examples of peyote stitch date way back to Ancient Egypt—notably, artifacts from the tomb of King Tutankhamun (1332–1323 B.C.) contained peyote-stitched beadwork. What name the Ancient Egyptians gave to the stitch is unknown, but there’s no mistaking the “up bead, down bead” pattern of peyote. The Egyptian artisans created necklaces known as “broad collars” with molded tubular and teardrop-shaped beads. They also produced artwork depicting gods, kings, and other people wearing the collars.
Native American beadwork evolved when Europeans introduced glass beads to the indigenous people of the Americas. The stitch got its current name at a much more modern date, in the late 1800s, originating with the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes. Also called gourd stitch, it is used to decorate gourds and other objects for peyote rituals performed by members of the Native American Church. Today, you’ll find peyote stitch in jewelry, accessories, objects, and dance regalia beaded by Native Americans.
Modern Peyote Stitch
When you put peyote stitch in perspective, with archaeological examples on the B.C. end of our timeline, it’s amazing to think that in the last few decades alone, peyote has become so prolific and evolved so much. If you are looking for a great resource for learning peyote—look no further than Melinda Barta’s Beadwork: Peyote Stitch – Basics and Beyond video. Master flat, circular, and tubular peyote basics and learn how to step them up a notch with advanced variations and embellishments.
Next time you use peyote, take a moment to appreciate the beaders of the past. Imagine their needles (affiliate link) moving through beads in the exact same fashion. Connect with the history and you might find a whole new appreciation for your handiwork!
Technical Editor, Beadwork