The Beading Stitches of Native American Beadwork

Being a history geek, I love to know the whole story behind how things came to be, including many of my favorite bead-weaving stitches. Many of these stitches developed independently all over the world throughout the history of the human race, but chances are, if you do bead-weaving, you're using some beading stitches that are widely used in Native American beadwork.

For centuries, Native Americans used natural objects like animal teeth, seeds, and shells as beads for adornment on their ceremonial objects and clothing. With the introduction of smaller beads and glass beads from Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, Native American beadwork became more intricate and came to be an important part of each tribe's cultural identity.

Gourd Stitch or Peyote Stitch

I remember when I was first learning how to bead, one of the ladies in my class, a college librarian, found peyote stitch's name to be so amusing that she wasn't sure how she'd talk about it to her colleagues. I couldn't figure out why, until I realized that she was associating it with the hallucinogenic, also referred to by the name of peyote.

Well, good news, I told her, you can also refer to peyote stitch as gourd stitch. Both names for this popular bead-weaving stitch came from the ceremonial objects that they were used to decorate, gourds and other sacred objects for use in peyote ceremonies.

Brick Stitch or Cheyenne (Comanche) Stitch

Brick stitch was one of the first bead-weaving stitches that I ever taught myself, and it will always have a special place in my heart as my first love of beading stitches. In Native American beadwork traditions, brick stitch is done almost exclusively by the Comanche and Kiowa tribes for important ceremonial objects and clothing.

Lazy Stitch or Bead Applique

Contrary to its name, Lazy Stitch is anything but. This form of bead embroidery, usually done on tough buckskin hides by the Plains Indians, requires the artist or craftsperson to only pass their needle halfway down through the hide without actually exiting on the other side. This leaves a clean back to your bead embroidery of bead applique, but getting your lines or lanes of beads to lay straight takes a lot of practice and skill.

The name Lazy Stitch may have come about because of the long lines or lanes of seed beads created with each thread pass in this traditional Native American beadwork technique.

Loom Beadwork

Native American beadwork made on a beading loom isn't something that developed until after the Europeans arrived to colonize North America. The very earliest Native American beading looms were mostly used for weaving porcupine quills, called a tension loom. Most early Native American beadwork looms were made using wooden bows similar to the ones used for hunting. Or, a simple bar loom could be constructed by tying the warp threads between two closely-spaced trees and using some sort of wooden or bone spacers to hold the threads apart.

Daisy Chain or Potawatomi Stitch

Potawatami stitch is another name for daisy chain, and even though the name comes from the North American Potawatomi Indian tribe, it is not actually a traditional Native American beadwork stitch. The beadwork of the Potawatomi tribe is recognized for its beautiful abstract floral designs created using bead applique or bead embroidery techniques. 

The Potawatomi tribe did use some bead stitching techniques, primarily the Winnebego side-stitch, which looks like a combination of loom weaving and African Helix.

Make Your Beadwork More Spiritual

The one thing that all of these Native American beadwork techniques and stitches have in common is the belief that the time spent doing them to create beautiful objects is a way to honor the spirit world. So, take a deep breath and relax before you sit down to bead. Light a candle and focus your intentions before you pick up your needle and beads, and most of all, remember to enjoy your journey.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of Native American beadwork, check out the classic Beading In the Native American Tradition by David Dean. This comprehensive guide to Native American beadwork includes information about how Native American beadwork developed, instructions for working with traditional Native American beadwork techniques, and tips and suggestions for how to study Native American beadwork.

Get your copy of Beading in the Native American Tradition and see you can be inspired to include some of the Native American influence in your own beading projects.

Bead Happy,


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