BEADWORK

 

While Native Americans have been decorating their articles (clothing, moccasins, bags, cradles) with quills for centuries, they switched to using beads after their contact with Europeans because beads came in more colors, were easier to work with, and lasted longer.

Where did the glass beads come from?

Glass beads were introduced to the Plains Peoples by the European settlers who came out west for the fur trade. In exchange for animal furs, they "paid" the Native Americans with glass beads.

Were glass beads the only beads used?

Native Americans in different parts of the North American continent had been using beads for many centuries. Before glass beads became available from Europe, they carved beads out of shells, animal bones, tusks, horns or wood.

Why were the glass beads so prized?

The beads were valued by the Native peoples because they reminded them of many things in their natural world. Their shapes made them think of seeds and berries. Their hardness made them think of rocks. Their shininess made them think of water, and their colors were brilliant. Beads became very important to the peoples of the Plains. Beaded items very highly prized and were worn on special ceremonies. Beads were also used as "money".

What kind of designs were made with the beads?

At first the designs made with the beads were mostly geometrical, in simple shapes and symmetry, like the quill designs that they replaced. Later, as beads became more common, there were more floral (flower) and realistic patterns.

 

How were the beads attached?

Beads have holes in the middle and are meant to be strung together on a thread. The Native Americans used a very strong cord made of animal sinew or of plant fibers. Four common methods were used to attach the beads. Beadwork is still practiced by people all over the world today.

Seed Beading Techniques

 

To see some beautiful beadwork, click on these pictures:

Leggings

War Shirt

Wear Blanket

Shoulder Bag

Shoulder bag