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Native American Beadwork Styles

Native American Beadwork. One of the most colorful and beautiful things at powwows is the wide variety of beadwork that adorns many of the dancers outfits. Beading is probably the most widely practiced and recognized decorative art forms by Native Americans.

Before Europeans came to the Americas, the indigenous peoples made beads from natural materials such as bone, shell and stone. Tools were simple abrasives like sand, wood and stone. These beads were large enough to string for necklaces, earrings, bracelets and to decorate other items like shields. When the Europeans brought the tiny glass beads to trade, the natives found they could create intricate designs and the possibilities were unlimited.

Today Native American beadwork is diverse and certain patterns and styles are associated with different tribes, although there is much cross over. Early beadwork was used on everything including tools, utilities, weapons, shields, ceremonial objects, clothing, moccasins and horse gear.

Today beadwork is utilized in many ways, from adorning powwow dancers regalia to contemporary objects like tennis shoes, containers, belts, hat bands, bolo ties and much more. A powwow dancer’s outfit can include beaded vests, dresses, ties, cuffs, arm bands, moccasins, leggings, pouches, fans, rattles, weapons, roach spinners, hair ornaments and earrings.

Beading techniques include the popular lazy or lane stitch, overlay or spot stitch, peyote stitch, double needle applique or running stitch and loom weaving beadwork.

Peyote Stitch: This beading technique acquired its name due to the fact it has been widely used to embellish the ceremonial items like rattles, fans and sticks used in the Native American Peyote Church ceremony. The beading is woven to form a cylinder shape to go around containers, sticks, fan handles, cigarette lighters, lanyards and other objects and often used in the making of earrings.

Lazy/Lane Stitch: The most widely used technique is where “lanes” are sewn in close rows making it easy to cover large areas. Although called Lazy Stitch, anyone beading using this technique is anything but lazy because it takes much time, patience and practice to finish a project.

Running Stitch/Double Needle Applique: This technique usually involves 2 needles. One needle threads strings of beads to the fabric or leather and the second needle tacks the string of beads down every few beads. This is technique is often used in making rosettes and clothing and to cover large areas.

Loom Beadwork: Looms can be various sizes and many are custom made to accommodate the project. Loom work has no limits to length and width. A string of beads is run under the weft and pushed up with the fingers allowing the needle to go through all the beads again but above the weft. Loom work is used for belts, hatbands, arm bands, leg bands and bracelets.