Native American Beadwork

Native American Beadwork

Native American beadwork has become synonymous with Native American culture. Today, beadwork can be found in Native American clothing, on utensils, jewelry and ceremonial items. It was also used as a bartering material when trading with other tribes in days of the yore. This is why beads which were exclusive with one tribe were often found with an assortment of other tribes.

Each Native American tribe has its own distinct style of beadwork. The process of creating beads is time-consuming and requires a lot of practice but it is also an important way of encouraging bonding within the community and imparting traditions and histories to the younger generation.

Miles of Different Styles

Just as there are numerous Native American tribes, there are also numerous kinds of beadwork, each synonymous with a particular tribe and a particular use. Beadwork of a specific tribe can be recognized by its stitch pattern, the kinds of beads used and the other materials present in the beadwork.

Beads are often made using materials such as wood, stone, shells, coral, turquoise, amber and horn. It wasn’t until the Europeans came that glass beads were introduced into Native American beadwork designs. However, they soon grew to become an integral part of beadwork pieces, particularly fine seed beads.

Native American beadwork can be classified into three main styles. Beaded leather involves incorporating beadwork into a leather backing for creating articles like moccasins. Beaded strands are created by stringing together beads to create articles like wampum belts or necklaces. Quillwork was a complicated form of beadwork that soon died out when seed beads became readily available. However, many young Native American artists have taken an interest in quillwork and are working to revive this form of beadwork, today.

Authentic Native American beadwork can be found in museums and Native American exhibits today. Many tribes encourage the practice of doing beadwork as it strengthens ties within the community and imbibes a sense of tradition and pride in the younger generation.