Beadwork can be found on baskets and bags, jewelry and dolls, leather goods from moccasins to belts. While early Native American beads were handmade by drilling holes into seeds, stones, and pieces of bone, the beadwork most familiar to contemporary collectors features glass seed (small) and pony (larger) beads, which were first introduced to indigenous North Americans by European traders in the late 17th century but were not widely used until the 19th, when indigenous peoples were forced onto reservations and had few options other than traditional art forms to earn an income.

In general, the most common application of these beads was to string them on necklaces and other examples of Native American jewelry, but beads were also woven to create prismatic bands of patterned color, or sewn individually and in strings onto all manner of clothing. To attach beads to garments and shoes, two stitches were widely used. In spot-stitch sewing, a thread would be pre-strung with a desired color or pattern of beads. The thread was then sewn to the fabric or leather, usually in short lengths, so that through repetition, panels or bands of pattern and color emerged. Although used by many Native American groups, the Ojibwe or Chippewa of the Great Lakes region were famous for the craftsmanship of their spot-stitch leather leggings, which were usually geometric in design, as well as their shoulder bags, which often featured colorful, floral beadwork.

Lazy-stitch sewing was an applique technique favored by the Sioux, Cheyenne, and other Plains peoples. In a lazy stitch, the thread itself is used to attach the beads to the garment, rather than relying on a second thread to tack the bead-laden thread down, hence the name of the stitch. Like the spot stitch, the unsecured lengths of beaded thread are short, which keeps the threaded lengths of beads from dangling and flapping around too much when the wearer is moving. That said, both stitches give beaded clothing an animated feel, as the beaded designs vibrate and shake in response to the movements of the wearer.

One of several noteworthy variations on the lazy stitch is embossed beading, in which the beads applied using the stitch define the contours of padding applied to the base garment, adding another layer of dimensionality to the already dimensional beads. Another is the Crow stitch, named after the people who used it most, in which a lazy stitch is caused to turn, usually at a right angle, by a spot stitch sewn on top.

Not all beadwork techniques rely on a base to sew them to. The most important of these is netted beadwork, in which beaded thread is used to create lace-like patterns that can be worn like necklaces.

One of the most famous examples of beadwork is wampum, which was originally a shell-based form of currency, and possibly even literature, among the Native peoples of the Northeast. Wampum was traded back and forth between Colonists and Natives. Indeed, in some parts of the Colonies, wampum was legal tender, but the overproduction of the indigenous currency on the part of Colonists resulted in what could be described as wampum inflation, making the beaded bands and belts less useful as currency, even as they hung onto their ceremonial value.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

First American Art

First American Art

The companion website to First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Diker Collection of American Indian Art, which… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Authentic Western Circa-1900 Sioux Indian Beaded Rawhide Moccasins, NrAntique Iroquois Woodland Indian Beaded Velvet Pillow, Flower & Birds, NrAntique Early-20thc Native American Indian Arapaho Beaded Moccasins, NrIroquois Floral Beaded Purse - New York State, C. 1860sFantastic Vintage Plateau Pictorial Beaded Flower Basket Flat BagOjibwe / Cree Table Cloth , Parade Blanket , Childs Blanket 1880s-1900Antique Iroquois Beaded Picture FrameVintage Beaded StripSilver Dollar Columbia River Trade Bead Double Strand Necklace Beautiful PeaceVintage Antique Native American Indian Beaded Moccasins - Estate Very Nice! NrPair Of Old Chippawa Beaded CuffsLot Of 2 Antique Vintage Handmade Sioux Indian Doll Made By Winona Beaded HideLarge Beaded Native Pillow...look !Vintage Indian Beadwork 3-d Flower Hanging BasketOld Pawn Antique Whirling Logs 1920s Loom Beaded Necklace Native American IndianVery Old Northeast Native American Beaded Bag Beading Totally Intact Must See!Indian Artifacts- Fine Bead NecklaceAntique Native American Plains Indian Beaded 2 Piece Belt Belt Buckle, BeadedGreat Strand Old Columbia River Trade Bead Necklace Glass Beads Beautiful ColorsSioux Plains Indian Beaded Snake Umbilical Fetish Native American BeadworkOutstanding Full Tang Vintage Trade Knife W/ Beaded Leather Sheath BeadworkGreat Strand Old Columbia River Trade Bead Necklace Glass Beads Beautiful ColorsVintage Indian Made Beaded Floral Design Sashes Or Belt 28'' Long + TiesGreat Lakes Area Loom Beaded Sash, C. 1880sAntique Native American Leather Pouch With BeadingGreat Collection Of Old Trade Beads Columbia River Glass Bead Beautiful ColorsXxx Rare Strand Creek Cherokee Shell Glass Trade Beads Georgia Alabama 2 FootSuper Collection 50 Trade Beads Clay Pipe Drilled Tooth And Arrowhead Beautiful Long Strand Of Great Old Trade Bead Necklace Glass Beads Beautiful ColorsBeaded Paiute Indian Basket Indian Artifacts- Nice Cherokee Trade Bead Necklace Native American Plains Indian Beaded Moccasins 11" Fur Trade Seed Beads, Columbia River Gorge, The Dalles, Oregon. WindwalkerNative American Beaded High Top Moccasins Indian Artifacts 146 Glass & Shell White Beaded Necklace 1700s CaliforniaVintage Plains Indian Beaded Moccasins Geometric Design Soft Sole 9 1/2" Great Collection Of Old Trade Beads Columbia River Glass Bead Beautiful ColorsBeaded Paiute Indian Basket "c"Catlinite Pipestone Pipe W/ Detailed Incised Symbol & Beaded StemOld Vintage Native American Inuit Leather & Bear Fur Beaded Gauntlet MittsGreat Collection Of Old Trade Beads Columbia River Glass Bead Beautiful ColorsVintage Native American Souvenir Deerskin Leather Beaded Drawstring Pouch Purse Long Strand Of Great Old Trade Bead Necklace Glass Beads Beautiful ColorsBeaded Beaver (beadwork/quillwork) - ReproductionBlackfoot Tribe Indian Beaded 30" Leather Belt- Vintage- By-pauline Little Chief24" Long Alabama Necklace Strand Of Rattlesnake Trade Beads, Ex- Dan Stroud Lot Vintage Miniature Beaded ClothingOld Venetian Trade Beads Rare Feather,aja,gooseberry,awale,copal, Great AntiqueNative American Beadwork Chest Piece Native American Glass Beaded Necklace Colorful Design, Needs Repair 11395Rare Antique Acoma Native American Tribal Snake Carved And Beaded Gourd Look!Native American Boys Beaded Dance Regalia Set For Crow Indian Traditional Dance24" Long Strand Trade Bead Necklace, Washington, Va, X- Perry Carpenter Vintage Fancy Native American Beaded Powwow Princess Belt & Sash 1930s-40s Rare24" Strand Of Strand Of Plains Trade Beads, Recovered Near Ashley, North DakotaNice Native American Lakota Sioux Beaded FeatherAntique Iroquois Indian Beaded Tri-fold Sewing Kit Pincushion Whimsy SouvenirBeaded Medicine Bag Beadwork Free Shipping!2014 Hottest Seller Beaded Dream Catcher Bracelet