The Native American beadwork is a very important craft for the American continents. The most common question people ask about beading in Native American culture is how did the Indians make beads? Jeri Ah-be-hill (born Geraldine Fuller), the representative of Native American Indians and Kiowa-Comanche fashion expert answers this question.
“It is so funny because I'd say, well, the Indians never made beads. They didn't have a bead factory. The Indians were introduced to beads by the traders that came among them. And prior to that time, their work was quill-work and paintings on hides. That was their original work. Once the beads were introduced to them, they were introduced to a whole new medium and they just really enjoyed it. They originally did the beadwork with – they didn't have needles and thread either, so they made bones that would get bone fractures and then put a hole through it. They would use sinew and this bone needle – that's how they would do the beadwork. Of course, now they have all modern things, like anybody else, so it's faster, easier, and a lot more stronger. And you know, it would last longer, because a lot of that old beadwork is so fragile because the sinew breaks and the beads fall off. It’s a real technique that's been improved upon”, comments Jeri Ah-be-hill.
Traditional leather moccasins embellished with beautiful beadwork
So, as you’ve read above, the beadwork that is a part of Native American traditional culture became available to Indians not earlier than the 1600s. Before that, the locals used only nature made materials to decorate their clothing, weapons, and household items. They were shells, corals, stones, bone, wood, and clay, etc. Glass beads were brought to America by colonizers and quickly became very popular among the Native American Indians.
War bonnet of Peruvian Native American Indians
Beadwork was used to decorate leather pieces of clothing and accessories (moccasins, bags, main garments, headdresses, etc.) or to make jewelry (beads were gathered on strands and became necklaces, bracelets, or just ornaments to adorn the costume). The Indian craftswomen were very skilled in handmade bead weaving. This tradition continues till today. And, luckily, the craft of beadwork enriched the American folk culture a lot. Now, we can’t imagine the traditional costume of Native American Indians without beautiful beading to adorn it.
Traditional bead necklaces and beadwork on a ceremonial item