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Native American Bead Work

Updated on December 26, 2014

Native American Bead Work

I was introduced to the unique beadwork of Native Americans by my husband who is from the Iroquois Nation. This began my journey into the world of beading and I have tried many techniques since. Though today I do a variety of bead work I fell in love with the Native American style and it remains my favorite to this day.

Here I will introduce you to three styles. Peyote Stitch, Flat Stitch, and Loom Stitch.

You will also find helpful information and free patterns to get you started.

I design patterns from Gill Henry Photography and include these in the free Featured Pattern section.

Enjoy!

Peyote Stitch - A very traditional stitch

Peyote Stitch patterns are off centered or alternating. Much of the Native beading you find is done in Peyote Stitch.

Peyote Stitch is made by alternating connections.

First, string a row of beads.

For the second row and each row there after: Bring your thread from the end of the first row up through the first bead then bring the thread down through the second bead (skipping the bead underneath). Continue adding beads.

Peyote Stitch is often done in the round and, flat or round, is the most often seen stitch. As you add beads your project will automatically grown up and around. You can find this stitch used in pen and lighter covers for sale at PowWow's. It's also used in roaches and to cover the ends of feathers.

Flat Stitch

Flat Stitch patterns are even. Unlike the Loom Stitch the Flat Stitch can be done in any width.

Flat Stitch is made one bead on top of the other.

First string a row of beads.

At the end of your first row, bring the thread up and through a new bead. Bring the thread back down and through the first bead then back up and through the added bead once again, to end up in the right direction.

Continue adding beads in this way until you reach the end. Turn and continue adding beads until you've finished your project.

Loom Stitch

This probably looks confusing but to do the Loom Stitch you need to understand that the beads are not woven onto the loom. A thread above and another below a row of beads holds that row of beads on.

To do the Loom Stitch first get a loom and string it. Then, use a long, long line of thread on your needle. To start and end, tie the thread to the loom strings.

Put the beads onto your thread in the pattern your design calls for in that row.

Place the row of beads under the strings of the loom. Push the beads up and carefully work the beads through the loom strings with one bead between each string. There should be final strings on the out sides of your row of beads.

Keep the beads in place with your hand. Be sure that you are pushing the beads UP through the loom strings and that the holes of the beads are exposed above the loom strings.

Bring the needle and thread back through your row of beads, keeping the needle and thread above the loom strings.

In this way you have a thread above and a thread below the loom strings.

Make a Loom

Well, one way to get a loom is to make it. You can make one out of 1x2's, a couple metal screws, four eye hooks, and four bolts. Nail two short end pieces of wood to a longer piece to create the frame like the sides of a house. Put the eyehooks (2 for each end) at the top of the short pieces to hold the metal screws and bolts. Slide the metal screws through the eye hooks and secure with the bolt. The threading of the metal screws will help keep your thread separate.

One advantage to this is that you can make the loom as long as you want it to be.

Photo: My husbands loom and bead work.

Tools of the Trade

To bead you will need a few essential tools. A beading needle is, of course, the most important. Beading needles are long, thin and flexible. They have a small 'eye' which makes it easy to go through the beads. They're easy to bend so don't worry when your needle starts to look a bit odd. As long as it's mostly straight it will work. Have plenty on hand for your project.

You'll need thread as well. A nice coated cotton thread is a good choice. This comes in larger spindles so you will have enough for your project.

You will also use a small scissors, needle nose pliers and measuring tape. You might also want to collect containers for your beads. If you buy beads by the hank (on strings) you'll need these.

A Few Tips

If you get the wrong color bead in your project don't unstring the entire row. Just use your pliers to squish and break the bead to remove it. Be very careful when you do this and protect your eyes. Bead bit's will fly every where.

The eye of the needle is very small so it will go through the beads. Cut your thread at a slight angle and this will help you get the thread through.

Copy your pattern in color. You can save the original for later and write on the copy as you work. Mark off the rows as you do them.

Color Wheel

Diad: Using two colors that are two colors apart on the color wheel. Such as blue and green.

Complementary Harmony: Two colors directly opposite each other. Such as red and green.

Split Complements: One color plus colors on either side of it. Such as green, blue-green and yellow-green.

Triad: Three colors equally spaced on the color wheel. Such as red, blue and yellow.

Bead Size & Bead Count

Beads per Inch

Bead Size

# in 16 inch Strand

12.5

2mm

200

8.3

3mm

132

6.3

4mm

100

5.1

5mm

82

4.2

6mm

68

3.6

7mm

56

3.2

8mm

51

2.5

10mm

40

2.1

12mm

34

1.8

14mm

29

1.5

16mm

24

1.3

18mm

21


Necklace Lengths

Choker: 16 inches

Princess: 18 inches

Matinee: 24 inches Opera: 32 inches

Rope: 48 inches

Birthstones

January

Garnet or Rose Quartz

February

Amethyst or Onyx

March

Aquamarine or Bloodstone

April

Diamond or Quartz

May

Emerald or Chrysoprase

June

Alexandrite or Moonstone or Pearl

July

Ruby or Carnelion

August

Peridot or Sardonyx

September

Sapphire or Lapis

October

Opal or Tourmaline

November

Topaz or Citrine

December

Tanzanite or Zircon or Turquoise


Now What?

You have the basic knowledge, enough beads in the right colors, and you're ready to bead. Now what? You need some patterns to get started! I've included a few basic patterns that everyone loves to include in their Native American beading projects. I hope you enjoy them!

Featured Pattern - One of a kind patterns.

Free Patterns

Free Patterns - Bear

The bear is represented in many Native American tribes.

Right click and select "Save As"

Free Patterns - Thunderbird

There are many stories in Native American oral tradition about the thunderbird.

Right click and select "Save As"

Free Patterns - Kokopelli in Peyote Stitch

Everyone loves the little Kokopelli.

Right click and select "Save As"

Free Patterns - Kokopelli in Straight Stitch

Here's our cute Kokopelli in Straight Stitch.

Right click and select "Save As"

Free Patterns - Bison

Right click and select "Save As"

Free Patterns - Thunderbird on the Loom

The Thunderbird done on a loom is great for a barrett.

Free Patterns - Feathers and Shield

Feathers and Shield pattern for the loom.

Free Patterns - Edge

Right click and select "Save As"

Free Patterns - Small Flowers

When you need that small flower to fill the corner or edge.

Right click and select “Save As”

Free Patterns - Frog

Right click and select “Save As”

Free Patterns - Ladybug

Right click and select “Save As”

Free Patterns - Shield Design

A little more complicated but nice.

Right click and select “Save As”

More inexpensive patterns for you

I hope this article has helped you on your way to the joys of Native American beading.

We would love to hear from you!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      I am looking for a pattern for a hawk. if any one so kindle has

    • Grandma-Marilyn profile image

      Grandma-Marilyn 4 years ago

      Great lens. I, too, love native American beadwork. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and patterns with us.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      just surfing the web and came across you site. Wow. This is great. Just what I've been searching for.

    • profile image

      robert-bowers-5817 4 years ago

      just came across your site. Thank u for sharing such lovely patterns.

      It is very hard to find native american patterns. I love the traditional works.

      Thank u again

    • NativeArtsColle profile image

      NativeArtsColle 4 years ago

      What a fantastic resource! I love native beadwork and work frequently with artists who primarily do beadwork.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Wonderfully helpful, great patterns to practice and build confidence! Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise!!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hy from Italy! I love everything about Native and I hope one day to came in your country!! Thank for the beautyfull things in your site and sorry for my bad english! Sure I come back to visit. Ciao da Torino (northItaly)

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 5 years ago

      @anonymous: There are several ways you can get more patterns. One way is to get some graph paper and use colored pencils to mark a pattern. Another is to get a cross stitch program and develop the patterns with that. Patterns are always individual because the ideas come from a person's imagination. The patterns I've provided are basic and often show up in individual work but the way they show up and the other elements in a work are from the individual themselves. These patterns I've provide also give a person an idea how even complicated images, like the bison, can be done more simplified in beads. I wish your son luck and joy in his beading!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      would like to send more patterns to son, Ilario Bravo 65807, P.O. Box 2500 Lincoln, Ne 68542. He is learning to bead, so he would like to learn more

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Seeing these great instructions, I remember trying to learn to bead back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. I can see that what I was attempting was the loom stitch...and now I realize why it didn't work, The beads kept breaking, because I was using an ordinary thin sewing needle, but it wasn't thin enough!

      Wish I'd known about this other flexible needle back then!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Yes !!! All the information in one place and patterns too...you have made my day. Thank you

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 5 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      Well done! I love the bluejay pattern and the others too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you so much! Great article and patterns!

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you for your complement on the patterns. I wanted to give everyone a good head start on some basic native patterns.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      the free patterns are beautiful, I would really love to learn all about bead work, I eat, sleep and dream of beads. I have done a few pendantd of the eagle but would like to learn to do bracelets.

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 5 years ago

      @xriotdotbiz lm: Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • xriotdotbiz lm profile image

      xriotdotbiz lm 5 years ago

      Like the topic and am choosing it as my Mother's Day Quest lens.

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Weave about 4 or 6 rows of thread at the end and then tape up before cutting.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I was told the same thing by our Nu Nu (uncle).

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love the patterns on this site thank you I would like to know if there is a easy way to remove bead work from a loom every time i try to take it off it seems the beads become loose i tried taping them with tape first but still can't seem to keep the bead tight any suggestions would be muchly appreiciated.thanks

    • bead at home mom profile image

      Teri Hansen 5 years ago

      great info and nice presentation. I especially like the helpful charts.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I started to remove beads that were the wrong color, but then I thought that it was meant to be and I can now call it the spirit bead.

    • annleecakes profile image

      Trulee Ann 6 years ago from Arkansas City, Kansas

      I enjoyed your lens sharing! Thank you so much.

      Blessings.......Annlee

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      People shouldn't remove beads if they are the wring color. When this happens it is called a spirit bead. It brings good luck and stands for remembrance of our fellow ancestors.

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 6 years ago

      @Gayle Dowell: Thank you. I hope it gives you a good springboard to your jewelry making.

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 6 years ago

      @Sylvestermouse: Thank you so much, I've cataloged the lenses so it should be showing up properly now.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 6 years ago from Kansas

      Great tutorial. I really need to try this as I am a jewelry maker and a Native American. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

      This is a fabulous tutorial! Should you change it to the craft category, be sure and let me know. I would love to bless this lens and feature it on my neighborhood Squid Angel lens.

    • Kitty Levee profile image

      Kitty Levee 6 years ago

      thanks for the charts.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      All the children are native and are learning and having fun too. They are such a joyto teach.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Thank you so much. Ineed to make about five looms to teach children to bead. I like your pattern for loom. I will make one at a time.

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 7 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: Oh don't give up on beading! You seem to be a very talented person by viewing your lenses. No one really NEEDS a book to bead in the Native American Tradition. -- I also see that you are in the Flint HIlls. I love the Flint HIlls! Nothing beats standing on the top of Konsa and seeing and feeling the wind rush across. I'm in Florida now but I do so miss the burning hills. You might like my Flint Hills Fossils lens at https://hubpages.com/education/Kansas-Fossils

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      I own a book on this called Beading in the Native American Tradition by David Dean. It shows lots of historic pieces and gives various techniques for beading. Since I've given up on the idea of attempting this, I've listed it for sale on Amazon.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      What a wonderful lens! So well done and I love the patterns! I've lensrolled to my Beadwork lens.

    • vhenry profile image
      Author

      vhenry 8 years ago

      [in reply to Margo_Arrowsmith] Most of the designs are brickwork, flat stitch or loom. It all uses the same graph. The Kokopelli is peyote and uses another graph. They're not compatible and the flat stitch patterns would have to be re-worked as peyote. If I get some time I'll do up some peyote patterns. Thanks for visiting and featuring it on your site!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 8 years ago

      I love your patterns. I see this is brickwork, are they applicable to peyote work? Regardless, this is a great lens and I have featured it on peyote beads 5 stars to you!

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 8 years ago

      I love your patterns. I see this is brickwork, are they applicable to peyote work? Regardless, this is a great lens and I have featured it on peyote beads 5 stars to you!

    • Mortira profile image

      Mortira 8 years ago

      Great tips and patterns! Welcome to the Beads and Jewels group! I'm also glad that you've used the term Native American. I'm Metis (that's French-Native Canadian) and I get so tired of trying to explain that I'm not from India. 5 stars!