Indian Beadwork

Long ago the Indian's decorated their garments with painted designs. They made colors with pigments of earth, grasses, clays, and berries. In time they began to make fine porcupine-quill embroidery, which they colored by boiling the quills in the paint pigments. Indians also made beads from bone, shell, or dried berries. They fashioned them into necklaces or decorations for the fringes of their garments and bags.

About 1675 the white traders brought colorful glass beads to the tribes. But it was not until about 1800 that beads reached the Plains Indians. The earliest beads brought by the white people were called pony beads by the Indians because they were brought in by the traders' pony packtrains. Most of these beads were dark blue. Some were white and few were a dull red color. The Indians worked them into several rows of blue, then a few rows of white, and again the blues. This type of pony beadwork continued until about 1840, when a smaller "seed" bead was brought in. The Indians still use seed beads.

Originally these beads were not very plentiful. For this reason Indian women used a combination of both quills and beads. After beads became plentiful, the Indians did less of the beautiful quillwork, using it often as an edging for sleeve bands, shoulder bands, and legging strips, which were embroidered with broad bead bands. Moccasins, too, carried this combination, but the entire top of the foot would be done in quills, with the narrow band around the foot beaded. These bead strips, or bands, were usually not more than eight beads wide.

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