Types of Indian Beadwork Used

For some years after beads were introduced to the Indians, sinew was used in place of needles and and thread for beadwork. Sinew is a tendon, or cord. The Indian generally used the long sinew found along the backbone of buffalo, deer, or elk. After the sinew had dried, it was split into very fine, threadlike strands. Next, it was soaked to make it pliable. Then, twisting on end to make a point, the Indian woman strung a few beads on it. With a fine awl, she made a hole in the skin she was working on, pushed the sinew through, and pulled the beads up tight. So well did she do her work that not a stitch could be seen on the reverse side of the skin. She did this by splitting the thickness of the hide with the awl.

Overlay or Spot Stitch
One of the earliest methods of applying the beads is called the overlay or spot stitch. By using this method, the Indian woman could curve her design, making it into either flowers or leaves or combination of both.

Lazy Stitch
The second method used is called the lazy stitch. This type of beadwork was most often used by Western Indians. It lends itself to straight-sided, or geometric, designs and is most often seen on fully beaded vests and pipe bags on the tops of women's dresses. After the Indians began to obtain cloth from the traders, they also were able to get fine bead needles, and much of the beadwork especially that of the woodland tribes, was done on cloth.

Loom Weaving
The third method is a loom weaving . The earliest bead loom, used by the Ojibway women, was a bow-shaped ash branch. To each upturned end they fastened a doubled-over piece of birch bark. Through threaded the loom. When they worked with sinew, they wove so that as the thread passed through the beads one strand passed over the loom string, the next passed under , and so on. When they used thread and needle, they strung the beads on the thread and then placed the the strand under the loom thread, pushing the beads up between the strands. Next they passed the needle back through the beads, taking care this time that the needle passed across the loom strings on their upper side. The beads were then drawn up tight, and the next row was added.

This bow-type loom was easy for an Indian woman to carry with her, but at home she often used a framelike loom. This was simply four flat pieces of wood lashed together at the corners with wet sinew. As the sinew dried, it held the corners firmly together. In stringing this type of loom, she wrapped the thread around and across the frame from top to bottom. Starting the beadwork near the top of the frame, she worked downward. When she reached the lower end, she gently slid the beadwork over the top.

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