Indian Beadwork Crafts

Published on March 13, 2014 by Amy

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Indian Beadwork Crafts
Indian Beadwork Crafts

Native Americans used beads in crafts approximately 8,000 years before Europeans came to North America, though with the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century came glass beads from Venice. In their dealings with Native Americans, European settlers used beads, which remained legal tender in the 13 colonies until the mid-1700s. Glass beads are now the predominant type of bead used in Indian beadwork. Native Americans did not have written languages, so they often used beadwork as a symbolic means of communication.

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Women of the Lakota tribe bead using the “lane stitch,” also known as the “lazy stitch.” Much like beading with porcupine quills, the lane stitch takes place quickly, covering more space with each stitch than other types of beading. The lane stitch involves threading a number of beads onto a needle before attaching the thread to the hide.

Cheyenne and Comanche

Artists of the Cheyenne tribe often decorate the capes of dresses with beadwork. They bead in three groups — one on the back, one on the chest and one across the shoulders — and then paint the area of the cape around the beading with yellow ochre. Comanche artists make three beaded sections on capes in a similar fashion to the Cheyenne dresses, but their beads lie flat against the dress because they use the “flat gourd stitch,” which attaches each bead individually.


Sioux artists made yokes that were fully beaded. Usually, the background color is a light blue that represents a lake. A thin band of white represents the shore, and designs against the blue background are clouds. A U-shaped design in the center of the beadwork represents a turtle, since the Sioux thought turtles protected the health of women.

Types of Beads

Native Americans used the two eyeteeth of an elk as beads; a dress covered in elk teeth indicated a good hunter in the family, making these dresses highly coveted. They also used cowrie shells used in place of elk teeth in addition to another type of “tooth shell,” called dentalium. Today, Native Americans use materials in their beadwork such as copper, bones, wood and glass.

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Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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