Published on June 22, 2011 by Amy
Woven beadwork is distinguished from strands in necklaces and bracelets. Woven beads are oriented in rows of beads placed side by side, not end to end; the result being a wide strip of beads with a geometric design. The bow loom, (similar to an archers bow), was the only type of formal loom used by Natives of New England. The bow loom was used exclusively with wampum or small glass beads, needle and thread, commonly exchanged during the time of European contact. Before use of the bow loom, Native Americans probably secured only one end of a belt for weaving. Using a hand-held finger weaving technique, beads were interwoven one at a time using a doubled thread, into the loose end of the forming belt. Many of the existing use both leather thongs and vegetal fibers for cords and strings. Some fibers used were dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), sometimes called armyroot or black Indian hemp; swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and the hairy milkweed (A. pulchra), also called white Indian hemp; toad flax (Linaria linaria), and Indian mallow (Abutilon abutilon) also known as velvet leaf.
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By the late 1500’s, wampum was being woven into strips and belts containing white beads. The first purple wampum was used in such weaving by the early 1600’s. An early engraving depicts a Delaware family dressed in belts, headbands, bracelets, strings, and medallions of black and white wampum beads. Glass and metal beads were eventually woven into strips that were at one time made only of wampum. Wampanoag woven beadwork from this time uses blue and white glass pony beads. Wampanoag leader, King Philip, wore a wampum belt or bandolier (over the shoulder sash) that was nine inches wide and five feet long, with designs of flowers, birds and animals.
Headbands in southern New England were narrow strips of woven wampum five to seven rows wide. These smaller bands have geometric designs in two or three colors of diagonal lines, triangles, nested-squares, crosses or a central figure. King Philip’s headband was secured at the back of his head with two “flags” which hung down his back, perhaps long thong ties or decorations appended to them. Some beaded headbands were edged with red-dyed moose hair obtained from Mohawk territory. Northeastern Native Americans also wore bead collars, which used shorter beads than those in used in making bandoliers. Penobscot and Wampanoag collars used a diagonal weaving technique called the bias-weave in designs of thin diagonal lines and diamond shapes.