Authentic American Indian Beadwork and How to Do It: With 50 Charts for Bead Weaving and 21 Full-Size Patterns for Applique


This start-to-finish guide enables even beginners to create beautiful beadwork based on designs that originated with the Chippewa, Iroquois, Pawnee, Seminole, Winnebago, and other tribes. Step-by-step instructions include diagrams for 71 patterns. Patterns include stars, geometrics, sunbursts, flowers, and other motifs for two types of traditional applications: bead weaving and applique weaving.

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Authentic American Indian Beadwork and How to Do It: With 50 Charts for Bead Weaving and 21 Full-Size Patterns for Applique

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This start-to-finish guide enables even beginners to create beautiful beadwork based on designs that originated with the Chippewa, Iroquois, Pawnee, Seminole, Winnebago, and other tribes. Step-by-step instructions include diagrams for 71 patterns. Patterns include stars, geometrics, sunbursts, flowers, and other motifs for two types of traditional applications: bead weaving and applique weaving.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486247397
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 2/1/1985
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 225,482
  • Product dimensions: 8.14 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.16 (d)

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With 50 Charts for Bead Weaving and 21 Full-Size Patterns for Appliqué

By Pamela Stanley-Millner

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1984 Pamela Stanley-Millner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14162-6


Bead Weaving

Loom Construction. The most important tool for bead weaving is a loom. Generally speaking, you can build a loom longer and wider than any you can buy. Greater loom length and width translates into larger bead weavings. Besides, constructing a loom is easy. The necessary wood, along with nails and screws, is readily available from a hardware store or lumberyard; it may even turn up among odds and ends you have at home. You will need the following wood and hardware: one 36" × 7" × ¾" board (base of the loom);* two 11" x 7" × ¾" boards (sides of the loom); 8 wood screws, 1 ½" long; 2 medium-sized nails, ¾" long.

Fasten the sides to the base with the screws (see Fig. 1). Space the screws evenly, four at each end, and tighten them securely. This is crucial to the stability of the loom. Next, pound the nails into the side boards, one nail exactly in the center of each board on the outside. Leave the nails protruding ¼" (see Fig. 1). The nails are essential for warping the loom. Last, the tops of the sides must be notched with very narrow incisions as illustrated in Fig. 2. Starting 3/8" from one end and using a sharp knife, make the notches 1/16" deep and 1/16" apart. Use a ruler as a placement guide. Cut approximately 100 notches in the top of each side, leaving a 3/8" margin at each end. These notches will space the warp threads and hold them in position.

The Warp Count. Before you warp the loom, refer to the charted design from which you are planning to work. Each vertical line equals one warp thread. Check for the number of warp threads the design requires. For your convenience, this count is given under every bead-weaving chart in this volume. The warp count is always one more than the total number of beads across one horizontal row of the design.

To center the warp threads on the loom, divide the warp count in half. Then, along both sides of the loom, count that halved number of notches from the center toward either end; be sure to count in the same direction on both sides. Mark these parallel notches temporarily with a small piece of tape.

Warping the Loom. To begin warping the loom, tie the end of the cotton crochet thread No. 30 to the nail on one side of the loom (see Fig. 2). Next, bring the thread up this same side and into the notch you have marked. Holding the thread in the notch with a finger, extend the thread the length of the loom to the parallel notch you have marked on the other side. Pull the warp thread taut and secure it in position by wrapping it around the nail in this side (see Fig. 1). Continue in this manner, warping first in one direction and then in the other, always through the next set of parallel notches, wrapping around one nail and the other in turn, until you have the total number of warp threads necessary for the design. Again, as at the beginning, tie off the thread on a nail and cut.

* A common bead weaving is the belt. If you plan to fit waist sizes larger than 36 inches, make your loom with a longer base; or else plan to adjust the fit by extending the leather backing of the bead weaving.

The Charts. In all 50 charts for bead weaving, each square on the chart equals one bead. As you weave, read the charts in horizontal rows from top to bottom, returning to the top of the chart for the repeat unless otherwise indicated. Read each row from left to right.

Each chart is accompanied by a key to the bead color represented by each symbol. The unmarked squares—the background—are beaded in white unless another color is specified.

Technique. Thread the No. 16 beading needle with a two-foot single strand of Size 0 nylon thread (Remember to wax it). The warped loom is held across the lap, extending to the left and right, or may be supported on a table. A couple of inches from the left notches, tie the loose end of the nylon thread to the warp thread closest to you. Then, reading from left to right across the top row of the design chart, pick up, in order, with the point of the threaded needle, the number and color of beads needed to complete the first row of the design. Slide the beads down the nylon thread to the knot.

Next, pass the needle and thread carrying the strung beads under the warp threads from left to right (away from you) and hold the needle in back (on the right) so that the thread with the beads is fairly taut underneath the warp. With the index finger of your free hand, push up each bead in turn, from left to right (front to back), between a pair of warp threads. Eventually your index finger will be holding the entire row of beads in place.

The return of the threaded needle through the beads above the warp threads will secure the row. Work from right to left (back to front) in four- or five-bead sections until the entire row of beads is threaded above the warp threads as well as below (see Fig. 3). Then return to the chart for the second row, third and so on. Each row is worked the same way.

The thread in your needle will not last forever. If you don't have enough to pass both under and over the warp to secure an entire row of beads, go back one row and run the needle and thread from the outside edge through a half dozen or so beads. No knot is necessary; the tucked thread will hold. Cut off any loose end remaining. Then rethread the needle, wax the thread, but don't tie it to the warp. Instead, in the last row worked, run the needle and thread through a half dozen or so beads to the outside edge, securing the end in this way without a knot. Proceed to reading the next row of the chart and picking up the necessary beads in order.

Fit and Sizing. The many belts shown on both the inside front and the back covers fulfill two essentials of strong impact: the design repetitions are not only complete but also symmetrically spaced along the total length. The ends join visually as well as functionally, as is necessary in a belt. When both fit and look are critical, plan ahead by checking the gauge—the number of beads to the horizontal inch and the number of rows to the vertical inch—and using it to your advantage.

Let's assume you wish to make a belt to fit a 25 ½" waist and are not concerned about width. On the design chart you plan to use, the count of horizontal rows from the beginning to the end of one complete design is 25. By weaving a small sample with the beads you plan to use, you discover that there are 5 rows of beads to the inch. Dividing 25 by 5 yields the design length: 5". Allowing ½" of waist size for securing the belt ends together, your bead weaving 25" long could conceivably consist of 5 design repetitions; but there would then be no space whatsoever in between. Four repetitions, however, would leave background space, 5" altogether that would distribute evenly in 1" units, 5 rows of background beads each. The choice is yours before the commitment of time and effort.

In many design charts, background can be added and subtracted as fit requires. In the few designs that run continuously, if you cannot adjust size by adding or subtracting a design repetition, you may need to switch to another size bead. Of course, you can always add length by means of the leather or other material used in the finishing of your bead weaving.

Binding Off and Finishing. 1" masking tape is very handy for binding off a bead-weaving project at each end. While the completed piece is still on the taut warp threads of the loom, run the tape above and below the warp threads next to the first and last rows of beads. Press the tape-warp-tape sandwiches together; the warp threads, permanently secured against unraveling, can then be cut, leaving the masking tape seals at either end of your bead weaving. Fold the masking tape to the back of the design and stitch it down.

After masking tape is used to bind off, whip-stitch the bead weaving by hand to a strip of garment leather or other material longer than the beaded piece. The extending ends of backing become the ties for a belt or the mounting of a wall hanging. This style of finishing is very common, and a number of examples appear on the covers.

Binding off can also be accomplished, in part or altogether, by tapering the ends of a bead weaving through decreases. Examples will be found on the covers. Beginning a project with increases is difficult and fortunately unnecessary: leave enough room on the warp threads at the beginning of the project to go back and decrease after having completed the rest of the piece. Leave space for as many rows as the number of beads to be decreased.

Let's assume you are working background rows and wish to decrease from 12 beads to 6. Pick up 10 beads for the next row, and double up warp threads between the first and the last two beads. Work another row 10 beads wide. Continue in this manner, decreasing 2 beads per row every other row—two rows of 8, two rows of 6— until the tapering is complete.

If the bead weaving will be backed, proceed with binding off and finishing as above, with the possible addition of an overhand knot where the ties begin. If the bead weaving will not be backed, cut the warp threads, leaving ends long enough to tie in an overhand knot and/or tuck back into previous rows of beads.

Appliqué Beading

Once you choose a design for bead appliqué, place tracing paper over the full-size pattern in the book, secure it with paper clips and copy in pen or pencil. Don't copy the color key numbers in the pattern; it's easier to refer to them in the book as you work.

It's also necessary to choose the material on which to bead applique. Suede, garment leather and velvet are all suitable for bead appliqué; the project—purse, vest, wall hanging—will determine what's best. Keep in mind whether the bead colors in the pattern will stand out on the color background you choose. If the background material must be a given color, you may wish to adjust bead colors for a stronger effect.

Once you have a pattern tracing and material to work on, you're ready to transfer the pattern from the tracing to the material. Work on a piece of material larger than the finished dimensions of the project; cut to size after the applique beading. Place the material right side up on a flat surface. Next, place a sheet of carbon paper—larger than the pattern—on the material, carbon side down, followed by the pattern tracing, tracing side up. Holding all three layers securely in position, firmly retrace the entire pattern with pen or pencil; the pressure should transfer a carbon outline of the pattern to the material for bead appliqué. No special carbon paper is required; you may use dressmaker's carbon if you prefer, especially if you need a light outline on a dark material.

Once the design is transferred and the material is ready for applique, stretch it taut in an embroidery hoop or stapled to a frame. Use the color key accompanying the pattern in the book as a guide to the bead colors you will need. Size 0 nylon thread, a No. 16 beading needle, a No. 9 sharp needle, scissors and beeswax—once gathered together, you're ready to begin.

In beading all design elements, outline first, then fill in the interiors. Whether to outline with one, two or three rows of beads is determined by overall design proportions. Bead the interiors along lines that enhance the look of a given motif. Study the finished bead appliqué projects on the front and the inside back covers for examples of interiors beaded to advantageous effect. You will also notice variations in outlining.

Thread each needle with a double strand of nylon thread two feet long, ends knotted together. Remember to wax it. Begin with the beading needle. Draw it from the back to the front of the stretched material, and pull until the knot is tight against the back. Do this at a point in the pattern where it is logical to begin laying down beads to outline a design element (for example, a leaf, a petal, a bud). Then string enough beads on the thread to cover the outline of this design element, but not so many that there won't be a loose end of thread with which to tie off.

Now take up the other needle, the No. 9 sharp. If you are right-handed, work this needle with your right hand; if left-handed, favor this needle with your left. Bring the sharp up from the back of the material in the same manner as the beading needle, but positioned to tack the bead-carrying thread to the design outline between the first and second beads. Proceed accordingly: go back through the material, completing the tacking of the first thread with the second thread between the first and second beads (see Fig 4). The appliqué of the first bead is complete.

The remaining beads are secured in the same fashion but in intervals of three or four beads between tacks. Just be sure to tack frequently enough that the beads hold the outline of the design. Follow this procedure throughout the appliqué project, even for filling in the interiors of the design.

When either thread is running out, pull it through to the wrong side of the material and knot, either by chain stitching or by tying to other threads on the wrong side. Don't knot to the material: this would show on the right side. Rethread your needle, wax the thread and continue, checking the color key of the pattern for what beads to use next.

Once the bead appliqué is complete, release the material from the embroidery hoop or stretcher frame, cut to the necessary dimension for your project and hand or machine sew the finished piece.

The Designs

All designs rendered for bead weaving and appliqué beading were copied from American Indian artifacts found in museum collections in the United States. The following museums graciously consented to the inclusion of the designs on the following pages:

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois: 6 (Osage), 12 (Sauk & Fox), 14 (right), 16, 17, 19 (Chippewa, Iroquois), 22 (Arikara), 25 (Potawatomi), 26 (Osage), 31-33.

Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin: 5, 6 (Woodland), 7, 14 (left), 24, 26 (Woodland), 27, 30, 38, 40, 48.

The Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey: 12 (Chippewa), 22 (Chippewa), 23 (Winnebago), 25 (Winnebago), 34-37.

Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, New York, New York: 8, 9, 13, 15 (Winnebago), 21, 28, 39, 41-46.

New Jersey State Museum, Trenton: 11, 15 (Delaware), 20. Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: 10, 15 (Crow), 18, 19 (Sioux), 23 (Crow), 29, 47.

You are invited to see the original beadwork for yourself.

You will also find the designs adaptable to other crafts. The bead-weaving charts are ready for use in needlepoint, counted cross-stitch, latch-hooking, crochet and knitting; the full-size patterns for bead appliqué can also be used in fabric appliqué, embroidery of many kinds and painting on wood or fabric.


Excerpted from AUTHENTIC AMERICAN INDIAN BEADWORK AND HOW TO DO IT by Pamela Stanley-Millner. Copyright © 1984 Pamela Stanley-Millner. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Bead Weaving,
Appliqué Beading,
The Designs,
Charts for Bead Weaving,
Full-Size Patterns for Bead Appliqué,

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