Native American Beadwork
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Beadwork is a beautiful and easy art to learn, and beading on a loom is a perfect way to get started. You can create great looking beaded strips that double as belts, headbands, bracelets and eye-catching accent pieces.


Beads and supplies are readily available in Native American specialty stores, craft stores or through catalogs.

Beads: Glass seed beads are a good choice for an introductory project. They come packaged in plastic bags or sold in strings called "hanks." Seed beads come in different sizes. The larger the number, the smaller the bead. For this project, the No. 2 size will work best. Be sure to buy enough to complete your project because the color of beads may vary slightly from bag to bag.

A needle: A long needle is the best for loom beading. It's called a beading needle. A No. 12 needle will work well with the No. 2 bead. Pick colors that
fit your pattern.
Cotton thread: You will need cotton thread for stringing the threads of the loom. It's available
as heavy-duty button and carpet thread, and you will be using both. In loom beading, this thread's attached lengthwise to the loom - is called the warp.

Nylon thread: Nylon thread is used for weaving across the warp and for threading the beads. This thread is called the weft.

Beeswax: Glide it on the thread to make beading smoother and more workable.

Loom: You can buy a wire loom, or you can make your own loom from a couple of pieces of lumber with a ¼-inch threaded rod at each end to space the warp thread. It's fine to start on a smaller loom, but as you get more experience, buying or building a longer loom will make larger strips easier to make.

Lighting: Stop squinting. A strong light source makes it easier to see what you're doing and
enables you to work comfortably for a longer period of time.

Containers: Little screw-top plastic containers or baby food jars will keep your beads in better order.


Loom: The first step of beading is getting the loom ready. Begin by knotting the thread on the anchor at the end of the loom and then string the loom from one end to the other. You're going for a snug, uniform tension when stringing these lengthwise warp threads. Tight is not right. Pulling too tight will give you beadwork that buckles and won't lay flat. String the loom from one end to the other. Go around the anchor on each side with each successive pass and continue stringing back and forth until you have the right number of warp strands for your project.
Most beadwork strips have an odd number of beads and you'll have one more thread than the number of beads that play across your pattern. For instance, if a bead strip has seven beads, then you should string a total of eight rows of thread. Wax the threads on the loom to make it easier to work, and you're ready to begin.

Threading a needle can be frustrating. Here's a time-saving tip. Wax the end of the nylon thread first. Flatten it and cut it off straight with scissors. This will make it easier to thread the needle, but it still may take more than one try. Pull about 6 inches of thread through the needle, then cut off about an arm's length of thread and wax the rest. Tie the weft thread with a tight knot to the outside warp thread near the end of the loom. This will prevent your beadwork from coming apart when you take it off the loom.

Stringing beads on a loom

Place seven beads on the needle, and pull them onto the thread. Take the beads under the eight loom threads, and with the forefinger of your other hand, work a bead in between each warp thread. Push the beads up from below and hold a bead between each pair of strings. Now, bring your needle over the warp strings and thread it back through each of those beads. When you've threaded all seven beads, pull the thread through until it's taut, but not tight. Take your time. This first row can be the hardest.

Now, place seven more beads on the needle and push them up from beneath the loom. Fit the beads between the warp threads, pushing them up with your forefinger. Thread the needle back through the beads, making sure the needle is going on top of the loom threads. Congratulations, you've just finished two rows of loom beadwork. Continue working, using the same process.


Sooner or later, you'll run out of thread. But you can add a new weft thread and not have it show in your finished beadwork. When you're down to about 3 inches of thread on your needle, thread the last row of beads and pull the needle off the end. Go back about three rows on your beadwork. Take the new thread back through that row of beads, and thread it through each of the three rows, to the newest row. Make sure your new thread goes on top of the warp thread. When you get to the last row of beads, your new thread will be held in place by the tension of the beadwork and you can continue. Later you can go back and cut off the end of the old thread and the tail of the new thread. Then rethread the needle with another length of thread.

When you are finished, you should secure your strip and finish off your project with this same method - taking your needle back through several rows and trimming off the thread.


With the basics you've learned, you can begin to create your own designs. Study beadwork in Indian stores and museum collections to learn more about correct Native American design and color. Understand that some designs are for loom beadwork, while others are not. For now, try to use loom beadwork designs for your projects. Notice that many times, a particular tribe will use certain designs and colors. Generally, Native American beadwork uses vibrant colors and contrasts to make the design visually appealing. Decide which colors you think work best.

Studying good beadwork will help you come up with your own designs. First, work out the design with colored pens or pencils on graph paper. You may want to see what colors are available from your bead supplier before you start your own design. Then when you are beading, add different colored beads to the threads, matching their placement in your pattern. Start with an easy pattern like diamonds or squares, then when you have mastered that, you can move on to something more advanced . . . like weaving your name in beads.

For centuries, beadwork has been a way to explore beautiful combinations of color and design. Now that you've learned the fundamentals of loom beading, it can be an expression of your own creativity.


Lazy Stitch Beadwork is probably the most common form of beadwork seen on pow wow regalia, because of its ease of application and its nice coverage. Good lane stitch has a nice "hump" appearance and is easily recognizable. .

Lazy stitch first appeared in the early 1800's as white traders traded the smaller "seed" beads with the Native Americans. The tribes began to apply these very small beads to many of their important articles, and the birth of lane stitch began. Lane stitch, unlike many of the other techniques, can be used on just about everything. It was used on horse saddles, mocs, dresses, well, everything. It can be beaded on canvas or directly on leather itself.

Materials: Beading needles (very small eyes), Beading thread (I use "A"), Beeswax, Beads (10 to 13/0), Canvas or leather material, Scissors

1. The first step is to do a little research. Lane stitch is very easy to research, because it is in practically every museum in North America, so even if you can't go to a pow wow, you have no excuse! Take many pictures, and notice all of the details. Older articles have more mellow colors, like "greasy grass yellow" and "Cheyenne pink," contrasted with the brighter colors seen today. Also note the size of the beads. Larger articles use larger beads, like 10/0 and 11/0. Smaller articles will use 12/0 or 13/0 sizes. (These can be obtained from traders all over the country.) Newer articles, like many of those you will see at pow wows, are brighter and more colorful. Also notice the layout of the rows, or "humps." Many articles only have straight rows, while others, like mocs, have rows that match the contour of the article. Always remember, it is good to do research in museums and through going to pow wows, but never copy any of the designs. Many of them are family designs, or even more, received in visions. You may not copy another person's designs without their express permission. There are some safe designs though, like geometric patterns, but always check before beading is begun

2. Obtain your surface for the beading. It can be any shape, as long it's pliable but not too thin (regular weight cloth). For at least the first few pieces of beadwork, it is a good idea to draw lanes for the beads to help in keeping your lanes straight. Lanes are usually about 7/16 or 1/2 wide and contain 7 to 9 beads per lane. After the lanes are drawn, go ahead and draw the design on the material to serve you as a guide when beading. Remember, when creating designs, don't make it too complicated and keep it balanced and even. A neat trick suggested by Jerry Andrews of Georgia to keep rows absolutely uniform is to lay down cheap scotch tape on your material to set up your lanes. It's important to use cheat tape so you can pull it out, from the end of a row, when you are done beading. It works great when you are working on dark cloth or on very good brain tan that you don't want any lines on. He said that he has also used washable fabric markers to draw a rough pattern on white buckskin. When you are done beading, a light spray of water, from an atomizer, and all the lines go away! Thanks, Jerry.

3. Prepare your needle and thread. I generally thread the needle (on needles this small you can't usually use a threader), and then double the thread over, about three feet long. Cut the thread and knot it at the end, and then run it through the beeswax. The beeswax helps the thread stay strong and makes the beadwork tighter.

4. Pull string through the bottom of the leather or cloth at the end corner of one of the lanes that you have drawn. Put enough of your beads on it so that when you lay the string out flat on the material it goes two beads beyond the next line. The number of beads on the string will produce a good hump, and should be used throughout the article to maintain uniformness.

5. If you're using canvas, run the needle completely through the cloth, move over about 3/16 on an inch, and come back up. Put the same number of beads on the needle, and go back through the cloth on the other side. If you are using leather, it is usually too difficult to pass the needle all of the way through the leather, so the needle will only catch the surface of the leather before coming back to the surface. Make sure it passes low enough to have a good hold. ( If beading mocs, do an especially good job, because it will have to take alot of stress and bead rows frequently pop off, resulting in a "blow-out") This is basically the essence of lazy stitch.

6. The key to good-looking lane stitch is keeping everything nice, tight and even. Pull the thread tight, and when it runs out, knot it and start a new one. Most of it is just common sense from here. It takes practice to become consistent with spacing and design, but it will come.


The name "peyote stitch" comes from the Native American Church where the peyote cactus is eaten ceremonially and considered a sacrament. A form of the stitch (not the more common version discussed here) is used to embellish fans, rattles, and other items used in peyote ceremonies. For this reason, some members of the church say that the name peyote should be applied to the stitch only when used in this manner and whenever the stitch is applied to secular items it should be called gourd stitch.

While I am strongly sympathetic towards this view, I continue to use the name peyote stitch simply because the vast majority of people know the stitch by this name. I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't want to confuse anyone either. Actually I think a whole new name is needed. While gourd stitch makes sense when applied to tubular peyote, it's rather inaccurate when applied to flat peyote. Where would the gourd go?

Flat peyote with an even number of beads in the base row is very simple. Tie a bead to the end of your thread and go back through it once. Now pick up the number of beads needed to complete your base row, plus the first bead of the next row. Following the diagram, you would tie on one blue bead and pick up 1 red, 1 blue, 1 red, 1 blue, and 2 red. Now go back through the blue bead closest to the end. Pick up another red bead and go through the next blue bead and so on until you reach the end. You will notice that the red beads in the base row are pushed down as you add beads on top of them. In peyote stitch, the three red beads you just added are considered one row. The base row is considered two rows. Confusing, I know, but it's less confusing than trying to follow a row on a pattern when it's zig-zagging up and down.

Now we fill in the spaces to form the 4th row. Pick up a blue bead and go through the first red bead in the third row. Pick up another blue bead and go through the next red bead and so on until you come to the end once more.

That's basically all there is to it. I will cover increasing and decreasing in a future column as well as flat odd-count, and odd and even tubular peyote. For now why not practice with a groovy faux leopard print bracelet? Here the pattern progresses horizontally rather than vertically. Repeat this pattern block until you reach the length you need.

I used matte black, black lined orange, and clear orange size 11 seed beads for an interesting mix of colors and textures. This is how it looks made up.


Welcome to peyote stitch part two, flat odd-count. If you already know this stitch, please feel free to scroll down to this week's free pattern, a flowered mini-amulet bag.

The first two steps, stringing the base row and starting the next row, are the same as in even-count peyote The big difference between even-count flat peyote and odd-count flat peyote comes when you get to the end of the first added row. The problem is illustrated by the following image.

As you can see, there is no next bead to go through! So we need to do a little fancy footwork in order to finish the row and begin the next one. First, when you reach the end of the row, continue through both of the last two beads of the base row. Then pick up the last bead of the new row and go left through the second and third beads from the end in the base row.

Then go up and to the right through the bead above the bead your thread is coming out of and down and to the right through the second to last and last beads of the base row once again. Then go up and left though the bead you added. Your thread should now be in position to begin the next row. You will need to use this technique every other row.

PEYOTE STITCH PART THREE: Increasing and Decreasing Flat Peyote

The first thing you need to know about increasing in flat peyote is that it's hardly ever necessary. Most designs just don't require it. You can usually get away with starting from the widest point and decreasing in both directions. But, and this is an important but, you can expand the possibilities of peyote stitch by learning how to do it.

Increasing on the Edges

Increasing an outside edge by is tricky, because you are actually increasing the width of two rows at once, and if you are adding an odd number of beads, one of them is the row before last! Be sure to keep this in mind while you are working a pattern that requires this.

To increase by one column, instead of adding the first bead of the new row at the end of a row, go through the last bead of the previous row. Pick up two beads and go back through the end bead your needle is coming out of. Go right through the bead just below and through the lower of the two beads you just added then up and left through the top of the two. Your thread should now be in position to work the next row.

If you really only want to add one bead without actually starting a whole new column, just brick stitch it to the edge. For instance, if you are working with odd number of columns, add the last bead of the row normally by going down and left through the bead below. Go up through the bead to the left diagonally and down and to the right through the bead directly below. Go up and to the right through the second bead from the top on the final row. Pick up your increase bead. Pass your needle under the thread that runs between the bead your thread is coming out of and the bead above it. Go back through your increase bead and pull tight. Then go up and to the left through the top bead on the rightmost column. Continue normally.
To increase an outside edge by two columns, pick up three beads and go back through the first of them. That's it! Cool, huh? In this case you are increasing the row you were at the end of and the new row. Any increase of an even number of beads is done the same way.

Adding an odd number of columns greater than one is not really that different than just adding one, but it looks different so I'm including diagrams. Say you want to add three columns. Pick up four beads and go back through the second of them. Pick up one more and go through the end bead you originally left. Now you've got new columns, but they are kinda wobbly and the bottom bead is just hanging there.

To attach that bottom bead and get your thread back where you want it to be, go down and to the right through the bead underneath the one your thread is coming out of. Then go through that wobbly bottom bead, the center bead, and the lower of the two beads on the outside edge. Now go up and to the left through the top one. Now you are ready to start the new row.

Increasing on the Inside

Increasing within a row is guaranteed to distort your work. Be sure that the "fanned out" effect this creates is what you are looking for before doing this.

To increase within a row, simply put two beads where you would normally put one. To minimize the distortion, choose two beads that are somewhat thinner than the rest. These might be hard to find if you are using Delicas! (g) Complete the rest of the row normally.

On your way back, bring your needle up between the two beads. Pick up a bead and go on through the second of them and complete the rest of the row normally.

Decreasing on the Edges

Decreasing at the beginning of a row can be simply a matter of skipping a bead if you don't mind the thread showing. If you want to hide the thread you must god own and to the right through the bead directly below where your thread is coming out, then through the bead that is down and to the right on a diagonal from that bead and up and to the left through the bead above that. Then up and through the second bead from the left edge on the top. Now you can continue the row normally.

At the end of a row, continue through the last bead in the previous row. Go left through the bead below, through the bead that is up and left on the diagonal, down and right through the bead directly below, then up and to the right through the second bead from the top on the final column. Then go to the left through the top bead on the final row and then through the bead to the left of it. Continue the row normally.

Decreasing on the Inside

Decreasing in the midst of a row will cause distortion, practice with it to make sure you will get the effect you desire.

To decrease inside a row, skip a bead and finish the row normally

On the way back, treat the space with the missing bead just as though it were a normal sized space and put a bead in it. Finish the row normally.

Acknowledgements: I learned many of the techniques discussed here from Creative Beadweaving by Carol Wilcox Wells. Others were learned from books whose names are lost in the mists of my mind (and I'm only 28!). The rest are the result of my endless struggle to get peyote stitch to do what I want it to.


I know it must seem like I spend an awful lot of time talking about peyote stitch, but it's the most popular of stitches and also one of the most confusing for beginners. Following a peyote graph can be frustrating even to accomplished beadworkers. First let's take a quick look at the problem.

Peyote graphs are confusing because the rows are not continuous. They are more like a dotted line than a solid one. Compounding the confusion, the first "row" is actually two rows. This picture will hopefully make this clearer to you.

The numbers indicate the number of the row. First row, second row, third row, etc. The colors indicate the group of beads that are added in one pass across the piece. The bottom two rows are both red because together they make up the original string of beads you pick up to begin. The graph begins at the bottom left.

If you think this is confusing, traditional Native American peyote stitch is even more unintuitive with the first row consisting of three rows!

Now this isn't too bad once you get used to it, as long as the graph is only a few beads wide. Once your graphs grow to amulet bag sizes and larger it can become very difficult indeed. So, let's talk about some methods you can use to keep track of where you are and where you're going.


I came up with this idea one night when a particular graph was driving me crazy. I hate ripping out rows, it's so depressing! I needed something to block off the part I had already done and clearly delineate the row I was on. Sometimes when I'm having trouble concentrating (it just gets worse when you're frustrated) I need all the help I can get! I didn't want to use a ruler, because it would only block half of the previous row and it would be hard to attach to the paper. So I grabbed an extra sheet of graph paper and cut across it along the row and wallah! I had a peyote ruler. I alternated colors for each 5 columns in order to make it easier to count the graph as well. I've colored a ruler that matches my graph paper for you to print and cut out. If you have it laminated in clear plastic it should last you a good long time. (You can get this done at Kinko's.) Attach it to your graph with paper clips or a little inside-out loop of tape. I've also included an uncolored ruler that can be printed directly on clear plastic for those of you who like to see the whole pattern while you're working. .


I got this idea from a cross-stitch FAQ I was looking at. They recommend laminating the whole pattern and using dry erase markers to mark your place. You can mark it up as much as you want and clean it off easily for future use.


Susie Hughes has come up with a very useful variation of peyote stitch graph paper. It is not used for designing, the finished pattern is copied to this special graph paper in order to make it easier to follow. The graph is stretched so that each row is pulled apart from it's neighbors and can be clearly seen. It comes in one and two drop peyote and with or without numbered rows and step up beads marked. Check out The NEW Graph Paper on the EasytoBead home page.


Other kinds of needlework patterns often come in text format, why not beadwork? For peyote, write out the pattern in the order the beads are added. Not only will you find this easy to follow, but you can share your patterns via email this way! It's also the only useful way of sharing patterns with blind people. For example, here is the pattern for a peyote daisy strip in text format:

Start with 6 green.
green, green, green
repeat from here
green, green, peach
peach, peach, green
green, green, white
peach, peach, green
green, green, peach
End with 3 rows of 3 green.