Native American Beadwork

The Native Americans used a wide variety of products to create beadwork, depending on the area where they lived and the items on hand. They often looked to nature to find inspiration and used naturally occurring elements to create the beads. The first beadwork incorporated beads made out of wood, shells and stones or metal in the area. Turquoise, silver, gold and amber were all popular elements. When white settlers began arriving in the United States, they traded glass beads to the Native Americans for animal skins and other items.

One of the Native American traditions was to use all parts of the animals they hunted, and this helped in their beadwork. A popular way to use the bones and teeth of the animals was to carve the pieces into beads. They also used the claws or talons of animals for beads. They used gemstones found in the area, such as quartz.

Comprehensive resources on the beadwork used by Native Americans include:

Beadwork varied from tribe to tribe and from group to group. Even Cherokee living in different areas produced different types of beadwork. It was popular for groups to pass down their ideas and techniques from one generation to the next. Women often learned how to create beadwork on looms by watching their mothers and grandmothers do the work.

Native American beadwork is still being produced today by various tribes. The beadwork mimics the look of the traditional style and is used as decoration on clothing and moccasins. It's also laid onto leather straps to create necklaces, earrings and other types of jewelry. These pieces use modern glass beads, but have a more traditional look and feel.

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