Bead Looms & Beadwork History
Native American beadwork, like quill work before it, is a decorative art form. Almost as soon as seed beads were available, native women invented two techniques for using them: loom beading and applique embroidery. Those two techniques are still in use today. Loom-beading and a form of single-needle weaving (peyote beading) are not adaptations of techniques known to European or other cultures – they are native inventions.
Even though clothing and dwelling styles have changed, and the original needs and certain utensils have vanished, decorative beadwork continues to flourish. Along the shores of Lake Huron, Lake Superior and northern portions of Lake Michigan, the Woodland Ojibwa people have maintained a rich beadwork tradition. Bead weaving on a simple wooden loom is an art that has been practiced by the Ojibwa for many years. In early weaving, the work was done with a series of threads across a bow made from a tree branch. This evolved into a simple rectangular wooden frame tied together at the corners. It eventually evolved into the modern version used today. Many intricate patterns and designs can be made by using bead looms.
How to Use Bead Looms
Weaving beads with a loom is a beautiful and traditional Native American art form that you can learn to do, too. Even if you’re a beginner, you can make bigger and better designs faster with a bead loom than hand weaving.
To start using your bead loom, you will need:
- Warp Thread: lengthwise threads that are used to string up the loom before starting to bead.
- Weft Thread: thread upon which the beads are strung when fitting the beads between the warp threads.
- Seed Beeds in a variety of colors
- Beading Needles
- Bees Wax
You can purchase all of these products individually, but if you are new to using a bead loom, here are some perfect starter kits available through the Wandering Bull – Native American Craft Supply store online:
Once you have added the warp to your loom, you are ready to begin weaving the weft, which is what you call the thread and beads that run across the warp. The loom holds the warp threads under tension while you weave across them with the weft threads and beads. The most basic technique for weaving beads is the square weave. In this weave the warp and weft threads cross each other at right angles as it is in most woven fabrics. The beads are secured on the weft thread between the warps. This method of beadwork has obviously been used for a long time, as wampum belts from the 1600’s through the 1800’s also use the ‘single-strand square-weave’ technique.
You can purchase graph paper to help lay out your design, as well as books and DVDs to show you how to use a bead loom, at The Wandering Bull – Native American Craft Supply store online: