Weaving with Seed Beads on a Bead
Objective: Students will be able to
describe the process of weaving and demonstrate how Native
Americans and others wove beads on a loom to create long, narrow
bands for hair and bracelets. They will produce a patterned beaded
band influenced by their visual study of Native American geometric
patterns in their Web and print resources. They can discuss how the
use of color, shape, and value in Native American beading has
changed through the years because of the influence of other
Grade Levels: Grades 5-7
Time Required: Several class periods (or use of free
Right: Ojibwa Hair Wrap of Seed Beads
*Caution: Students may need to use scissors
to score the carboard; or teachers use the knife
- Purchased bead looms or make a loom (see instructions
- Cardboard (cut to loom pattern)
- + craft knife*
- wood glue
- 2 wide round-headed ½" screws
- sewing wax for thread (optional)
- Seed or pony beads (larger beads for younger students)
- Linen or nylon thread
- Needle Bead patterns (Graph paper or online interactive bead
- Container for beads (muffin tin, egg carton.)
Motivation: Beads have been used by many
cultures, including Native American, for thousands of years. A
defining moment in Native American cultures came with their
exposure to European glass beads in the seventeenth century. They
were ready-to-use, rich in color, hard and durable, and could be
traded for with pelts. Native Americans became very interested in
obtaining glass beads. They used the beads to decorate clothing,
vessels, tools, and weapons. Seed beads adorned bags, moccasins,
hair ties, and other garments. When tourist trade increased after
1900, Native Americans created beaded items especially for this
market. Patterns reflected the styles of the time as well as
traditional designs. Beading has enjoyed a revival in the crafts in
recent years. There are ample selections of beads and other
supplies available in local craft stores at moderate prices. Online
resources will give students background information and activities
with which to learn about Native American beadwork.
Illinois State Museum's MuseumLink Module on Native Americans of
Section on trade among Native Americans and others.
Illinois State Museum's <a
Collection of Trade Beads</a>
NativeTech Bead Work information and interactive bead pattern
Information about Native American beadwork
Barth, Georg and Holm, Bill (1993). Native American Beadwork:
Traditional Beading Techniques for Modern-Day Beadweavers.
Dean, David (2002). Beading in the Native American
Tradition. Interweave Press.
Goodhue, Horace (1989). Indian Beadweaving Patterns. Bead
Orchard, William (2002). Native American Beadwork.
Constructing a bead loom (optional): The diagram shows a
piece of heavy corrugated cardboard that has been cut into a
cross-shape with the dimensions labeled. The dotted lines represent
scoring lines made with a craft knife* half-way through the
cardboard so that the flaps can fold upward to form the sides and
ends of the loom. Apply wood glue (stronger than white glue) to the
ends of the sides. Press the ends of the loom over the glued edges.
Thrust a sewing pin through the each edge of the loom ends so that
it plunges through the glue and into the loom side. This will
prevent it popping apart. Use the craft knife to cut 1/8" deep (and
3/16" evenly spaced) slits across the top of the loom ends for the
beading thread to be placed. Poke a hole about 1¼" below the
center of the slits and screw in the half-inch screw to serve as
the anchor on each end for the beading thread (leaving about 1/8"
of the screw shank showing).
*Caution: use craft knife carefully: students may use
scissors to cut and score cardboard.
Designing a Pattern: After looking at examples of Native
American geometric bead designs in books and online, students can
use graph paper or an online interactive to draw or color their
bead pattern. The pattern should measure about a 1-1 ½" wide
and about 8" long. A square patch could be made instead of a
bracelet. (Project size may be determined by student capabilities,
time constraints, and costs.)
Threading the loom: unroll two to three yards of beading
thread from the spool . Wrap one end of the thread around one of
the screws on the loom a couple of times. While holding it tight,
slide the long end of the thread through a center slit, wind it
around the opposite screw, return it through the opposite center
slit, etc., (keeping the tension even) until the thread has gone
through all the slits needed for the width of your design. Cut and
tie off the thread on the nearest screw.
Bead Weaving (also see online diagrams for
instructions): Cut off a one-yard length of beading thread. Thread
one end through the eye of your needle. Pull the thread through
until the length is almost halved (you will adjust as you bead).
Tie the long end of your thread to the outside warp thread on the
loom (which side depends on whether you are left- or right-handed),
leaving at least an inch or two hanging at the end (you will tuck
it through the first row of beads later).
Commercial loom with seed beads
Use your needle to pick up the first row of beads
from your containers of beads (use a muffin tin or water color pan
to separate colors). Follow the color sequence of your pattern.
When the beads are all on the needle, slip them down the thread to
the bottom, snug against the beading threads. Pass the needle UNDER
all the warp threads. Hold the beads while you slip each one into
lace between successive warp threads. Then pass the needle through
the beads from the opposite direction but this time ABOVE all the
warp threads. This will lock the beads into place for Row One.
Repeat this sequence for each row. As you near the
end of your thread, run it through the bead row an extra (3rd) time
and cut it off. Start the next thread by threading it through the
same row (4th time) to anchor it, then continue as before. To tie
off, leave enough of the warp threads to be able to tie them into a
fringe or tuck them into the columns of beads. They could also be
folded back and hidden inside a felt backing cut to size and glued
or sewed on.
Weaving Techniques: bead pattern should be like the drawn or
colored pattern source; beads rows should be even and straight.
History: Students will relate how they made their object
using the tools, how their design is Native American-inspired, and
how Native Americans would have used their object.
Home-made loom with pony beads
Illinois State Board of Education Goals and
25.B.2 Understand how elements and principles combine within an
art form to express ideas.
26.A.2f Understand the artistic processes of printmaking,
weaving, photography and sculpture
26.A.3e Describe how the choices of tools/technologies and
processes are used to create specific effects in the arts.
27.B.2 Identify and describe how the arts communicate the
similarities and differences among various people, places and
27.B.3 Know and describe how artists and their works shape
culture and increase understanding of societies, past and
18.C.2 Describe how changes in production (e.g., hunting and
gathering, agricultural, industrial) and population caused changes
in social systems.