Ojibwa Sewn Bead Designs
Objectives: Students will recognize and
describe the sewn beading style of the Ojibwa tribe that was
influenced by seventeenth-century French floral embroidery and
fabric prints imported by the French traders. Students will adapt
and recreate a hand-sewn Ojibwa bead motif on felt using seed beads
similar to those in the Museum's collections of trade beads and
beaded objects, demonstrating beading skills.
Grade Levels: 6-9
Time Required: Two-to-five class periods, depending on age
and experience of beaders. (or students can work on their own
- First Period: Motivation and research: 20 minutes to see beaded
objects on Museum's Web site; (extension) 10 minutes to view French
designs online); 10 minutes to look at diagrammed motifs and
discuss the style's characteristics; 10-15 minutes to draw and
perfect a simple motif on paper.
- Second Period: 10 minutes to draw motif on felt with chalk or
use dressmaker's carbon paper to transfer it. Chalk easily rubs off
as one works. The rest of the period isi used to sew beads. Start
with an outline of a color, then fill in the shapes.
The Museum's online gallery
of the Frost Trade Bead Collection and examples of beaded objects
from the ethnographic collection:
Milwaukee Public Museum site on Wisconsin Indian's clothing
PDF file with page on a bandolier bag that has a
photograph of the beading technique described below.
Native American Resources Online exhibit of Ojibwe beaded bandolier
Motivation: Ojibwa girls started to learn to
sew beads at the age of seven. They began by sewing an outline of
beads around the edge of a motif marked on cloth or deerskin. As
they progressed, they sewed echoing lines of beads inside the
outline, eventually filling in the whole design, either with one
color or several. Designs were geometric prior to 1800, but with
the appearance of European patterned fabric in trade, floral
patterns became popular. Ojibwa Indian floral bead designs
incorporated stems, leaves, and flowers into fanciful patterns that
fit the shape of the object being beaded. The designs are
realistic, but simplified. We can adapt this method and style
today. Beading has experienced a resurgence in popularity recently,
and supplies are abundant and easily accessible.
1. With what types of beading are students familiar? (bracelets,
2. What do sewn beading designs remind us of? (decals,
3. How is the use of beading today similar to the Ojibwa use of
beading? It decorates fabric on clothes or parts of clothes
(collars, yokes, trims) with floral motifs, dressing up the
4. How can we adapt our own floral or animal design to one suitable
for sewn beading? (by simplifying the lines and shape when we draw
a version of it) Show examples.
5. Where could we sew a sewn beaded motif on our clothes? ( on
shoes, vest, collar, yoke, skirt, cuff, purse, pocket,
Multi-partitioned container for beads
Drawing: After viewing the examples of sewn beads on the Web
and in print, and discussing the style, students will use a picture
of a favorite flower, leaf, or animal to make a cartoon or line
drawing of on paper. Keep the design small (up to 1 1/2" diameter
because beading takes a lot of time).
Transfering: Transfer this design to felt by
redrawing it in chalk. Keep chalk handy to redraw lines that get
erased with handling. (or use dressmaker's carbon to transfer
Threading the Needle: Cut off an 18-21"
length of beading thread. Thread a beading needle. Tie a knot in
one end. (Loop thread end around forefinger, roll, and pull off
between thumb and forefinger to create a knot.)
Sewing on the Beads: Place the needle at back
of felt piece. Push needlepoint up through the felt along a line in
the design and gently pull thread all the way through to the knot.
Place 3 beads of your planned color on your needle. Hold the beads
along the line on the felt and push the needlepoint down through
the line again at the edge of the third bead. Bring the needle up
slightly behind the last bead you sewed and thread the needle
through that bead again, then add three more beads. (This anchors
the line of beads.) Repeat this process along the outline. When you
have about 4-5 inches of thread left, push the needle to the back
and make several shallow, small stitches in one place to anchor the
thread. Cut the end off. Continue beading with another thread.
Caution: Handling the felt will cause
the chalk to rub off. You may need to reapply the chalk design, so
keep your original sketch handy.
Using the Completed Patch: The patch
can be sewn on as a square, or you can cut around the shape of the
motif and hand-sew it (or glue it) onto an object.
Assessment: Students will be able to relate
their design to an Ojibwa style motif and explain the derivation of
the style. They will be able to describe how they designed the
motif using a flower or a photograph of one as a model and
simplified it. They will have outlined and filled in the motif with
colored seed beads. Older or more adept students will have smoother
results; there is a learning curve. Perseverance and increasingly
good results through the project are to be marked.(The sample
project here took an adult six hours to complete. The felt piece is
4 1/2" square.)
Illinois State Goals and Standards Addressed:
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.A.2 Explain ways in which language, stories, folk tales,
music, media, and artistic creations serve as expressions of
18.A.3 Explain how language, literature, the arts,
architecture, and traditions contribute to the development and
transmission of culture.