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Nebraska Trailblazer #1:
American Indian Beadwork Patterns

Before trade beads, the American Indians used bits of shell, bones, chips of rock, seeds, nuts, beans, bits of minerals, quills, teeth, claws, fish and lizard scales, and pearls to adorn their clothing. Some even made their own beads of clay. Trade beads were introduced to the Plains Indians in the early 1800s. White and light blue were some of the first colors traded.

In general, there are two dominant designs in American Indian beadwork. The Plains Indians beadwork provides a strong example of the geometric designs, and the Woodland Indians were known for their more floral and curvilinear designs. Most patterns and use of color were based upon traditional design principles of a tribal community, however, ideas were borrowed, traded, and sometimes stolen during warfare. Earliest Plains designs included large triangles, diamonds, sawtooth bands, and rectangles. Linear patterns were included in the late 1800s making the Plains designs a little more complex.

The most common stitch used on the Plains was the lazy stitch. This type of stitch was perfect for geometric designs because a person could bead rows of six to twelve beads with one stitch.

Although various colors hold symbolic meaning for the Plains Indians, their beadwork seems to be done with favorite rather than symbolic colors. Typically, Sioux beadwork is dominated by red, white, and blue beads. Many tribes used Sioux designs and any number of colors were available in the late 1800s.

The following designs were used by the Sioux Indians.

cloud   dragonfly  feather
four directions  tipifour directions bird   mountain  horse tracks  leaf


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Last updated 15 December 1998

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