Bead Looms and Native Indian Beading

One of the most versatile ways to create anything with beads, is with a beading loom. If you’re not familiar with a beading loom, they can be purchased as a kit at your local craft store. And, they’re quite inexpensive! Looms offer you many options for beading, and if you’re wanting to bead any kind of band, like a belt, a collar for your pet, or a wide choker, this would be the way to do it! You can do a lot of beading, and once you get comfortable using the loom, in about half of the time. And, it’s also very simple to learn.

A little history on Native Indian Beading

Native American bead work, 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, decorative bead work 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 bead work 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 turned into a simple rectangular wooden frame tied together at the corners. It eventually became the modern version used today. Many intricate patterns and designs can be made by using bead looms.

Originally, Native American beads were carved from natural materials like shells, coral, turquoise and other stones, copper and silver, wood, amber, ivory, and animal bones, horns, and teeth. Glass beads were not used until colonists brought them from Europe 500 years ago, but like horses, they quickly became part of American Indian culture. Today glass beads, particularly fine seed beads, are the primary materials for traditional beaders of many tribes.

Here are just a few examples of what you can do on a loom:

Dream Catchers

Dream catchers are one of the most fascinating traditions of Native Americans. The traditional dream catcher was intended to protect the sleeping individual from negative dreams, while letting positive dreams through. The positive dreams would slip through the hole in the center of the dream catcher, and glide down the feathers to the sleeping person below. The negative dreams would get caught up in the web, and expire when the first rays of the sun struck them.

Native Americans believe that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The dream catcher when hung over or near your bed swinging freely in the air, catches the dreams as they flow by. The good dreams know how to pass through the dream catcher, slipping through the outer holes and slide down the soft feathers so gently that many times the sleeper does not know that he/she is dreaming. The bad dreams not knowing the way get tangled in the dream catcher and perish with the first light of the new day.

You will notice that often there is either a large bead or two, or maybe several small beads in or near the center of a dream catcher. These beads usually represent the spider or spiders in the web.

Dream Catchers are relatively easy to make, and I suggest that you try your hand at making one. They can be anything from plain and simple, to elaborately decorated. It’s the creators choice. There are LOTS of free instructions on how to make a dream catcher all over the internet.

Beaded Clothing and Shoes

In todays age and available options, hand sewing beads on clothes, or on moccasins, isn’t practiced as much as it was 100 years ago. It can take up to a year or more, to bead a dress by hand. And, finding a true artifact to possess, is a rarity, and most likely won’t ever happen, as it would be disrespectful to the artist, and usually a family member, to give away such a personal piece that someone else put all of their love and sweat into.

However, if ever given the opportunity to see such an artifact in person, take advantage of the opportunity. It’s a sight to behold! Such intricate and beautiful work. You’ll likely not see anything else like it.

Our forefathers of beading

If you are considering beading, or are already a beader, I highly suggest that you look online at some of the Native Indian beading sites. It will give you an entirely new respect for beading. And, even if you don’t think beading is for you, I still suggest you take the time and check it out.

So, now you have a little more knowledge of how beading became such a curious and successful form of self expressive craftsmanship. I hope you enjoyed this tidbit of history.

Now get out there, and bead it up!

Shelly (Machele)

Machele VanVoorhis


  1. Very Informative, easy to read. But the Menu at top perhaps you do not need to put all your post there because it look stuffed. and on your main home page, perhaps you can add some featured pictures. Weel done!

  2. Thank you for your input Jonathan. I will see if I can make my page more attractive and less stuffed. Have a great day!

  3. Hello Machele….love your article on beading. I’ve got a Arapahoe dream catcher my wife gave me many moons ago that hangs on my bed post on my side of the bed and you know what….I don’t have bad dreams! Thanks for sharing and sorry for being so late in commenting.

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