2. Materials


2.0. Leather and Cloth
2.1. Pencil
2.2. Scissors
2.3. Flat Nosed Pliers
2.4. Needles

2.5. Thimbles
2.6. Awl
2.7. Beads
2.8. Thread
2.9. Sinew


Materials you'll need - click to enlarge


2.0. Leather and Cloth Top

When you are planning to start with beadwork you have to know what you want to do and on what kind of material you want to work on. Several materials were used by Native Americans. Most of the times soft materials like hides (mostly brain-tanned), woolen cloth and canvas were beaded on (for clothing) and sometimes even stiff materials such as rawhide or harness leather (for bags).

If you want to make a dress, you can take buckskin and woolen cloth for instance. You have to consider, that leather is a lot heavier than cloth but in some situations you have to take it, e.g. when you plan to work on a Pow Wow Dance Outfit for the Women's Northern Buckskin Dance.

SEE What is a Pow Wow?

The buckskin should be firm enough to support your beadwork, but also soft enough for the needle to pass through without having to take an awl and prepunch holes. Otherwise, you would enjoy your work not for long.
If you once started to bead on buckskin and felt it in your hands, you probably don't want to take any other material. But the technique of beading can be used to make a lot of other things. You can also take beadwork and decorate other materials and objects. I learned that it is best to take a fabric which does not stretch like it is used for Jeans. When you have Jeans, which you wanted to throw away because you get bored wearing them, try a little beadwork to pep them up.

Beadwork on jeans - click to enlargeshirt with beadwork - click to enlarge

I've also seen some beadwork on baseballcaps.

click to enlarge

made by:
Sheila Crume - Fastbuffalohorse, Modoc, Klamath Tribe

(c) Sheila Crume - Fastbuffalohorse - www.nativebydesign.com


2.1. PencilTop

First of all, you will need a pencil to draw your designs on the leather. The best choice is a very soft one, so that you can make the lines very easily with one stroke. The alternative is to use a ballpoint pen. Here it is important, that you draw the lines very lightly. Then while beading the piece you have to take care to conceal the lines within the stitches although the lines will fade at a longer time in the sunlight. Practice on a piece of scrap to get the right feeling with your pen. What you should avoid, is the use of felt-tipped pens. Lines drawn with them do not fade and when the workpiece gets wet they are likely to bleed.


2.2. ScissorsTop

It is recommended, that you have three different types of scissors at hand. One for cutting cloth and leather, a second for cutting paper like patterns (if you use the scissors designed for cloth the blades will go dull in no time!) and a third should be a small one for cutting threads and making small repairs.


2.3. Flat-nosed PliersTop

Sometimes it is necessary to break surplus or oddly shaped beads in a bead row, which is already sewn down. Isolate the bead you want to break on top of your index finger, so that enough thread is exposed on both sides. Stretch the thread taut, place the noses of the pliers around the upper half of the bead and squeeze them together carefully so that the thread is not near to be cut by accident.

If it happens, that the thread is cut, you can simply repair the damage: just open a few stitches, that the thread is long enough to sew it up.

breaking out a single bead - click to enlarge

CAREFUL! Close your eyes or look away to prevent getting hurt by jumping pieces of the cracking beads.

The pliers can also come in handy, when you encounter a hard spot in the leather. No matter how soft your buckskin might be, there are always small spots, which come from insect bites that suffered the live animal. The pliers will help you to pull the needle through.


2.4. NeedlesTop

There is one important thing: You should use the smallest needle possible for your work, because it is easier to work with. The best are the so called "sharps" which have a thin eye.

recommended needles - click to enlarge

The upper, shorter needles are especially for usual beadwork, while the lower, longer needles are used for woven beadwork.

The size of the beads should correspond with the size of the needles. The bigger the number, the smaller are the beads and the needles. For example: beads with the size of 14 are smaller than beads with the size of 12. But the thinner a needle, the easier it might break during use. Keep always a good supply at hand.


2.5. ThimblesTop

I don't recommend the use of conventional thimbles made of steel. They have a very smooth surface and it is possible that you slip off with the needle and hurt yourself or that the needle breaks, because you don't have the feeling how hard you can push it through the leather. In addition you have to feel the needle's eye on the bare tip of your finger to make sure, each stitch has the accurate length. When you push the needle through the leather (or cloth), your middle finger aids the thumb and index finger.
The best thing to protect your fingertips (especially the thumb) from callouses, is to use thimbles made of buckskin or other soft leather. You can easily make it yourself: take a piece of scrap, place it on your thumb and glue the ends around your finger that it fits tight.

Remember: leather stretches out a little, when used often so it has to be tight in the beginning. If you make it a bit wider it is very likely that you lose it after a while of use.


2.6. AwlTop

You will only need an awl, when you work on a stiff leather or other material, which needs to prepunched. Also if you work on buckskin and come to a hard spot, an awl comes in handy.


2.7. BeadsTop

The beads came with Columbus in 1492 for trading with the Native Americans. They were usually manufactured in Italy and the Czech Republic. This was the start for a new technique to decorate clothes and other objects made of buckskin. Also new designs were invented due to the variety of colors available. The beads vary in size. 6/0 to 9/0 are so called Ponybeads and size 10/0 to 16/0 are called Seedbeads. The bigger the number, the smaller are the beads. It is recommended, that you use beads with a size from 12/0 or 13/0. Bigger ones can also be used, when you plan to work on a larger object like decoration for a saddle. If you plan to make authentic replicas, you have to search for the right beads with the correct color.

white: commonly used

yellow: transluctant, found in various shades

click to enlarge

red and pink: in ancient times a deep burgundy red was favored; more recently a transparent red was used. An old rose was also used which was often called "Cheyenne pink" and was most popular in the Northern Plains, Crow and Plateau beadwork. Rose white inside was found throughout the tribes: transparent red- or rose-tone with a white core.

click to enlarge

blue: the color ranged from light ultramarine blue, light turquoise blue or gray blue through the middle ranges of bright royal blue to navy blue.

click to enlarge

green: light green or apple green as well as a transparent bluish bottlegreen.

click to enlarge

black: black was only used in the Middle West and Plateau tribes and in the sacred beadwork of the Cheyenne.

If you tend to contemporary beadwork you can choose from a lot more colors to create your motives.


2.8. ThreadTop

I found out, that using a perlon thread with 0,2mm in diameter is best working with. You can try to use a normal twist, but the danger of getting knots while working is extremly high. Waxing the thread is only little help. The perlon thread is easy to use, but you also have to be careful. If a certain spot is a little stretched it is endangered of getting knots. Beside that it is easier to use than a common thread, especially when it comes to making a start with your beadwork.


2.9. SinewTop

click to enlarge TOP: loose fibers --- BOTTOM: waxed fibers

For sewing several parts of leather together, I recommend a sinew. When you splice the sinew to get a thinner thread, it is adviseable to use beeswax to smoothen the fibers: the best is to pull the whole length of the thread several times through a wax-cake.