Beadwork has been used for ornamentation long before manmade beads were available. Seeds, sea shells, animal teeth, claws, and talons were used to decorate clothing and ceremonial regalia as well as to make amulets, hair ornaments and other jewelry which may or may not have had some significance other than decoration.
Many Native American beadwork designs are based on the symbols various tribes used to depict certain things such as sunsets, lightening, rivers, mountains or other things in nature that held significance in their culture. Some of these designs were being made with seeds and sewn onto clothing with animal sinew before the advent of glass seed beads, and have been passed down through the generations, changing little with time.
Beads and beadwork have been found in archaeological digs of locations dating back 40,000 years throughout the world. Many of the same types of beadwork have been found in such disparate locations that is hard to imagine that they didn’t develop in various locations independently.
During the Renaissance era and on up through the Victorian era, women of status were enamored with clothing and accessories heavily encrusted with beadwork, and hand beaded jewelry. Some were adept at working these beautiful pieces themselves and others employed servants to do it for them.
As the Victorian era faded, this type of adornment was found mostly on such clothing as wedding attire and later, celebrity attire (remember Liberace and Elvis) and in show costumes.
The post WWII era brought new prosperity to America, and an influx of inexpensive imports flooded the market. It was cheaper to buy than to make, and for many Americans, being able to buy an item rather than make it was a status symbol. Sadly, the beautiful handcrafted beaded jewelry and embroidered accessories lost favor and faded. The words hand crafted, hand made, home made, became synonymous with cheap, shoddy, inferior. The intricate bead stitches would have been lost forever except for the avid crafters who refused to bow to “progress,” and refused to accept the labels being applied to their workmanship. They continued their craft, making items to adorn themselves and beautify their homes, give for gifts to friends and family who could appreciate their talent, and teaching anyone who would learn.
Today, thanks to our ability to communicate with people world wide through the internet, these stitches, this knowledge accumulated from ancient times, can be shared with all who wish to learn. Such beading magazines as Beadwork and Bead and Button feature masters in this art form such as Laura McCabe and Dianne Fitzgerald and books by many master beadworkers are readily available at Amazon.com and Barns and Noble, not to mention the many “unknowns” who share their expertise in online tutorials and forums, and make their patterns available to the public.
About the Author: Jennie Hennesay a.k.a. The Bead Doodler is a regular contributor to Bukisa. She sells her beaded jewelry and patterns at The Bead Doodler. You can read her blogs, A Crafter’s Life, The Bead Doodler and Herbally Yours. She’s also produced some Squidoo lenses and E How articles.