Further, on appliqué beadwork, the eye tends to fill in gaps between beads, especially where one row intersects another. Many examples demonstrate that, upon close inspection, there are little spaces of background cloth that show through, that is, they are not covered by beads. So, if this was good enough for the old time beadworkers, is it good enough for you?
Myths: Transparent Beads –
Like many art forms, there are a number of false notions regarding historical beading. One is that “Indians did not use transparent beads.” Sorry, but you’ll find that Natives used transparent beads from the east coast to the west, including the Plains. They used them in design elements of pieces with opaque bead backgrounds, they used them as backgrounds with opaque beads in the designs, and they used them exclusively in projects, without opaque beads. The tendencies for using transparent beads may be different from tribe to tribe, but Indians have been using them with stunning effects for quite some time.
Another myth says that Plains Indians didn’t use seed beads until 1850 or later. The research shows otherwise. Allen Chronister, in his article, “Beadwork in the American West”, from The Book of Buckskinning VIII, cites numerous collected and documented examples of the pre-1850 use of seed beads. True, beadwork was predominantly done in pony beads in the early 1800s, but there were many pieces where pony beads AND seed beads were used together on the same object. (Note: “Pound beads” or just “beads” were the European terms used in those days for these larger beads. It was not until 1929 that the term “pony beads” was applied.) The trade inventory carried by Lewis and Clark (1804-1805) included “seed beads”, and, by the 1830s, seed beads were part of inventories of the several trading posts established on the northern Plains. Archeological sites of Indian villages have yielded a surprising array of seed beads from the pre-1850 period. The trend was that, in the early 1800s, beadwork was predominantly pony beaded. Seed beads were used with pony beads, but the proportions of pony-to-seed beads reversed over time, so that, by the 1850s, pony beads were little used and seed beads took over.
Another story is that there were no glass beads on the Plains before 1800. Actually, some Plains tribes were receiving quantities of European goods, including glass beads, as early as 1730, and these were distributed to other tribes through trade.
Don’t Mix Your Beads –
A notion among beginners is that, when planning a project, you should acquire beads all in the same size and made in the same country. But why limit yourself? As we’ve indicated above, this theory is self-defeating because of the variations in bead sizes and colors. The smart beadworker will buy the colors he likes for the project at hand. And, whether a bead is marketed as “old time” or “modern”, Czech, Italian, French, or German shouldn’t make any difference. You should buy the color that most fits your needs. For example, there are some great shades in the current Czech bead line that fit perfectly well in an old-style project. To help with sizes, just keep in mind that French beads are approximately one size larger than the Czech, Italian, and German which are generally the same size as each other. (For example, if you have 11/0 Czech beads, order 12/0 French.)
For those wishing to replicate “old time” beadwork, this idea of mixing beads is becoming more important with the passage of time. Stocks of old beads will eventually disappear. So the wise bead worker will stock up on old beads as he’s able, while buying from new stock, as needed. What does it matter if a piece has new beads mixed with old, Czech beads mixed with French, as long as the final result is pleasing?
Beadworking is an art form, limited only by the skill and imagination of the artist. The wise beadworker will not confine himself in his choices of supplies when there is so much from which to choose. There is a wonderful array of beads available on today’s market. And the opportunity to study original examples of Indian beadwork through books and the internet is immense. So do your research and grow in your craft by taking advantage of all that’s before you.