Bead weaving uses tiny seed beads and string to create decorative works of art as well as wearable items, such as necklaces and belts. There are two methods of bead weaving — one method uses a loom while the other method, commonly known as off-loom weaving, is created with a needle or by hand. Both methods of bead weaving have a storied history on the North American continent. Craftspeople continue to practice bead weaving in the 21st century.
It is believed that bead weaving originated with Native American tribes. One theory is that the Native Americans received the small glass beads from European traders and began weaving the beads into their textiles. Another theory holds that bead weaving is one of the oldest art forms and came about at the same time as basket and fabric weaving.
Early bead weaving methods did not require any tools. These techniques were most likely quite similar to braiding and were known as wire work, even though the string used to hold the project together was usually made of either animal hides or twisted together plant material. In the 20th century, wire-work beading came to refer to threading beads on to thin strands of wire to make jewelry.
Another hand-weaving style was known as bias weaving, which was a bit more complicated than wire-work weaving. Wire work did not have a warp, or support thread, and relied on two weft, or filler, threads. The weft thread in bias weaving, however, was occasionally bent to turn it into a warp thread.
Common hand-weaving stitches still used by modern craftspeople include the brick stitch and the gourd stitch. The gourd stitch, also known as the peyote stitch, can be used to create elaborate, tube-shaped pieces of jewelry. Brick stitch earns its name because the beads resemble a brick facade when the weaving is complete.
Loom weaving most likely originated when European explorers came to the North American continent in the 17th century. A common loom was the bow loom and a common weaving style on the loom was the double-strand square weave. The warp threads were attached at two ends to the loom while craftspeople threaded the beads onto the weft thread. The weft thread is then usually woven in and out of the warp threads, thereby producing a square design. Using the bow loom, craftspeople were able to create larger pieces of art than they were using hand methods.