“Native American beadwork is an art form created by indigenous peoples. There are two forms. One involves the use of a loom. The other is called applique embroidery. Small seed beads were originally imported from Czechoslovakia, and Czech beads are still the gold standard for beadwork. Long, thin needles are needed to craft beadwork, as well as special nylon thread, which is waxed with beeswax to keep it supple and compliant.
For many beadwork artists, the act of crafting beadwork is sacred, like a prayer. “Every bead is special,” I was told at the age of fourteen when I first began beading. If even a small seed bead falls on the floor, you pick it up. When I craft designs, I tend to think of the small beads as being an integral part of a larger pattern, in the same way that our lives are interconnected to each other’s, each of immeasurable worth and value.
Beadwork can be work daily, in forms such as hair clips, medallions, watches, bracelets, necklaces, and any other imaginable jewelry form. But it is most glorious when seen on a Native American dancer representing his or her tribe, history, elders, and ancestors. Beading a full regalia set for a dancer can take up to a year, depending on the size of the beads and the intricacy of the design. That’s why regalia is difficult to purchase–it takes so much time and love that people often don’t prefer to make it for those who aren’t family members or close friends. It’s simply impossible to put a price on a year’s worth of work where countless hours are invested. Yet, it is more than worth the sacrifice to see a beloved family member shine in the powwow circle as they wear your designs.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at a book reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.“