Finding and selecting the desired color and size of bead for your first beadwork project requires
a few answers that you may not know where to find. We must look first at what type of beadwork
you are trying to produce. Is it a reproduction indian beadwork project based on a museum
piece? Or, is it modern powwow beadwork with a different color selection? Powwow beadwork for
fancy dancing will include fancy cut glass beads and many bead color variations, while a museum
piece of an early period may only have four to five colors. Later museum examples of indian
beadwork may have more variety of color selection.
Before you can graduate to this type of recreating a museum piece, you will need to start off with
a simple project to learn the basic skills. The differences and variations in beadwork styles in
these genres are color and patterns. The beader who knows what type of project to start with may
also know exactly what their color choices are. If this is your first project, then let’s start off with a
simple color selection with an easy pattern. Working with commonly available Czech beads is a
good place to start. I would recommend using white, sky blue, black,and red to start. Size 13
Czech beads is a good all around size to work with.
The project first choice is a simple one, a neckbag. Simple in construction and bead design. I will
not call it a medicine bag, but some may if you wish. I will begin with the gathering of materials.
1. Beading needles and a small glover needle for sewing the finished product together.
2. Buckskin or leather. Full grain leather is difficult to bead on. If you can find some braintan
scrap, this is the best. Suede will work, but it is commercial tan and not as easy to get the
needle to pass through.
3. Beads in the colors you desire. Try one ounce (hank) of each color with a possible secondhank in your background color. Size 13 Czech or French 12 will do the trick.
4. Soft lead pencil with a small ruler.
4. Masking tape for the back of your leather, this will keep your pattern from stretching while
5. Thimbles for your fingers. I have made my own out of leather to stop the poking, but the oldstandby metal ones work for some people.
6. Nymo beading thread as well as a small roll of artificial sinew will round out the needs here.
7. Thin cardboard or construction paper for templates. It is better to make the pattern incardboard than make a mistake with the expensive leather materials.
For ease of simplicity,let’s start with the general design of the neck bag. I would advise a small
rectangle about 2″ wide by 3″ long. You can adjust according to your available materials or
personal needs. The bead design needs to be in your mind and considering this, let’s make sure
to keep a small border with no beading on the edge so you have room to sew the final project.
I would suggest a small equilateral cross or four directions design as your first beading. This
design allows you to become familiar to beading while producing a traditional piece of beadwork.
For the layout, use the paper pattern and draw the design on it first. It easy to make changes.
Then using the ruler, you can make your border edge on the buckskin and transfer your design
Starting with one corner, we need to get your thread tied down. I usually will take the needle
through and just under the surface, weaving in and out of the leather, and then turning back
around to the opposite direction. Do this several times and feed the needle back to you starting
point in the corner. We are ready to add beads.
I start with usually 8 beads on the needle at a time. I will pull the string with the beads on it and
find out where they will lay. I then will dip the needle and go under the surface coming outwhere
the next bead line will start. This is lazy stitch. I have placed photos here to show you some real
examples and some braintan buckskin with a few bead lines on it for illustration. If you look
closely, I have included the stitch for locking down your thread.
Drawing the design on your leather with a soft lead pencil will remind you when you need to add
colors to your bead line. You can lay the beads down while on the string and stretch them toward
the design to see if you need to add or take away a bead or two. Going back and forth
completing each line should bring you to the final tie down. Go under the beads in the same
manner that you tied down to start. It is a bit tedious, but you will get the hang of it.
The final sewing of the project is what is left to do. Place the two sides with the finished surface
towards each other. You will then use the glovers needle to whip stitch the project together.
Cutting the neck string is next. Take piece of scrap about 6″ in diameter and start from the edge
with your scissors and cut a thin neck band going around the circle until you have about two feet
of string from the leather. Attach one end to the top left or right edge of the bag, try to measure
the bags hanging position by holding the string, bag, and adjust as needed.
This should be it. Finish by sewing the string down the last edge and turn the bag inside out to
show the finished product.