Sewing the Beads

Ojibwa mothers and daughters used to spend hours together sewing beads onto panels that would eventually be used to decorate clothing, moccasins, boots or tikinogans (the cradle boards mothers used to hold their babies).

Sometimes, too, we would make beaded necklaces to sell to tourists in the summer or to travelers who stretched their legs at the station when the train pulled in to get water for the steam engine.

The beads were bought at the general store in multi-coloured hanks.

In the days before plastic vials, we stored them in small leather pouches, tin cans or glass jars. To make them easy to pick up with a needle we'd often sort them into clam shells before we started the sewing.  Until we moved close to town we actually didn't have too many things made of glass because they broke too easily.

Ojibwa designs were always stylized flowers and leaves... never the geometric patterns used by the plains tribes. The only colour we didn't use was orange... and I don't know whether it was because the colour wasn't available or that it just wasn't favoured. I haven't seen orange used on any of the old beaded examples in museums either.

It used to be that the beads were sewn onto hides... usually tanned deer hide. But when I was a girl most women in the Ontario bush were buying black velveteen to decorate with beads and incorporate into moccasins and clothing. It saved the work of tanning hides and it was a lot easier on the fingers.

Nowadays I make my own beads from polymer clay and one day I'll write a page all about the process.

Click here if you want to leave the sewing beads page and go home but otherwise here's a whole bunch of other stories by me. . .