Goals, Rationale, and Background Information
Before the arrival of European explorers and settlers, the native peoples of the vast eastern woodlands, stretching for the New England coast to the Great Lakes, decorated their clothing, moccasins, pouches and other personal accessories primarily with dyed porcupine quills. The porcupine, surviving on a diet of tree bark, leaves and tender branches, was an inhabitant of the northern forest and was most commonly found form upstate New York into the Upper Midwest. Its barb-ended quills not only provided the natives with a material in which to make and produce their crafts, clothing, and decorative accents, but also defended the slow moving rodent form enemies such as wolves, and dogs of fur trappers. Native Americans carefully removed the hollow quills from the porcupine's body and tail, sometimes without even killing the animal, sorted them by size, as some quills could measure five inches in length, and dried them. Using natural dyes the tan and dull white quills were dyed striking shades of red, yellow and black. The quills were then softened by being chewed, flattened and attached to the leather or cloth (in the later years) being decorated. The flat quills could be worked with in a number of ways. They could be wrapped around strips of sinew (buffalo tendon) or threaded and sewn to the surface, or could be woven over and under warp threads of a loom to produce and effect like beadwork. Some more experienced quill workers could take quills that were as small as one eighth of and inch wide and splice them together to form long seemingly unbroken pieces (Shaw 1993).
"Quill work spread from the woodland nations to the Plains, where the porcupine was not native. Quills became on the chief materials to commerce between nations as Plains Indians had to trade with their eastern neighbors" (Shaw 1993). This was changed dramatically when trappers and traders introduced glass beads to both groups in the early 1800's. Plains Indians were intrigued and fascinated with the shimmer and color of the glass. The ease of working with beads, which required no dyeing, hunting, softening, flattening, and simplicity of threading and sewing brought ready and enthusiastic acceptance from all but the die hard traditionalists who thought them a cheap substitute.
Although beadwork soon became dominant, quillwork retained its champions and never completely died out, and the two mediums were sometimes combined very successfully.
The first beads brought by trappers and traders were called pony beads because pony teams transported them. These beads were usually only blue or white in color. By the 1840's much smaller and more versatile beads were available in a great variety of colors. These beads soon took favor over the larger pony beads. Beads were so highly regarded and used by the Native Americans that traders who were primarily interested in beaver and other fur pelts, found beads to be more effective in trade and barter because of their high demand among the Indians.
Loom Beadwork among the Plains Indians is rarely seen. Even for narrow strips such as brow bands and armbands the beads were sewed directly to the cloth or buckskin. The Plains Indians used more beadwork than the Woodland Indians, and they used heavier Buckskin or Elk skin. The Skins of the Plains Indians were not as soft as the smoke tanned buckskin of the central woodland Indians, nor were they as thin. Therefore they used sinew to sew on their beads, which being stiffer than tread, helped to embed the beads tightly in the hide.
Women did most if not all bead and quill work. Therefore, most crafts reflect a feminine point of vies. Indians on the Plains practiced a sharp division of labor, the men hunted and defended while the women cared for the children and elders, and tended to the crops, cooked and made clothing.
Beadwork reached it highest level of sophistication among the Plains Indians, particularly the Western Sioux. In later years of the nineteenth century, come craftswomen went to great lengths to produce buckskin war or ceremonial shirts and dresses covered with elaborate decorative beadwork, paint, shells, or hair locks, and edged with rawhide fringe. When covered with beadwork these pieces of clothing could become increasingly heavy weighing five to seven pounds. "However, as the native civilizations declined, the shirts became more and more elaborate and were worn with enormous pride by their makers and owners as emblems of their oppressed and vanishing cultures (Shaw 1993).
Structure and Outline
Bigbook of Indian Beadwork Designs
by Kay Dohesty Bennett, beads of differing materials (wood, plastic, glass), string,
whole class viewing and discussion of beading patterns, colors and designs of pictures and captions in the book. Individual planning on paper of student's design and pattern, and individual construction of the student's necklace.
listen to literature, attend to designs and recognize patterns of colors and shapes, make a plan of necklace, and construct necklace.
read, demonstrate, and verify student's analysis of designs and patterns conduct learning, monitor students, and listen
1. Introduce book to students. Title, author, and brief summary. Give background information about beading and the influence and importance of beading and decorating to the Plains Indians.
2. Conduct a picture walk with the children. Let students generate conversation and reactions to the pictures and reflect on the use of color, patterns, shapes and designs the Plains Indians used. Use questioning skills to draw out idea of beading as a craft and talent. Be sure to let students run the conversation and generate ideas about ideas and conclusions they may have regarding pictures of clothing, shoes, headdresses, jewelry and other Plains Indian items.
3. Give Students the opportunity to sketch a design on paper of a design or pattern they might like to use for their necklace.
4. When students are finished with their plan, have them select material they will need to construct their necklace.
5. Share designs and patterns with class as we put on our beaded necklaces.
Assessment and Monitoring
Look for student's ability to see color, identify patterns, name shapes and observe designs in pictures in the book. Elicit conversations about sizes of beads and their impact on the designs and patterns. Monitor students thinking and planning as they make a sketch of what they are going to create.
Reflections, Extensions, Emergent Curriculum
This activity gives students the opportunity to not only view the beautiful creations of the Plains Indians, but create their own piece of jewelry to identify with and take home with them. The lesson is critical in developing patterning skills that assist in the process of learning how to read, as well as reinforcing math concepts taught during the year. It also assists those students struggling with fine motor skills as they use their hands to thread the string and put the beads of differing size together.