Beadwork Artist Kevin Fast Horse: Staying True to His Lakota Roots

Renowned for his intricate beadwork designs, artist Kevin Fast Horse is well known for his ability to effortlessly blend traditional Native American beading techniques with contemporary imagery and functionality.

His work ranges from the traditional - war shirts, animal robes, and cradleboards - to his more contemporary approach to bags and skull masks.

...but the unmistakable beadwork style used in Kevin's work always stays true to his Lakota roots and the techniques passed to him by his father and grandfather.

Beadwork of the Lakota Sioux
Deeply influenced by his forefathers, Kevin's work often features his signature geometric beadwork design to honor the Great Sioux Nation - this not only personalizes his work, but also represents and pays tribute to his Lakota heritage.

This artist's cultural tradition is also apparent in his technique, as he is a master of the type of beadwork typically found in Lakota art - the lane stitch (originally known as lazy stitch).

Interesting note: While this stitch was originally called "lazy" because beaders could cover a large area with beadwork in a relatively short time, it is definitely not easy to do! Georg Barth, author of Native American Beadwork, is working to change the name to "lane stitch".

Lane Stitch Technique
Lane stitch beadwork is often recognized by distinct ridges that exhibit a hard, tight quality - when done correctly, this technique adds a wonderful regularity to the textured pattern of beadwork and works to complement the colorful beaded design.

With many other beading methods, beaders embellish buckskin by punching a hole all the way through the skin with an awl - each individual bead is then sewn directly to the hide.

When beading in the Lane Stitch technique, only the top layer of skin is punctured (the awl is not pushed all the way through) and instead of sewing individual beads to the hide, this technique uses a string of multiple beads - the resulting beadwork features a series of slightly arced parallel lanes (which, Kevin smiles and says, requires a great deal of patience and practice to get it right).

Interesting note: Long ago when the clothing and accessories of the Plains Indians were mostly made of buckskin (and of course after the introduction of glass beads), the Lakota were quick to embrace the lane stitch technique, as the motions used are very similar those used in ancient quillwork.

A few secrets from the Master...
Glass Beads: This beading technique is usually done using Venetian glass seed beads, but Czech beads can also be used. Size 11 is typically the bead size of choice (if using the old Venetian scale, an aught 4 is the equivalent).

Thread: Sinew is preferred, but heavy thread also works. The goal is to fill the entire hole of the bead when the thread is doubled to keep the beads from shifting. The thread shouldn't have stretch, and needs to be waxed heavily (with bee’s wax) before use.

Hide: Brain tanned buckskin or some commercially tanned hides are ideal for Lane stitch beadwork. The key is to find a skin supple enough to allow the needle to penetrate, but tough enough to keep it from going all the way through (the side that was next to the meat will usually have a softer texture).