So What Did the Indians Use Before Beads?

Our last blog post was “When Did The Indians Start Making Glass Beads?” So to summarize, they did not make glass beads. Beads were introduced into their work when the explorers came and trading began. So invariably, the next question is, “What Did the Indians Use, Before Beads?” Porcupine quill work was the type of decoration used before beads.

Pre Bead Technique: Quillwork
This question is also easily answered by the examples of Native American art inspired by many of these ancient (pre-bead) techniques that we have here at Prairie Edge.

Quillwork is an ancient form of art which offered the freedom to decorate personal items with exquisite color and pattern combinations, the most well known being applique floral designs, geometric patterns, and pictograph designs.

Prep Work: Preparing the Quills & Hide
Each artist would have an idea of a design before beginning a project. Once your design was decided upon, next came the prep work. You ask “What type of prep work”? Well, there was the hide and then the quills, the design was merely the beginning. Quills could be soaked in water and then further softened in the mouth - saliva naturally starts the process of breaking down the hard outer layer of a quill.

Quill workers: A Society of Women Artists
Another item of note in Lakota Society – these artists were women who had to have a dream of the “Double Woman”, who inspired a society of women quill workers. Despite early western views, Lakota women had their own way of counting their accomplishments and were not the passive “wall flower.” A dream of the “Double Woman” entitled these women and their quillwork designs would be noted and rewarded with praise and followers.

Thank you for your readership, I hope that these short blogs inspire you to learn more about the Lakota and the Northern Plains Indian cultures. I believe that education is the key to understanding.