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American Indian beading class was a cultural learning experience


By Alissa Smiley

I am a journalism student at the University of North Carolina Pembroke. All mass communication majors are required to complete an internship. I have been interning at the Office of University Communication and Marketing.

UNCP is a historically American Indian university, so it is easy to remember that November is American Indian Heritage Month. At UNCP, the Native American Resource Center hosts different workshops.

In honor of the month, the center is holding a few different workshops including a beginner beading workshop. When my internship supervisor told me about an opportunity to go to a beading workshop and then write a story about it, I could not turn it down. This was not my first experience with crafts.

As college life is full of stress, I usually try to relieve some of it from through my hobbies, which primarily are sewing and making jewelry. Beading is a fun combination of elements from both of these.

On Saturday, November 2, a group of eight people gathered in the Native American Resource Center located in Old Main for a beginner beading workshop. The class was taught by Alicia Chavis. She started off by telling the class that she had been beading for nine years and this was her third workshop.

She had supplies waiting for each person at a table. The supplies included beads, pellon fabric, needles, thread and wax. Each person chose the color of beads they wanted. The colors that we could choose from were red, black, white, pink, orange, silver and green.

I personally chose my favorite colors black, red and white. Each of us got rhinestone too.

We began by preparing the thread for use. To prepare the thread, we cut it to the proper length, and then ran it across the wax at least three times. This was to coat and protect the thread from fraying.

The next step was to thread the needle. Ms. Chavis informed us that “it is important to use the same size needle as the size bead you are using. We are using size 11 beads, so you need to get out the size 11 needle.”

We then placed the rhinestone on the fabric and sewed it down one side at a time. After the rhinestone was fastened, we moved on to sewing on the beads.

This was done by putting four beads on the thread and then sewing then down. We made sure that the beads were secure;by bringing the needle up between the second and third bead and then going through the third and fourth beads.

This step is repeated until the design is finished. I found it mildly difficult because I had a hard time getting the beads tight enough without making them too tight. If the beads are too tight, they bunch up and cause the design to look awkward.

The finished product in favorite colorsAs we sat there repeating the process over and over again conversations started. The topics were usually either about crafts or about known friends and family members of the other people. At the end of the class, I was the only participant to completely finished their design (Yea!).

As we were preparing to leave, Ms. Chavis left us with an important reminder: “Bead work will never be perfect. There will always be imperfections, because you are not perfect.”

After the workshop I decided to do some research on my own about the art of beading. Beading of course was used by American Indians to create beautiful designs on clothing and accessories. Traditionally, the beads used were commonly made out of bone or wood.

Beading can be used to tell a story using pictures but that is not always the case. Making the beads in some tribes was considered to be a sacred job. In other tribes, the task of making beads was left up to the women.

When the settlers arrived, they brought with them various types of beads including glass beads. Beading is now a popular hobby but still retains its cultural importance.

Alissa Smiley is a senior mass communication major. She also took the photographs for this column.