Infuse Your Beadwork with Native American Symbolism

May 22, 2013

Native American beadwork has a rich heritage of symbolism through the use of colors, gemstones, and animal totems to tell stories and convey meaning. If you're looking to infuse your beadwork with a few special and meaningful symbols, check out some of these suggestions for including symbolic beads and colors in your next beading project.

Symbolism of Gemstones in Native American Beadwork

Turquoise: One of the most popular stones used in Native American beadwork, turquoise is believed to help overcome illness and bring strength to the wearer. Native American lore tells us that when the Great Creator finished creating Mother Earth, he threw all of the remaining turquoise up into the sky, giving us the beautiful blue color to look at every day.

Coral: While not technically a gemstone, coral also has its place in Native American beadwork. It is believed to be a very soothing stone, and to be able to assist with disorders of the blood. It is also considered to be a very protective stone.

Howlite: Beautiful howlite, with its light grey matrix against a stark white background, is believed to assist in concentration, relieving insomnia, and as a general relief for stress. Howlite can be dyed and sold as imitation turquoise and even imitation coral, but in its natural state, it mixes beautifully with both genuine turquoise and genuine coral!

Symbolism of Animals in Native American Beadwork

You can find beautifully carved gemstone animal beads in many local bead shops and online beading supply companies, and I love using these beads in all kinds of jewelry-making projects!

Bear: Bears are probably the easiest carved gemstone bead to find, when you're looking for Native American-style gemstone beads to add to your beading projects. In Native American lore, the bear is considered to be one of the most powerful symbols, representing both strength and power. Because bears hibernate, it is also thought to be a symbol of renewal.

Turtle: I have in my collection a number of beautiful little turtle beads, carved from both bone and gemstones. There may be a reason I'm always attracted to these Native American symbols, since the turtle is a symbol of nurturing, Mother Earth, and being grounded.

Wolf: Another very popular symbol used in Native American beadwork, the wolf is a symbol of intuition, finding your path, and is thought to be a powerful spirit guide for those who are looking for a deeper meaning in their lives.

Symbolism of Colors in Native American Beadwork

The colors you use in your beading projects can also convey a meaning, based on these ideas from the traditions of Native American beadwork:

Green: A representation of plant life, the Earth, and the season of summer. When green paint was worn under the eyes, it was believed to give powerful night vision to the wearer.

White: White is used to represent snow, death, or winter. It was used a symbol of peace when used as face paint.

Red: Red is the color used to symbolize thunder, day, and sunset.

Blue: If you want to convey the meaning of the sky, water, clouds, lightning, the moon, or sadness, look to shades of blue for your beadwork.

Yellow: Sunshine, day, and dawn are all represented by the color yellow in traditional Native American beadwork.

Black: Black is used to represent night, cold, and disease.

Infuse Your Beadwork with Native American Symbolism

You can use any of these ideas for including a little bit of Native American symbolism and meaning in your beading projects. Think outside the bead: change up the colors of a project to include your own special meanings from the suggestions here, or include a tiny carved Native American gemstone totem animal in the fringe of your next bead embroidered pendant. Using these symbols will make your finished beaded jewelry just a little more powerful.

Are you in need of a few new beading projects? Take a look over in the Beading Daily Shop, and for a limited time, save 30% on all eProjects! Whether you want to learn a new beading technique, make a gift for a special friend, or just add another piece of gorgeous beaded jewelry to your collection, you're sure to find something to excite and inspire you in the Beading Daily Shop.

How do you add meaning to your beaded jewelry designs? Is it through the use of color, or a special bead? Leave a comment here on the Beading Daily blog and tell us how you add meaning to your beaded jewelry.

Bead Happy,

Jennifere


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Comments

on May 22, 2013 9:10 AM

Animal symbolism comes from many cultures, and it is both racist and stereotypical of you to say that it is "native american".

Please do some research before writing an article on animal symbolism.

on May 22, 2013 9:44 AM

To Craftaholic:  Wow!  No need to bite!  She did not say that Native Americans were the only ones to use animal symbolism.  Go back and read the article again.  Of course it is used in many cultures.  So are gemstones, and so are colors.  ???

Amybeader wrote
on May 22, 2013 11:11 AM

Actually I rather agree with Craftaholic. Be careful about  "Native American Symbolism" this is a vast over-simplification and really harks back to stereotypes. Native Americans are NOT all one people, they are MANY DIFFERENT people and their symbols and mythologies are not all the same.

The other caveat I want to offer is to be aware that most of those little fetish animal beads that you find at bead stores and craft stores are NOT made by anyone in the US, Native American or otherwise. Nearly all of them are mass produced in China or India, so please be aware that while you might think you are doing something related to Native American arts and crafts, you really aren't, other than in the appearance.

I am not myself Native American, but I am always bothered when we make assumptions and take advantage of other cultures. And just so you know, thinking I might be upset by the phrase "peyote stitch" (since there is some controversy over that usage) I'm not; when I first started beading that's what I learned to call it and I still do.

on May 25, 2013 8:50 AM

I'm astounded at the pettiness of these comments.  The "Native American" is used to describe the type of jewelry that the Native Americans make in this country.  They use turquoise in their work.  How small you are to criticize the person who is trying to show you some examples.

I love the a artwork shown.  Thank you for sharing it with us.

on May 25, 2013 8:51 AM

I'm astounded at the pettiness of these comments.  The "Native American" is used to describe the type of jewelry that the Native Americans make in this country.  They use turquoise in their work.  How small you are to criticize the person who is trying to show you some examples.

I love the a artwork shown.  Thank you for sharing it with us.

on May 25, 2013 8:51 AM

I'm astounded at the pettiness of these comments.  The "Native American" is used to describe the type of jewelry that the Native Americans make in this country.  They use turquoise in their work.  How small you are to criticize the person who is trying to show you some examples.

I love the a artwork shown.  Thank you for sharing it with us.

on May 25, 2013 8:52 AM

I'm astounded at the pettiness of these comments.  The "Native American" is used to describe the type of jewelry that the Native Americans make in this country.  They use turquoise in their work.  How small you are to criticize the person who is trying to show you some examples.

I love the a artwork shown.  Thank you for sharing it with us.

kellyboed wrote
on May 25, 2013 9:17 AM

I don't think the comments about possible offense are petty. If this was an article about how to use Christian symbols to make trendy jewelery there might be a similar reaction. Native people have to fight to keep their symbols of religion sacred. Look at the Victorias Secret model who wore a Headdress on the runway. It was an ignorant and offensive action, and was an example of how Native symbolism is disrespected by the mainstream culture. I don't find this article particularly offensive, but it is a generalization. I see this as another moment to raise awareness, because I do not believe the author had intent to disrespect.

on May 25, 2013 3:21 PM

My gosh... how testy!  These beads are just symbols.  Nobody said they were made by native Americans.  And, Amy, I would certainly hope that everybody knows that there are many different native American nations.  I suggest anyone having a problem here go back and re-read the article noting the INTENTION with which it was written.  There are so many things going on in the world that truly need our focus and attention outrage and vision.  Is this really THAT moment?

ckdyess wrote
on May 30, 2013 8:38 AM

I am sad that as an avid beader I read a wonderful and informative article and then saw the response of some people. My Cherokee heritage is one thing I have always been proud of. I take no offense on anything said in this article. It is just a general and informative article about some of the beading usage and symbols used by some Native Ameican Indan tribes, no specific Tribe was mentioned. It wold be the same if the article was about the new fashion statement to bead a necklace and have the cross sideways. Informative but not offensive. We as beaders need as much information in as many diverse topics as there are diverse cultures that buy our bead art.  Of course everyone has the true American privilege of speaking their mind but this is a bit over the top. Thank you Beaing Daily for another wonderful and informative topic for me to file in my beading knowledge folder.

ckdyess wrote
on May 30, 2013 8:46 AM

The way I add meaning to my beading or custom jewelry is I always incorporate a symbol in every line I create. One is a key hole in every piece I make. And the key is also there someplace. It can be found in the most unusual places. It adds mystery and makes the wearers think about the piece. To me a key hole symbolizes so many things. Key to unlock your mind and explore, unlock your spirit so you can soar, unlock wisdom or the key to your heart.  It can mean something different to each person and it makes the beaded jewelry so personal.