Beads are small decorative objects made out of glass, stones, shells, bones, wood, pearls or even plastic with small holes for threading or sewing. Beads are used for various purposes like stitching or weaving into textiles, for personal adornment and making of rosary(a string of beads used for counting prayers).

Beads of various sizes

Bead work

Bead work is the art or craft of making things with beads. They are attached to one another by stringing them with a sewing or a beading needle and a thread or thin wire or sewing them into a cloth.

process of Bead work

History of Beads

Some research claim that beading may be associated with the Neanderthal man, dating as far back as 38,000 B.C. In the ancient times beads were fashioned from grooved teeth and bones and were worn as pendants. Regardless of the exact date of the history of beads, we can be certain of one thing that every culture that has been studied has used beads as a form of art, prayer, ornament, symbol of a person’s social status or as a medium of barter for supplies. Beads are the oldest existing art forms. Plant seeds, bones and stones were used early on. These materials were the most primitive form of bead crafting.

Real wolf teeth and beads necklace used by prehistoric cavemen

Egyptian beads were made out of gold by skilled artisans.While the Greek worry beads were made of glass, amber, wood and semi-precious stones. Prayer beads that were used in the middle ages are being used even today. These rosaries are now crafted from sterling silver, plastic, wood and glass. Adorning clothes with bead work can be seen from the late stone age. Larger beads made out of shell and ivory were extensively used at this period. Bead work can be dated back to the Egyptian times. It is believed that King Tut had bead work items in his tomb including a pair of beaded slippers. The famous Shoso-in temple of Japan, dating to the 8th Century A.D also features seed bead work. Today’s African beads include a style of paper rolling.

Rosary with beads used in the Middle Age for prayer

Until 1480 beads were mainly hand crafted. The Indo- Pacific beads of India were some of the first mass produced beads and the progression continued until many beads were mass produced. When the European trade began, bead trading opened up with French merchants supplying to Canada and America. Later the Hudson Bay Company traded beads wit trappers and middlemen, who then supplied the northwest frontier with beads. Bead work continues to be an important part of the society even today and being extensively used for various purposes.

During the Middle ages, when embroidery was an important art form, beads were incorporated in the finest embroidery works. The magnificent Butler- Bowden Cope, a long ecclesiastical vestment( English, C 1330; Victoria & Albert Museum, London) was lavishly embellished with seed pearls and green beads. During the Renaissance, pearls and beads were often sewn in the designs on the clothing of the affluent people. In Elizabethan England, purses and small objects were beautified with gilt thread, pearls and beads. During the 17th Century bead work gained a lot of popularity. Th eskimo of Greenland and North America used bead work to adorn high boots, capes and tunics.

Bead work techniques

Bead work techniques can be divided into loom, off-loom, stringing, bead embroidery, bead crochet, bead knitting and bead tatting.

Bead looming

A bead loom is a tool used to weave beads together. The beads are locked in between the warp threads and weft threads. All beading looms have the basic design weaving achieved by inserting the weft threads( side to side threads) over and under the stationary warp threads (up and down threads). The warp threads are held in place by tension and the weft threads, which hold the beads are woven between the warp threads.

Simple bead loom weaving

Off- loom beading

Off- loom bead weaving generally uses smaller beads like seed beads to create either a chain or fabric made of beads that are sewn together with a needle and thread. There are a lot of variety in off- loom bead weaving like brick stitch, albion stitch, herringbone stitch, diamond weave, peyote stitch, square stitch and right angle weave.

off- loom beading


Bead stringing is the most popular and universal method of jewelry making technique. This method is simple as the name suggests, beads are strung together on a thread or thin wire. This method is used mostly in creating bead ornaments like chains and bracelets.

Bead Embroidery

Bead embroidery is used to beautify textiles. It is a process by which beads are stitched onto a base fabric to embellish the surface. This is different from bead knitting or bead crochet. In case of bead embroidery beads are added upon the finished fabric.

Neckline embellished with Bead embroidery

Bead Crochet

A crochet technique in which beads are incorporated into the crochet fabric. Accessories like head bands and decorative items like pouches and coasters are made using this method.

Bead Crochet

Bead Knitting

It is a type of knitting in which stitches are decorated with ceramic or glass beads. Bead knitting uses a technique called plaited knitting that twists each stitch and holds the beads in place on the stitch. The beads will all appear on the same side of the panel.

Bead knitted bags

Bead Tatting

Tatting is a technique for hand crafting lace from a series of knots and loops . In bead tatting, beads are added to enhance the beauty of the end product. Tatting can be used to make lace edging, collars, earrings, neck pieces and other decorative items.

Lace tatting using beads

Beads on Indian attires

Since time immemorial beads have been a source of decorating garments and making fashionable accessories. In India bead work and beads embroidery have been deployed to enhance the beauty of the outfits like sarees , lehenga cholis, dupattas , salwar kameez, kurthas and kurtis. With the evolving trends in fashion, beads have also been used to decorate clutch bags, purses and sandals.

Beaded purse
Saree & blouse beautified with bead embroidery

Modern Beading

Modern beading is used as a creative hobby to make, jewelry, adorn clutch bags and purses and to beautify household items like lamp shades, boxes, holders and coasters. Bead work can also be seen in recreating paintings.

Lamp shade made out of beads
Bead coasters


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