A piece of bead-woven jewelry, with its intricate matrix of shapes and colors laid out in neat rows like a brick wall, can be totally gorgeous. But also: daunting! You might think it's just too challenging to try.
It isn't. Yes, bead weaving takes time and patience, but there are ways to build up your skills. A good place to start is with peyote stitch beadwork.
Peyote stitch, also known as gourd stitch, has been around for centuries. It is common in historic and contemporary Native American art, and examples have been found from as far back as ancient Egypt. People have been using this stitch to create decorative and functional art for as long as there have been beads and threading materials! It is a nice, straightforward stitch that makes up quicker than others.
There are many kinds of peyote stitches — even-count, odd-count, circular, tubular — with 1-, 2- and 3-drop variations of each. For this beginner's tutorial we are going to use even-count 1-drop peyote.
Even-Count 1-Drop Peyote Stitch Tutorial
What You Need
- Beads: For peyote, you want seed beads that are fairly even in shape and size. Miyuki and Toho are both high-quality brands. (I don’t recommend mixing beads from the two.) Size 11 seed beads are considered standard, but I'd recommend using much larger beads, so that you can really see what you’re doing. They will also work up quicker, too, which is always heartening! For the tutorial here I use size 6 seed beads, which are about 3.5mm. That’s still pretty small, I know, but trust me — once you get going, they will seem huge.
I've used different colored seed beads to try and make the steps here as clear as possible, and I recommend you do the same.
- Needles: It's very important to use beading needles rather than standard sewing needles. They are longer, more flexible and have a very slim eye — important when you are passing them through tiny glass structures. Needles, like seed beads, decrease in size as they increase numerically. My needle size of choice for working with beads as small as 1mm is a size 12, but start with a 10. It's just a little thicker, sturdier and easier to manage.
- Thread: Be sure to use a thread that is specifically designed for bead weaving. Cotton thread simply isn’t strong enough. For the tutorial here I recommend using around 1m of beading thread.
The choice of thread brand is crucial, and very personal. Three of the most popular brands —Nymo, C-Lon and Miyuki — all have their merits. But for bead weaving that lasts, I personally recommend Fireline. Fireline is a thermally bonded and braided thread originally used for fishing. It's super strong, has no stretch at all and is very thin. It comes in black and white and is available in different pound (lb.) levels. For bead-weaving you can use 4, 6 and 8 lb. You may want to use designated scissors for cutting it — don't ruin your good snips!
- Bead mat: I recommend getting one before starting. They are indispensable for beading, and particularly for bead weaving. They are also pretty inexpensive.
1. Add a Stopper Bead
Simply thread a single bead onto your working thread. Select a bead that's a different color from the color you are about to stitch in, so you don’t accidentally stitch it into your work.
2. Thread the First Row
Thread on 10 seed beads. Then pick up one more bead and pass your needle back through bead 9.
2. Start the Second Row
Pick up another bead and pass your needle back through bead 7.
Pick up another bead and pass your needle back through bead 5.
Repeat the process, passing your needle back through bead 3.
Finish the row by picking up another bead and passing your needle back through bead 1.
Can you see that you now have a small piece of beadwork resembling a hopscotch pattern? This is the beginning of your "brick wall" of peyote stitch.
3. Onto the Third Row
Pick up another bead and pass your needle back through the first "up" bead (it's mint green above).
Pick up another bead and pass your needle back through the second "up" bead.
Repeat, passing your needle back through the third "up" bead.
Repeat, passing your needle back through the fourth "up" bead.
One more time: pick up a bead and pass your needle back through the fifth "up" bead.
It's important to note that in my example, each row is FIVE beads long, not TEN. The first 10 beads form rows one and two. You will be able to see this clearly from my example if you follow the different colors I've used for each row.
5. Keep Going!
Repeat this these steps and you will gradually build up a strip of peyote-stitch beading that you can turn into a bracelet, a bookmark, a tube to surround a jar, whatever you can imagine.
Admire your beadwork! Hopefully you'll be inspired to keep going to create peyote-stitch pieces that are circular, tubular, geometric, patterned and beyond. You can work with two or three beads rather than simply picking up single beads, for a glass fabric that works up quicker than 1-drop peyote. There are even variations on exactly how the stitch is worked. Keep exploring and you'll be amazed at what you can create.