History is often tricky to piece together so it shouldn’t be surprising that the history of beadweaving is not straightforward. Nowhere is this clearer than in trying to piece together the history of an off-loom beadweaving stitch that is widely called Peyote stitch. It is a stitch using a needle and thread in which the beads are woven together to create a beadweave that reflects what is called a ‘running bond’ brick pattern (see image). There are different types of peyote stitch - even count flat peyote, odd count flat peyote, even count tubular peyote, odd count tubular peyote and flat round peyote which can be in one-drop, two-drop, three-drop or even a four-drop count.
Some trace the origins of the running bond off-loom beadweaving stitch history to Ancient Egypt (2 & 8) and others to the beadwork of the Plains Indians in the 19th century in the USA (3). The running bond stitch is also used in beadwork in different parts of Africa and it is not clear when its use began in Africa (2). Allen (2000) (8) argued that with the arrival of beads to any country come the arrival of beading techniques and that examples of off-loom techniques can be found in Egypt as early as 500 BC. So, the question who invented the running bond beadweaving stitch looks a tricky one to answer.
It seems that the that naming the off-loom running bond beadweaving technique ‘Peyote’ technique does originate in the USA with the 19th century Plains Indian beadwork and the establishment of the Native American (peyote) Church. The Native American (peyote) Church is based on a mix of Christian and Native American spiritual beliefs and rituals. It is estimated that there are between 250,000 to 400,00 members of the church in the USA today. Key to the spiritual rituals of members of the Native American Church is the use of a Mexican psychoactive cactus called Peyote (see the strange blue object in the picture (right) - that is a peyote plant!). Members of the church believe that Peyote is a gift from god. In the late 19th century Comanche chief Quanah Parker who had experienced the healing power of Peyote whilst in Mexico established the Native American (peyote) Church. The use of peyote for its visionary and curative properties has a long history including its use by priests and shamans of the Aztec culture.
Many of the objects used in the Peyote ceremonies of the Native American (peyote) Church (e.g., handles of fans, rattles and sticks) are decorated with the ‘running bond’ beadweaving stitch - hence, Peyote stitch (see photo of peyote fans in this post). Hence, also the debate over whether or not those of us who are not members of the Native American Church can and should use the term ‘peyote’ to describe beadwork that is not used on objects used in Peyote ceremonies in the Native American (peyote) Church.
However, when the Plains Indians first used running-bond stitch is less clear. The use of seed beads dates to their arrival in the USA in the mid-1880s (8). For instance, examples have been found from the mid -1800s of young Western Apache women’s puberty ceremony T-necklaces made from this stitch so the stitch was being used by Plains Indians to decorate ceremonial objects prior to the establishment of the North American (peyote) Church. Sometimes the running bond stitch is referred to as gourd stitch. This name for the stitch derives from its use in decorating gourd containers that are used ceremonially by the Plains Indians but are objects not specifically used in peyote ceremonies.
What else do you know about 'peyote' stitch? What is the running stitch called in other parts of the world? Why? What do you call it? Why? Perhaps the answers to those questions will be in the next post.
- Ceremonial fans image from: http://nac-art.com/Peyote-Fans_DavidMays.htm