Beading in its broadest definition is the creation of something with beads.
Wow, that is broad! But when one looks at the history of beading and its use in the creation of innumerable objects through a wide set of methods, it’s easy to understand why the term must be defined so generally.
Beading in jewellery
Since first discovering the ability to string objects like rocks, shells, or seeds onto a natural plant fiber or thread, beading has been a part of human culture. Over time, it has grown in its complexities and expanded in creativity. It has incorporated and built upon other forms of decorative or creative arts. It has consistently held a place in human culture, ritual, and habits for the conceivable history of humanity.
Pieces of jewellery
Early humans used beading for the creation of decorative pieces of jewelry. These beaded necklaces, bracelets, and belts certainly served the purpose of personal adornments but they also were symbolic of other events or practices important to these ancestors. The wearing of a string of animal claws by a hunter, for instance, represents his superior skills at tracking and taking prey.
Beading for the creation of symbolic meaning in an object is as old as the art itself. The modern prevalence of prayer beads in many of the world’s religion is a testament to the importance of beading in human culture.
Jewellery in culture
Throughout its history, beading has experienced ups and downs in popularity. Notable peaks arise periodically, reinforcing the resilient nature of the art itself. And as with all areas of popular culture, fashion and the decorative arts, periods of resurgence occur, during which the styles and techniques of previous eras become popular again.
Jewellery in 1800s and 1900s
The 1800s and early 1900s saw a rise in the popularity of beading with tiny beads, commonly known as seed beads today. The original seed bead was expensive and difficult to fabricate, often made of glass. A newer and more easily produced synthetic version of seed beads became available as soon as changes in technology made it possible. Seed beads flooded the market and increased in price during the 1990s, as consumer popularity made them a hot item again. They continue to be in high demand today.
The beadwork on women’s fashions in the 1920s cannot be ignored, as it was a significant time in the history of beads in popular culture. An emergence of similar fashion styles and beadwork use can be found in women’s clothing in late 50s and early 60s.
The 1950s saw the use of intricate beadwork in designer purses, hats, and clothing. Some of these styles were quite similar to the beadwork found in clothing of Renaissance Europe. American Indian and Asian techniques of beading and beadwork were of course popular among their own populations throughout history but they also made their way into the larger popular culture in the early 1800s. These ethnic styles remaining consistently present through the mid-1900s, experiencing a lull from the 1950s through the early 1970s only to rise again in popularity and use in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Other pop culture periods in beading history include the love beads of the 1970s, bringing back macrame and embroidery beadwork. And the popularity of larger beads rose in the 1970s and 1980s for use in both jewelry making as well as a number of other crafts.
Beading periodically finds its way into popular home decor as well, with the beaded curtain being a perfect example. Another example can be found in the use of beaded lamp shades, popular in the Victorian and Baroque eras. They made their reappearance in the 1950s, and again in the early part of the 21st century.
Beading in the Fine Arts and Refined Culture
Beading as fine art is displayed in art and history museums worldwide. These exhibits often include examples of the most intricate and complex of beading methods. The creations displayed often incorporate fabrics and other bases with beadwork, and are examples of the presence of beading and beadwork in cultures spanning the globe and the timeline of human history.
The historic and present day creation of “beaded-beads” can also be considered a fine art. It entails the creation of individual “beads” by intricately weaving and securing other smaller beads to one another. The process is a difficult one to master, and the finest examples of this work often test the viewer’s sense of perception, as the best beaded-beads appear to be singular objects rather than composed of smaller component pieces.
Modern Beading and Continuing Popularity
Modern beading can incorporate any array of historic styles, and the popularity of mastering historic and ethnic beading techniques is once again on the rise. Modern artists use beadwork and beading to create complex and intricate arrangements of smaller beads, establishing larger, representational images.