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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Beadwork, Quill-Work, and Hair Tufting

handbag with beadwork

Bead and quill-work is often immediately associated with Native artistry, and many examples of this type of artwork can be found among the Aboriginal Peoples living in the northwest boreal forest. Mukluks, moccasins, knife sheaths and gun cases, belts, jackets, and numerous other crafted items would employ intricate beadwork, quill-work, or hair tufting.

knife sheath

Beads could be created in a number of ways. Wild berries, when dried, could function as beads that could be sewn into hide in a pattern to decorate a hide item. Glass beads, and later plastic beads were more commonly used in many artworks after they were introduced to various Native Peoples during the fur trade.

Porcupine quills, when removed from a porcupine carcass, could be dyed and then sewn or braided into hide clothing and art pieces. Similarly, animal hair could be dyed and sewn into fabric by a process known as tufting.

Artwork of this type used to carry a function and meaning in traditional Aboriginal culture. More recent bead and quill-work tends to be designed more with a market in mind. Beadwork ranks among the most popular of traditional Aboriginal artworks sought out by tourists and other non-Aboriginal buyers.

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