Beading, as an artform, seems to evolve daily! At one time only a few traditional stitches and applications existed. But today, beading seems to morph into ever shifting shapes and possibilities, including art installations, purses, clothing, and phenomenal 3-D sculptures.
The oldest beads ever found – photo at left – date back about 150,000 years (there are some disputes as to the dates), in a cave in Morocco – snail shells that were most likely strung. Here’s a link to the article if you are into archaeology or anthropology. And amongst the oldest bead stitches is the stitch known today as peyote.
Up and Down and All Around
The peyote stitch, a versatile beadweaving stitch with a recognizable “up and down” sequence, is useful for freeform as well as precise patterns, flat linear, tubular, flat round, 3-D sculptural – peyote’s a handy stitch to know!
Ancient, historical examples of peyote are found all over Europe, Malaysia, Egypt, and North America. Examples of peyote stitch include beadwoven collars from the tomb of King Tutankhamun!
The name “peyote” refers to the peyote cactus, found only in the Chihuahuan desert of southern Texas and northern Mexico, used by indigenous North Americans in a healing ritual. Sacred objects used in the ritual were made with the peyote stitch, hence the name.
Some sources name the gourd stitch as being another name for peyote, although it’s up for debate. The gourd stitch has a significant angle compared to peyote’s grid-like pattern, and takes an extra row to establish its pattern. This YouTube by the “Blue Heron Outdoor School” demonstrates the differences, if you are curious.
Even Count / Odd Count
Characterized as an off-loom bead weaving technique, peyote is worked with either an even or an odd number of beads per row, woven in flat strips or in a flat round shape. Its unique staggered construction produces a zipper-like edging which makes it easy to “zip” two edges together to create a tube. The even count is easier to master as the odd count has a special beading sequence to move to the next row. An easy-to-follow lesson on the odd-count sequence – one simple step – is shared by “Beadaddicted Girl” on YouTube.
Peyote is often used to bezel a large stone or cabochon. Working in an even count
to establish the base, the beader can contour the enclosing ring of peyote, if applicable to the item being bezelled, by switching from size 10/0 beads to size 13 and 15/0 beads, to cinch in the top row.
As with so many beadweaving stitches, the most challenging aspect of peyote is to get it started. If you’re new to the stitch, use our size 8/0 Delica beads to help you get the hang of it. Delicas allow the beads to more easily nestle into one another, which makes the stitch that much easier to start, and even a slightly larger bead simply makes it easier when you’re a beginner. Once comfortable with the stitch, you can use size 10 or 11/0s, seed beads or delicas, as well as some shaped beads.
Ideas on How to Begin
- Many suggest beginning the piece with the intent of discarding the first three rows once the rhythm is well-established. You would not start the pattern with colour changes, for example, until after those first rows are completed. After you’ve done several rows of the actual pattern, you can remove the first few, temporary rows.
- There’s another way to begin this stitch that is quite effective. Begin with one
length of thread and two needles, one at either end of the thread. Slip two beads on the thread and bring the twosome to the middle. Now pass both needles through one bead. Next, once again add one bead to each needle, bring these beads down, and again pass both needles through one bead. Continue in this 2-1 -2 1 pattern until you establish your first two rows. Now you can continue with one needle.Once you get the hang of this, you will make one thread end shorter than the other, long enough to establish the first row and then knot it and trim the end, while you make the other end longer and it will be the thread that carries on the pattern.
- And finally, The Beading Room stocks Quick Start Peyote 11/0 cards, perfect for even or odd-count, flat peyote projects. Check it out!
In general, peyote requires a firm but not overly tight tension, so as not to distort the beads out of alignment.
This versatile stitch, a favourite of many beaders, includes the Cellini spiral, named by its originators after 16th century Italian sculptor, Benvenuto Cellini. Newer Cellini additions include the ribbon, bola, and geometric cellini, which we will explore in April’s blog. Stay tuned!
P.S. I love peyote! Cathy