Introduction: Beading With the Kwul 'I'tkin Maker Truck

About: We're the spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science museum in Missoula, MT. We have a physical museum located within the Missoula Public Library, but also create science kits, lead teacher professional devel…

Explore your creative and artistic side! Make a beaded item of your choice that can be made into a necklace, medallion piece or earring. The central beaded piece, called the "cab", can be laser cut from wood or other materials.

This project is a part of the spectrUM Discovery Area and SciNation's Kwul 'I'tkin mobile makerspace on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Kwul 'I'tkin means "to make" in the Salish and Kootenai languages, respectively. For more information on this collaboration, see our article in Connected Science Learning or the curriculum .pdf at the end of this Instructable. All activities generated from this project were co-created with the SciNation committee, made up of local leaders from various organizations on the Flathead, as well as makers and artists from The People's Center traditional arts circle in Pablo, MT. Input from tribal elders at both the Salish Culture Committee and Kootenai Culture Committee, and the members of Tribal Council was a critical piece in this project, as was direct help with facilitation from local role models familiar with the traditional techniques used to create these crafts. The truck and development of these activities was funded through an NSF-EAGER grant, with facilitation at pow wows, county fairs, and in local schools in 2017 and 2018. All materials and activities funded through the grant are property of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, with curation and implementation of further activities and use of the truck supported by the CSKT Tribal Education Department and CSKT Natural Resources Department.

Step 1: Materials Needed

  • Beads of various types - seed beads of size 5/0 tend to be good for most ages and manual dexterity levels, available from Shipwreck Beads in large quantities. Pony beads work well for kids of a younger age or people with less manual dexterity.
  • Thread - nylon thread is strongest and threads easiest through the pellon, Nymo Size D is a good choice
  • Needles - size 10 tapestry needles work the best
  • Pin cushion to safely store needles
  • Pellon Craft Fuse backing material - size 808 seems to be the best tradeoff between stiffness and thickness
  • Glue - hot glue or white Elmer's glue both can work well
  • Scissors
  • A wooden piece (in this case created by a laser cutter) generally called a “cab”, cut on a laser cutter from 1/8" to 1/4" thick wood. 1/8" baltic birch plywood is a good choice, select it in sheet sizes that fit your laser cutter.
  • Felt, leather or another material to back the beaded item
  • Optional: needle-nosed pliers if using leather or thick pellon to pull the needle through
  • Optional: beading wax to lubricate the thread is helpful for thick materials
  • Optional: if not using a laser-cut cab, stones, cut glass, plastic, etc. make a good central piece to bead around

Step 2: Preparation: Cut Cabs and Glue to Pellon

The cabs that are the centerpiece for the item, and will need to be cut in advance. Use one of the attached files if you'd like, or create your own! Wood is a great choice, but they can be cut out of acrylic or leather or whatever else might look interesting. Lighter colored materials show greater contrast with the laser engraving, so choose something that is not very dark - baltic birch plywood is a great choice.

Simply cut a piece of pellon larger than your cab by a couple of inches - the edges will be trimmed at the end. Hot glue or Elmer's wood glue both work, Elmer's takes a bit of time to soak into the pellon and dry so it might help

Teachers can choose to glue down cabs of various sizes and designs ahead of time. This will greatly speed up the process. Teachers are also less likely to over apply the glue, which can make beading next to the edge of the cab difficult. It is usually best to keep the different colors and sizes of beads in separate containers. Lengths of thread can be cut ahead of time and needles threaded and the ends knotted as well. Anything - from stones to plastic to leather - can be used as the central cab, so don't feel as if you need a laser-cutter to make this step happen!

The animal images used in these cabs were created at the Flathead Lake Biological Station and are used with permission. They can be used for educational purposes only as long as the logo accompanies the image.

Step 3: Beading Around the Cab

Learning how to stitch beads is central to this activity. Practice these stitches and don't worry about making mistakes - you can always cut the thread and start over!

Knot the end of an 18"-20" length of nylon thread, and thread through the eye of the needle. Poke this through the bottom of the pellon close to your cab and pull through. Thread three or four beads in a pattern of your choice onto the thread. Then go back through the pellon to pull these beads down onto it in a line following your cab. Come back up along the middle bead and wrap around the thread stringing them and go down on the opposite side. See the photos above for the description of this process. Essentially, you are laying down a line of beads, then using the thread to pull down the thread stringing those beads together in various spots.

This is only one way of stitching medallion beads - see the diagrams above for alternatives, or experiment with your own techniques. Once you've completed a single line of beads around your cab, try to expand it to more rows. How many can you make? Can you alternate bead colors in rows to create a pattern?

Step 4: Add a Backing and Finish

Now that you have a very nice front piece, you'll want to cover up all of the messy threads in the back. Select a piece of felt or leather or something else that looks nice, and glue it on the back of the piece you just created to cover the threads. Cut both the pellon and your backing close to the beadwork so that you have a nicely finished piece. Add a loop of lace to make a necklace, metal hoops to make earrings, or sew your medallion onto something else.

Step 5: Further Activities and Curriculum Standards

This activity and other in this series is adapted from the Kwul 'I'tkin maker truck curriculum booklet. See the .pdf included in this step for further activities, and for information on how this beading activity best aligns with science standards and Indian Education for All standards (which may be different in your state or country). There is also a variety of resources included in this curriculum booklet with regards to the cultural aspects of these activities as they relate to the Salish, Kootenai and Qlispé tribes in Montana.