Peyote stitch is a common and very popular bead-weaving technique. Like many of these traditional techniques, its precise origins and history is a mystery. As far as I know, the oldest sample of beadwork that looks like Peyote stitch, is Ancient Egyptian. Peyote stitch is perhaps most commonly associated with Native American Indian beadwork. It’s name, pronounced ‘Pay-o-tee’, is Native American and it is traditionally associated with objects made for religious purposes. Native Americans refer to the same stitch as ‘Gourd stitch’ when it has been used for non-religious objects.
In practical terms, Peyote stitch is recognisable by its ‘up bead’, ‘down bead’ pattern. Different teachers will refer to this in different terms: perhaps ‘teeth’ as the pattern is rather like the teeth of a zipper, or ‘turrets’ as it can also resemble the turrets on a castle. The terminology is simply there to help you understand the stitch and thread path, so if you can remember it more easily in a different way, then that’s fine.
Like most other bead-weaving techniques, Peyote stitch comes in a variety of different forms. The basic Peyote stitch is a flat strip that can be stitched in ‘odd count’ or ‘even count’. This refers to the number of beads you use to start the stitch. If you begin with an even number of beads, you will be following the simplest form of the technique with a nice easy turn around at the end of each row. If you begin with an odd number of beads, the turnaround becomes a little more complicated. Any strip of peyote stitch starts with a string of beads. These will form the first two rows of your beadwork. This confuses people until they come to understand that the ‘up’ and ‘down’ bead pattern of Peyote stitch defines how the rows are perceived. A single row is formed of the beads that are sticking up, so in reality, this appears to be every other bead. You achieve this pattern by starting with your initial string of beads, then adding a new bead between every other bead in the string. So, if you pick up a new bead and pass your needle back through the last but one bead in your string, this will pull that bead upwards a little and the new bead will force the ‘last bead’ from your string to sit downwards, creating the turret pattern that you can see in the photo. You can of course add patterns to your peyote stitch strip.
Peyote stitch is drawn in the style shown in the photo to the right, when it is being diagrammed for the purpose of writing tutorials. You can see the threads linking the ‘up’ and ‘down’ beads and you can also make out how you might turn around at the end of each row. So you will work back and forth along the strip, adding the rows bead by bead, one at a time. If you would like to learn how to work in even count Peyote stitch, you can find a free tutorial here. If you want to learn about odd count Peyote stitch, there is another free tutorial here. Once you have mastered the basic technique for making a strip of Peyote stitch, you can work on your skills for following a peyote stitch pattern, for which there is a helpful tutorial here.
Strips of peyote stitch can be made into beaded beads for simple jewellery. This is where the ‘teeth’ metaphor comes in handy: if you have the correct number of rows (usually an even number), you will find that the two ends of your strip will fit together like the teeth of a zipper. This gives rise to the term, ‘zipping up’ pieces of Peyote stitch. As you can see from the photo, these very simple beaded beads actually make very effective jewellery.
If you notice, the ends of the beaded bead (or peyote tube) are flat. If you are moving on to another development of peyote stitch, the tubular variation, you will still be able to create a tube, but the beads will sit the other way around, so your up and down beads are at the ends of the tube. Tubular peyote stitch is built from a circle of beads instead of a straight line. You will still be working in rows in the same way, but instead of working back and forth, you will work round and round the tube, building it upwards. Each row starts and finishes with a ‘step up’ a tricky, but clever little manoeuvre that enables you to distinguish one row from another. If you want to try a basic tubular peyote stitch project, the peyote stitch bangles pictured are a great introduction as the use of clever colouring will help you to master the technique.
Peyote stitch can also be shaped by increasing and decreasing beads within a row. The same technique applies whether you are shaping a flat strip or a tube. If you try adding shaping to a tube, then you can make a circle. Instead of adding single beads in each stitch, you will add pairs of beads in certain places to create the shape you want. You can vary this shaping to create triangles, hexagons, pentagons and squares, either in their flat or three-dimensional forms. This is what makes peyote stitch such a versatile technique. It is certainly one of my favourites and a stitch that I return to use time and time again. If you want to have a go at shaping, then the bracelet pattern pictured below left is a great way to learn how to increase and decrease. The three-dimensional charms shown below centre are a nice gentle introduction to creating dimensional beadwork. The Dahlia beaded beads on the right will give you an easy introduction to creating flat diamond shapes.
Once you have mastered the peyote stitch basics, you will find there are an almost endless number of patterns to explore. When you feel confident with the stitch using traditional seed beads, you can start to play with the shaped seed beads, like Superduos…the possibilities are literally endless, so have fun!
If you like this article and want to read more, you can buy the Focus on Peyote edition of My World of Beads in magazine format. This will give you three projects as well as articles on pricing your work and basic technique tips. Take a look at the preview pages below and then place your order by clicking on the shopping cart icon underneath.