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History Of Raised Bead Embroidery

        by Zoya Gutina

Stumpwork (raised) beaded work

Lately an embroidery (including bead embroidery) style which is called STUMPWORK is gaining popularity. Stumpwork is a style where the stitched figures are raised from the surface of the work to form a three-dimensional effect, nevertheless it is not entirely correct to call it "3-D embroidery." The second name of the style is RAISED EMBROIDERY, and it seems to be more understandable and suitable. One of the ways to make stumpwork is to work embroidery on a convex surface (stuffed areas) which can be created using padding under the stitches, usually in the form of felt (or fabric) layers sewn one upon the other in increasingly smaller sizes. The felt is then covered with a layer of stitches in traditional embroidery techniques.

Frankly, stumpwork is understood in a broader sense. Stumpwork is also a style of embroidery where the elements don't "lie" on the surface but "elevated" over the base and also create three-dimensional effect. In this case, stitches can be worked around pieces of wire or by "filling" wire loops to create separate elements such as leaves, insect wings or flower petals. These pre-stitched pieces are then applied to the main body of work by piercing the background with wire ends and securing tightly. The stitches used in stumpwork range from simple line stitches to more complex ones. The results of raised embroidery are seen on the photo 1.

Stumpwork (raised) beaded work

Raised embroidery originated hundreds of years ago in England, developed techniques were based on the Elizabethan embroidery. This style was particularly popular in the period between the 15th and 17th centuries, in the middle of the 18th century it went out of fashion. Using raised embroidery, craftsmen create impressive and realistic floral images and even stylized scenic pictures that included plants, animals, flowers, insects, birds, fruits and berries, people in complex clothing and even buildings (castles, houses, and so on).

Raised embroidery with beads received interesting development in North America, when in the mid-19th century it became a real business among Iroquois Indians, especially in the Tuscarora tribe. Tuscarora people is one of six Nations of the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy); at the beginning of the 18th century they were driven from the territory of the present state of North Carolina and migrated to the north, particularly to the area of the Niagara River between lakes Erie and Ontario.

Stumpwork (raised) beaded work

Selling beadwork and other handmade crafts is a long tradition among the North American Indians, but Tuscarora women have received international acclaim because of raised bead embroidery ("Tuscarora beadwork"). They were able to organize handicraft production and trade with beaded souvenirs for Victorian period tourists, visiting Niagara Falls in the nineteenth century. Skilled workers made pincushions, small handbags, wall holders, earrings and other jewelry, and selling these souvenirs in the most convenient places to watch the famous waterfall.

A number of "curiosity shops" were opened throughout the Niagara Falls offering so called "Indian fancy beadwork." Indian women from Six Nations all had regular venues where they would set out blankets along the parks and walkways. So, the visitors could purchase authentic hand beaded things that were all the rage in Victorian times as a sort of status symbol to show off that they have afforded a Niagara Falls vacation. You can see these small handbags on the arms of rich young women and children in early photographs of the time.

Stumpwork (raised) beaded work

The first known raised embroidery beadworks date from the early 19th century (around 1820); how this style originated among the Indians is not precisely known: whether Europeans brought skill secrets (most likely), or authorship belongs to the Tuscarora craftsmen. Victorian tourists, Europeans and Americans, called the items "beaded cranky." The souvenirs combined traditional Indian designs with popular and fashionable elements and ornaments of the era, decorated with flowers, plants, birds and animal figures, embroidered dates, place names and labels such as "From Niagara Falls."

At the time when the other Indians of the region also produced and sold beaded souvenirs (famous "Iroquois beadwork"), Tuscarora Indians were the only ones who had the right to sell their products on private land near the waterfall. Why did it happen? According to an oral legend, Tuscarora males called up for military service during the War of 1812 served in Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy units under the command of US General Peter Porter.

Stumpwork (raised) beaded work

The general was captured by the British and taken to Fort George (downstream from Niagara Falls, on the Niagara left bank where it flows into Lake Ontario), in what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. Tuscarora scouts rescued General Porter and as a reward for his safe return, the Porter family, which privately owned all land adjacent to Niagara Falls, gave Tuscarora women the right to sell their beadwork along the Niagara rapids in perpetuity.

In 1885, private land was nationalized and became the property of the State of New York, at the same time the Niagara State Reservation was created. Nevertheless, Tuscarora women continued to sell their beaddwork in a place known as the Prospect Point, in the heart of the park. It was until May of 1936, when the Niagara State Reservation Police barred them from selling their goods on those lands. In June 1936, the State created a system of permits which allowed the Tuscarora to sell their items in the protected area.

Stumpwork (raised) beaded work

Currently, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation uses a lottery system, open to any Native American to receive one of the five permits issued. And today, almost 200 years later, Tuscarora beadworkers still produce this beautiful raised beadwork. Despite the fact that the complex rules and restrictions of the permitting system limit the ability of Indians to sell the results of their work in native places along the Falls, the Tuscarora people are happy to still have the opportunity to exhibit and share this exquisite and historical form of bead embroidery with you today.

That is wonderful that the old traditions and styles are live and raised bead embroidery is being developed not only in the form of beaded accessories but also in the form of beaded jewelry. Some artists have created pretty nice jewelry pieces like necklaces, earrings, bracelets, brooches featuring 3-D effect. Hopefully, this very old style won't be forgotten and the artists will make us happy by raised bead embroidery designs in the future.

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