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After walking a short distance down a serene, winding trail, a visitor to the Oconaluftee Indian Village will be greeted by the pleasant nods and smiles of Cherokee women in native garb, working diligently on their colorful beadwork. There are two types of beadwork the women are demonstrating. The first type, which is used to decorate the clothing of men and women, is called "scroll work." Traditionally it is sewn down the sides of men's trousers and around the hems of women's skirts. The women work with flax thread, glass beads and stainless steel needles. The second type, which is used for making belts, headbands, and necklaces, is called "solid" beadwork. Each bead is sewn one at a time onto the previous bead, which allows the thread to pass through the bead twice. Should the belt break, the double threading ensures a clean break, which can be easily mended. If the visitor happens to be there when one of the women finishes her beadwork, he or she will witness the next step, where she will sew on two strips of buckskin to serve as a tie. Generally it will take three or four days to make a belt.
Traditionally, the patterns and designs of the beadwork had special meanings and significance. Sadly, many of these meanings have been lost. However, today the women make up their own meanings and weave their own symbols of those meanings into their work. Before the introduction of modern materials, the Cherokee people used the teeth, bones, and claws of wild animals to decorate their clothing. They also used dried berries and gray Indian corn for beads. Sometimes they would use small colorful sea shells traded to the Cherokee by the coastal tribes. Homemade needles carved from the straight bone of a deer's leg located just above the hoof were used to pull thread made from the fibers of hemp.