Beadwork, often also called beading, is the general term used to describe the craft of working with beads in some manner, in order to produce a decoration or decorative item. The beads may be worked in a variety of techniques, such as being strung together on a cord, thread or wire; sewn down onto a ground material; woven together on a loom (on-loom work) or stitched together in the hand (off-loom work) in some manner.
The use of shells and beads made from bird's eggs, land snails, molluscs and sea shells is probably one of the oldest forms of decorative needlework and this technique is still used today. Sixty-five small mollusc shells (Nassarius Kraussianus), perforated with a bone tool, were found in 2004 in Blombos Cave (South Africa). They may have been strung together into necklaces or bracelets and are dated to c. 70,000 to 75,000 years ago.
Tambour beading is a technique that developed in Europe in the late eighteenth century. A small hook (tambour hook) is used to attach the beads to the ground cloth, rather than a needle. The word tambour is French for ‘drum’ and is named after the drum-shaped tensioning frame that was originally used. The technique of tambour embroidery originated, so it is assumed, in India in the seventeenth century or earlier.