Pony beads are plastic or glass beads similar to seed beads, but much larger in size. They are popular with both adults and children as they easy to work with and are available in a wide range of colors, finishes and shapes. These beads are often used in hair fashions, ornaments, children’s crafts and jewelry making.
Explorers such as Lewis and Clark brought European glass beads such as these to North America. The beads got their name when they were delivered by the Pony Express. Native American women used glass pony beads, along with seed and crow beads, on fringes on leather clothing and moccasins. They also used them along with other beads to make necklaces for their tribe and neck gear for the horses.
Pony beads are known as barrel beads in the United Kingdom because the original shape looks like a barrel. Today, however, these beads are available in many other shapes. Heart-shaped beads are popular for barrettes and jewelry and there are butterfly and animal shapes as well. Theme-shaped ones sold in assortment packs such as different types of sport balls or different modes of transportation are also popular and are usually plastic rather than glass. Christmas pony beads are usually plastic as well and are often red, green or white and shaped like Santa Claus, snowmen, trees and more.
Plastic pony beads can be opaque or transparent. The transparent ones can look closer to glass if they are good quality and seamless. Metallic finished plastic ones are coated in gold, sliver or copper-look paint, while glitter-finished ones have small specks of glitter added.
One of the great things about pony beads is that they come in a wide range of colors. There are many shades in the same color family so you can get more sophisticated looks. For example, you can use them on the ends of tiny braids in hair in many shades of the same color, such as all blues. Or, you can make beautiful spoke-shaped ornaments by stacking beads of the same color family onto corsage pins and then radiating the finished pins out from a center piece of cork or craft foam.
Another great thing about pony beads is that they are often quite simple and fun for children to use. The plastic variety is inexpensive and the large holes make these beads easy for children to work with. Younger children can thread them to make simple jewelry, while older ones can weave them to make the popular animal-shaped "Beadies" key chain accessories and similar crafts. The transparent beads also make excellent woven sun catchers to hang in the window.
Some needle crafters like to add pony beads right into their work. This technique can be used for purses and bags as well as hair “scrunchies” and trim for fringed dresses and skirts. Cords can also be crocheted or knitted and made into chokers with the beads added.