Where Does Our Love of Beads Originate?

Women come naturally by their love for beads. They inherit it from their “great-great-twenty- seven-times-great-grandmother” — as the fairy tale says.

Close to the first rude implements for household work explorers find bits of shell, turquoise, amber, or lapis lazuli, pierced for stringing; rough and asymmetrical to be sure, but unmistakably beads. Each generation since the time of that very great-grandmother has had the taste for bead work in a greater or lesser degree, and with the different peoples it has shown itself differently.

With some it has been gorgeous and barbaric; others have wrought with exquisite fineness. Many have only seen in it a personal ornament; while others, like our North American Indian, have used it to beautify alike their household utensils and articles for ceremonial usage. Studying Indian handicrafts, we cannot but recognize the decorative possibilities of bead work.

The present interest in bead work undoubtedly sprang from our enthusiasm for Indian handicrafts. From admiring and wishing to possess baskets wrought with beads, and woven bead belts and chains, it was a natural and easy step to copying them. Whether the special branch of bead work one wishes to do is stringing, weaving, knitting, or sewing, the beads are, of course, the first consideration.

Wampum, the genuine Indian bead, is beautiful and costly. The wampum used by eastern tribes is long and cylindrical; in color ivory-white, black, or purple. Western wampum, shaped like tiny millstones, was generally made of clam-shells ground and drilled by hand. “The aboriginal tool for drilling, called dawihai (from da win, to bore, and hai, a stick), was a straight shaft of wood two feet long and half an inch in diameter at the middle. This the kneeling Indian twirled between the palms of his hands. The drill-point was of jasper or flint and fastened to the shaft by a lashing of hemp coated with pitch. Its origin is beyond tradition.

Sometimes the Indians fashioned beads of rainbow-colored abalone shells from the Pacific. The beautiful feather baskets of the Pomos are occasionally enriched by decorations of these beads. Again, in strings of white western wampum one finds a bead of wonderful sky-blue — an exquisite contrast; it is turquoise. These beads, however, are for a fortunate few. Those most of us must be content to possess are the Venetian glass beads, sometimes mistakenly spoken of as Indian, but which are only Indian because they are used by them.

In conclusion of “just where do our love for beads originate,” why, it is from the Indians of course, where else could it possibly be. Much, much we have all received from the Indians, and a love for beads is surely one of those things.

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Creating Handmade Beads with Polymer Clay

The most basic tools any jewelry artisan needs are:

Round Nose Pliers: Used to create loops with wire

Chain and Flat Nose Pliers: Used to bend wire, open jump rings and hold onto small objects

Wire Cutters: Flush cutters with a flat side are best to make clean cuts on wire. If you ever use steel wire, you will need memory-wire cutters

The above: Round Nose Pliers, Chain and Flat Nose Pliers and Wire Cutter are the bare basic tools for jewelry artisans and a must have. Other tools are needed for different kinds of projects, but to get started making jewelry these 3 tools are the very basics.

A ball pin hammer with a flat side and a rounded side is essential for flattening and to texture wire and metal.

If you want a more elaborate craft tool box for other hand crafts add:

a hole punch


craft knife

rubber stamps

cookie cutters

paintbrushes with soft synthetic fibers

Felting and Sewing Tools include:

foam sponge (preferably a dense foam felting sponge

felting needles

sewing and beading needles

large darning needles can be used to shape polymer clay

Additional tools for polymer clay bead making include:

a mini hacksaw to use for sawing wood and twigs

pin-vise drill which is a hand held mini drill used for making holes in soft materials such as wood and polymer clay

embossing heat tool

rotary tool, sanding bands, drill bit and a diamond drill

embossing heat tool

Styrofoam blocks

mold putty

leather spoon

If you desire to make beads from polymer clay, you will need in your toolbox:

pasta machine or clay conditioning machine

cutting blade

sculpting tool

Polymer clay is lightweight and is available in a large variety of colors. You can make some beautiful beads from lightweight polymer clay. Tip: Never work on a wood surface making polymer clay beads. Always work on glass, tile or plexiglass.

Working with polymer clay is somewhat like “playing with dough.” The first step is to condition the clay by rolling it over and over and pinching it. Fold it, pinch it, fold it, pinch it.

Baking Tips:

Always follow the manufacturer (of your clay) instructions.

Use an oven thermometer

Monitor baking time carefully

Be aware that polymer clay releases noxious fumes when baking.

Tip for using your kitchen oven to bake polymer clay:

Cover them tightly with a foil tent

Place a piece of paper on bottom of pan to prevent shiny spots from appearing on your finished beads

Never use kitchen utensils for working with polymer clay as it will make them unusable for regular food preparations later.

Correct storage for polymer clay is:

A cool, dry place wrapped in baggies or waxed paper

Tips for making small beads from polymer clay:

Air-dry the clay for a ceramic look finish

Air drying also makes small beads last longer

Conditioning the clay before use releases the moisture necessary to form your beads and also provides a smoother finish. Be sure to pinch off just a small amount at a time to work with and leave the rest of the polymer clay sealed tight in a baggie.

A few basic types of beads you can create with polymer clay are:

Sgraffito Beads: These beads get their name from a pottery-decoration-technique called “Sgraffito.” The finished result is a painted surface carved away to reveal a design.

Obre Beads: To make the Obre effect, use the Skinner Blend Technique first developed by Judith Skinner. The Skinner Blend is a color graduation. You can use every color in the rainbow, and it makes a perfect Obre effect without too much fuss.

You can also make faceted and deco beads using polymer clay.

For further reading about making beads with polymer clay check out the book written by Heather Powers entitled: “Bead Making Lab 52,” published by Quarto Publishing Group, USA 2016. She includes many, many illustrations, step by step instructions and photos.

In her book, the number 52 stands for “52 explorations for crafting beads, from polymer clay, plastic, paper, stone, wood, fiber, and wire.”

Reference used: Bead Making Lab 52, by Heather Powers

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All for The Love of Beads

Beads are found all over the world. Many different cultures believe in prayer beads. Some people believe the use of beads helps them to recite their prayers. What about “worry beads?” Middle East businessmen have been known to wear a tasseled strand of 33 beads they call “worry beads,” to help them make decisions. As for me, it would take much more than a necklace of 33 beads to help me make decisions. One never knows though until you try. Maybe I should put together a tassel strand of 33 beads the next time I am up against decision making.

During the Middle Ages, Europeans made beads primarily for religious purposes. In some regions there were laws against wearing any kind of jewelry except prayer beads, the rosary. Many other great bead traditions emerged. Beads have been found in much of our excavations. Historians study the finds to learn about ancestors. Some of the things they have learned from the study of beads found are:

trade route facts
technological advances of materials and manufacturing methods
evolving fashions and habits of generations before us

Beads continue to increase in popularity and value. People have become more and more fascinated by the history of beads as well as their significance to different cultures. Beads of all kinds is full of a rich history many people find fascinating as they work with them and create more and more designs. Innovation in bead designs is ongoing daily.

It is interesting to note Turkish eye beads found all over Turkey were and probably still are used to ward off the “evil eye.” Who is the evil eye? I would say it is the devil in my personal culture. As bead artisans learn more about beads and bead jewelry making we also pick up little tidbits along the way regarding how they have been used, and why they have been used or worn. Once we become fired up with enthusiasm about beads, the creative process of making bead jewelry kicks in as well. My first love was for the beads themselves, and not the actual finished jewelry products.

I know it must be exciting to travel the world, visit their local markets and hunt for beads. Africa, Eastern Europe, India, the Middle East, the Far East are all interesting locations for bead hunters, I am sure, as well as unique bead jewelry making traditions. It would take some time to learn differences in what is real and what is fake.

Glass was the most common material used to make beads during the Neolithic era of time in Europe and the Middle East. The Middle East is part of the”exotic lands.” They also had beads of amber, gold and semiprecious stones. I really think a lot of us just by human nature crave that which is novel to us.

Germany is known for their wooden toys. Germany’s wooden beads follow right along after their tradition of making wooden toys.

As for now, I truly am not interested in making beads. I think there is enough to discover already made without creating more. Beads have such a rich and fascinating history it is hard to just skip over to putting them together as jewelry pieces without knowing a little bit about where it all began. For the love of beads, a jewelry artisan most likely emerges.

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