Ethiopian silver beads are objects of beauty in their own right. They vary a lot in quality but all bear the tell tale marks of hand craft and this is a large part of the allure they have for me. In a world bursting with machine made objects these have soul and it’s tangible. In the pictures below I am deliberately showing the joins, small “cracks” and other imperfections that mark them as handmade.
The Background Story
Most of the beads are made in small rural villages and with the most humble of tools. When I first began researching them I read that the “silver” (aluminum) ones were made by melting down old aluminum pots and pans which was pretty amazing. Furthermore, modern aluminum pots don’t melt properly; they can only use vintage ones! Then I discovered that old bullet casings are also used for this purpose. The casings are found by farmers who supply them to the bead makers. Sadly there are plenty of these around, a brutal reminder of the conflicts suffered by the Ethiopian and Eritrean people.
The casings are melted down in the traditional way over a bed of hot coals. The process is very laborious and time consuming. Beads produced in this way take various shapes and sizes but the ones I currently use are either bicones (double cone), heishi beads and narrow cylinders.
Beads of various shapes and sizes are also made from recycled copper and brass.
I am so in awe of the (sadly anonymous) bead makers of Africa and the beauty they produce. I hope to continue to learn about them and will share information whenever I find it. They deserve to be known and respected for their work.
Working with beads
Ethiopian silver beads lend themselves to inclusion with textile jewellery and were very effectively incorporated into this piece which I called “Meet me in Mauritius” as the turquoise and silver make me think of the azure waters of that area.
There’s an energy in this textile necklace that adds “impression” to any look you can possibly conceive. The authenticity of materials translates into something powerful despite the relative simplicity of the piece.
The centrally placed carved bone bead is happy vintage rescue. The four tear shaped beads are authenti glass trade beads from a Malian wedding necklace which are fairly hard to come by. These beads were made in Bohemia (now Czekoslavakia) and can be identified partly through the signs of “wear and tear” but also the way the bead was pressed – a technological advancement of the era.
The silver beads are Ethiopian handmade silver beads. These are all made from recycled objects such as pots, pans and bullet casings. The bullet casings, remnants from many wars, are gathered by farmers and from there go to beadmakers who melt them down and refashion them as beads.
I’ve used Vlisco 100% cotton wax fabric for this piece.
Light and easy to wear – in fact it’s easy to forget you’re wearing it! Just slip it over you’re head and you’re ready to take on the world!!
african baroque unique handcrafted textile necklace
If you’re looking for an accessory that will really get you noticed then this handcrafted African textile necklace is the one for you.
The triple strands are covered in three different “Africa Print” cotton textile and the entire piece adorned with some really fabulous handmade African beads. The many colours in these textiles work well with a boho look but you can also easily create a striking and sophisticated evening look.
The brass mask is made in Ghana by members of the Baule people of the artistic Akan tribe. This tribe resisted French colonization longer than other West African people, and maintained their traditional objects and beliefs longer than others did. The origin of the name Baule is from the word “Baouli” which means “the child has died”. As legend has it, Queen Abla Polu broke away from the Ashanti king and led her people west where she had to sacrifice her own son in order to cross the river.
And despite it’s size it is really comfortable to wear and surprisingly light.
If you’d like to know more about this piece please contact me via my contact page
Crystal, turquoise sea and lazy days on the beautiful beaches of Mauritius inspire the name of this textile necklace.
The lovely big silver bicones are handmade in Ethiopia. Beautiful signs of handwork in the form of tiny dents and splashes of metal are definitive of these beads and imbue the piece with authenticity as opposed to mass produced, machine made objects.
This shimmering piece will turn every day into a romantic holiday.
Vibrant red is a colour much favoured by the Maasai people, a semi-nomadic people of Tanzania and Kenya and the dominant colour in this piece which is made from 100% cotton isishweshwe and wax fabric. The central bead in the pendant is a found vintage ivory bead and the central tandleton is encircled with “silver” prayer beads from Ethiopia.
Please contact me for more information about this neck adornment.
Thuli – in form – resembles one of those gorgeous ornate oval frames favoured by Victorians for portraits.
It’s a powerful piece incorporating linen, isiShweshwe and found textiles. I’ve used many found and vintage beads here as well as tiny ostrich eggshell beads handmade by the Himba tribe from Namibia and some Ethiopian “silver” beads.
Three Cats Shweshwe brought out a Madiba range to honour the late Nelson Mandela. Sadly this is no longer being manufactured due, I’m told, to royalty issues. I am lucky to have some in stock and I’ve used it in this pendant necklace.
Madiba was a such a great statesman and an exceptional human. Wise, courageous and truly inspirational. I think most South Africans miss him very much.