I’ve just completed a lovely little textile necklace in muted neutral colours. It’s a breakaway from the typical bright colours of Shweshwe and African print textiles that I’ve been using and its been exciting to see how differently the beads have behaved in combination with ivory, black and soft gold of the textiles. This is also the first time I’ve included velvet in a necklace and I am very happy with the textural interest it creates.
Velvet from Bellamy & Bellamy
The velvet was a happy find at David Bellamy in Muizenberg. They have the most amazing range in very high quality British and Dutch velvets and what’s most fabulous is that they aren’t scared of colour. Their are some bewitching purples and acid greens, iridescent turquoise as well as the more traditional colours, the silvery grey I’ve used in this textile necklace being one of the latter. Of course this might not sound exciting to followers in other parts of the world, but in South Africa there is very little in the way of quality fabric of any kind.
Zulu Teething Beads
The little pale blue grey Imbifinga beads are known by many names, most commonly Job’s Tears. In South Africa they are known as Zulu teething beads, amatandjies (or amatantyisi). These tear shaped seeds come from a grass that is similar to corn and in some parts of the world is known as “The Mother of Corn”.
I was fascinated to read that the male flower actually grows through the center of the seed and so there is no need to drill a hole to make the bead – it comes ready made!
“Etosha” is truly a versatile piece as this pics show, looking equally great with denim, Indian cotton and linen. I have a sense that the possibilities are endless and I know that the artistic customer who commissioned it is going to do some exciting combinations.
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.