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.
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
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.
Traditional indigo cloth is the most beautiful fabric and was the starting point for this textile necklace. It was difficult to cut into it not knowing whether or not the textile would lend itself to jewellery making. The weave is quite loose and I was worried that it would unravel. Luckily I was able to make three perfect little tandletons which form the focal point of this adornment.
By clicking on these pictures you will be able to see enlargements and get a really good look at the details.
There are some really beautiful beads in this piece. Some subdued paper beads which I bought from a North African trader in Cape Town – a really good find – the beader appreciating the subtle colours in the paper itself rather than smothering them in crude bright paint. The spotty beads are Ghanaian glass beads which have been hand painted and then fired for a second time. The Coptic cross comes from Ethiopia and has a beautiful and very ancient history; more about this in another post. The beautiful blue and brown beads are also Ghanaian recycled glass.
This is the first time that I worked with gold leaf and I was very excited with the outcome which i further enhanced by stitching with a bronze metallic thread.
Vuyo (meaning happiness in isiXhosa) was completed some time ago. And it really did make me happy until suddenly I had a new vision for it and now it has quite a different look.
I’ve added six Ghanaian brass beads, including “spiderwebs” and “filigree triangles”.
At the bottom of the pendant is an authentic Mali wedding bead – an antique trade bead originally made in Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) and prized by the Fulani women of Mali who to this day present them to their daughters on their wedding day, hence the name.
The necklace is the first to include hemp cord binding. This is pure hemp which I have hand dyed giving it a beautiful irregular tonal look that really compliments the irregularity of the hand made bead.
The irregularity of these pieces and with particular relevance to the beads is largely where their charm lies. On closer inspection you will notice tiny chips and even dust in the really old beads which have been handed down as treasured possessions through the generations. I do wash them but nonetheless it is often very ingrained!
One can also see the “hand” of the craftsman in the graze of a file on the brass beads or the smudge of a paintbrush on the Krobo beads. Nothing is perfect in the mechanical way of the modern world and in this lies the true charm of the piece.
This necklace is quite small with a circumference of 55cm so you’d need to be certain that it will slip over your head before purchasing.
Ndyakuthanda – I Love You – is one of the bigger contemporary textile necklaces I’ve made. Four rope strands of shweshwe and wax fabric are adorned with tandletons, brass cylindrical beads from Ethiopia, cowrie shells and some pretty Ghanaian hand painted recycled glass beads in a rather unusual orange with a hint of lavender.
At the base of the necklace is an antique millefiori trade bead which I was lucky to come across somewhat unexpectedly at a vintage bookshop in Cape Town! There are also several ostrich eggshell beads used to cover the ends of some of the textile tubes.
The geometric shapes remind me of the designs frequently used by the Ndebele people when they paint their homes.
This is such a joyful and festive piece made with some spectacular textiles in vibrant and very African colours. The outer two strands are covered in textiles bought in Ghana by someone who used to work at the Vlisco factory in the Netherlands. The design on these fabrics is particularly popular in Ghana. The inner strand is covered in some lovely pinky mauve wax fabric bought in Cape Town. The design here is more European in flavour and yet they all juxtapose to great effect.
Encircled by Ghanaian brass beads, the leaf, spiderweb and sun pattern and vaseline beads that pick out the green in the outer textile.
The focal point is a textile circle that encircles a green raw silk tandleton
The bone beads I used in this necklace come from Nigeria and are carved from ox bone. They are lightweight but strong and in this case they have been left pleasingly matt whereas they are usually polished.
The golden faceted bead was given to me and I don’t know whether it is stone or glass but it has the most beautiful glow to it and makes a great feature. This necklace can be worn in it’s long oval shape as shown in the picture below or as a shorter more circular shape by gentle manipulation.
As always I have enjoyed using the Ghanaian brass beads
This little choker is made of linen, African wax fabric and raw silk. It is richly hand embroidered with metallic thread and ties with a soft pink velvet ribbon which means you choose whether to wear it snugly or allow it to hang slightly.
Ruby is perfect for those evenings out when a little bit of glamour is required but can also look super for day wear.
For more information on this piece please contact me by email. African Baroque Textile Jewels are easily posted anywhere in the world using South African postal services registered airmail post and take within two weeks to reach most places.
Softly subdued earthy tones imbue a sense of African earth. I’ve used a gentle brown isiShweshwe as the dominant textile buat also incorporated a lovely wax fabric and some linen. The splash of turquoise in the isiShweshwe tandletons is complimented in the Krobo beads as well as some of the decorative hand stitching.
The two brass Tuareg beads are new additions to my bead collection and I love the irregularities that attest to their handmade nature. Tuareg tribe are well known for their beautiful jewelry and it’s a pleasure to tap in to the mystique of this nomadic people.
Also in this picture is one of the hand painted beads made by the Krobo people of Ghana. These are hand made from recycled glass and refired after hand painting. The Krobo people have a long history of bead making and these ancient processes are still followed to day.
Please contact me if there is anything you’d like to know about this piece, to purchase it or to place an order for something similar.
Nadia is a regular customer based in New York. A bold and stylish woman, she recently commissioned this dramatic sculptural neckpiece which is made from three shweshwe bands and five huge purple “cones” made from deep purple raw silk and topped with Ghanain recycled brass beads.
It would be interesting to see this piece handled in a completely different style…. something earthy? Something to think about in the future.
I do take commissions but no two pieces will ever be identical. Please contact me for further information.