The Practicalities of Beading

I mentioned a couple weeks ago how I was going to start beading, and have now posted about two projects I’ve done with that. When I spoke about getting into beading, a lot of it was so that I could understand the practicalities of actually using beads and bridge the gap between archaeologists who study beads and modern craftspeople who use beads.

And within 20 minutes, I’d already begun to meet at least one of those goals. Continue reading

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False Gold-Foil Beads

My absolute favorite type of bead has got to be the false gold-foil. These beads first appeared around the 7th-10th centuries AD and as far as I can tell, they are found mostly in and around Thailand.

False gold-foil beads are made with a semi-opaque white glass tube layered with a translucent amber tube. There is no gold anywhere in the bead, but the finished product looks incredibly similar to actual gold-foil beads.

Gold foil bead from Kerala, India. This one is real, but if done right, you could make a fake gold-foil bead that's practically identical.

Gold foil bead from Kerala, India. This one is real, but if done right, you could make a fake gold-foil bead that’s practically identical.

To me, these beads show the humanity behind the object in a way I don’t really get with other beads as much. The other beads are worn, sure, and they’re made by someone and those people are making active decisions about what they make and how they use the beads. But these show not just thought about how to use the beads or how to create new designs – they show a distinct desire to essentially con the system.

It’s so human.

 

And it’s so funny. It’s not that I thought people wouldn’t try to con the system in the 7th century AD, it’s that I simply hadn’t thought of conning the system in exactly that way. Finding archaeological evidence that someone in Thailand came up with that scheme makes me happy, because it’s clever and deserves credit. Some of these false gold-foil beads were believed to be the real thing by archaeologists until we tested them chemically and realized there was absolutely no gold in there. If you can make that good of an imitation that lasts for the next 1300 years, then kudos to you, whoever you are.

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Project #2: Norse-Colored Necklace

I’ve been working on a bead netting necklace for about a week now using deep translucent blue and opaque white seed beads.  I was just interested in learning the netting technique and liked the color combo, but as I worked a bit more at it, I realized the colors were incredibly similar to a lot of the color combinations we see on Norse jewelry. Continue reading

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2-hole Beads

Since I’ve started beading all of a week ago, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to Beading Daily’s blog. This week, they posted a piece on 2-hole beads that caught my attention.

I certainly won’t disagree with the article. I don’t know enough about modern beading and while I haven’t used 2-hole beads yet, I imagine they would be incredibly useful. Continue reading

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Metal Foil Beads

Metal foil beads (and some non-foil segmented beads) from Cnip on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

Metal foil beads (and some non-foil segmented beads) from Cnip on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

Metal foil beads are made with a thin layer of gold or silver leaf or foil sandwiched between two layers of clear glass.  The first glass layer is usually drawn or wound, while the second layer of glass is folded around the metal leaf. Gold foil beads are more commonly found (archaeologically speaking) in Asia, while silver foil beads are more commonly found in European archaeological contexts.

Continue reading

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Mutisalah Celtic Fusion Bracelet

celtic braceletMy first finished project (because I was way too excited and completed it in about an hour) is a bracelet made on a bead loom using the closest thing to mutisalah that I could find, but stringing them in a Celtic knot-work pattern. Continue reading

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Taking the Plunge

It’s taken me far too long, but I have finally decided to engage my craftier side and delve into beading and beadwork.

Yup, you read that correctly. I am stepping into the world of beading.

Honestly, I was mostly there already – it’s not that big of a leap. I weave, knit, crochet, etc., and beading is taking that and adding beads and more fun techniques, which can only mean wonderful things! My ultimate goal is to be able to make a dragon out of beads. Because who wouldn’t want to do that?

Part of this endeavor is to understand the practicalities of actually using beads. It’s funny, because when archaeologists look at beads, they say a site might have manufactured them due to high numbers of unusable beads – broken ones, melted ones, ones with incomplete perforations. It wasn’t until 2004, nearly 80 years after beads became a significant topic in archaeology, that Dr. Alok Kanungo pointed out the fatal flaw in that logic: unfinished or unusable beads often get mixed with with usable ones and can be found wherever beads are strung, not just where they were made.

I remember reading this in 2010 and thinking, “Of course, that makes perfect sense.”

And now, in 2014, it took all of 20 minutes of working with seed beads to realize how obvious this truth is.

Moral of that story: if a scholar is studying a human activity, the best way to understand that activity is to do it, so long as it fits within legal, humane, ethical parameters.

So that’s one reason. Another positively huge reason is to bridge the gap between archaeological studies of beads and modern craftspeople who use beads. Dialog is a wonderful thing for both sides, and it’s surprising how little we scholars know about the beading world. I would also love to spread knowledge about past uses of beads to the wider public, for any who are interested. That’s kind of why I have this blog.

And since I’m an archaeologist who is getting into beading, I’ve decided to set some parameters for my work. My goal is to use beads that are the same or similar styles to those used in ancient times, but in new, modern ways. As much as I love every bead there ever was, I like the idea of engaging with styles that have been in continuous use for 3000 years or more.

Having started my studies with glass beads, I have a particular fondness for them. But the first beads we know of were made of shell and found at cave sites dating to between 150-175,000 years ago. So some of these bead styles we still use today were created 150,000 years ago.

And I think that’s amazing.

I’ve also found some really wonderful bead styles in the archaeological record. The Scottish mosaic beads I posted about earlier are only one of many, many types I absolutely love. And I want to connect my art to the art of the people who created these beads.

However, I will never use beads that were dug up from an archaeological site, and I will never use beads taken from a grave. I say this because as an archaeologist, I am confronted every day with issues in my research because someone went to Ban Chiang, dug up graves dating to 500 AD, took only the beads and the gold, and sold it to the highest bidder. This happens all the time, and I will avoid the practice as much as I am able. Given how difficult it is to figure out contexts of beads when they’re in the archaeological record, it will get fairly complicated, but I can at least try.

So that’s it. A new segment to the blog with new beading projects and me figuring out how to do all this. If anyone reading this has suggestions for what I should make or how I can improve or whatever, please leave them in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.

Right, I’ve droned on long enough – let’s get started!

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Colorblindness and Beads

Every time I talk about beads, I end up talking about color. Anytime most people talk about beads, they talk about color. And every time we talk about color, the question inevitably arises: what about color perception? Just because you see that color as blue doesn’t mean I see it as blue or vice versa. When we’re looking at beads, how can we talk about color if everyone’s perception is possibly different? Continue reading

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Indo-Pacific Beads

Indo-Pacific beads are a huge deal in the bead world, both archaeologically and artistically. Just as I would be completely remiss if I didn’t discuss seed beads, I would be almost even more remiss if I didn’t discuss Indo-Pacific (or IP) beads.

The term “Indo-Pacific” was coined by Peter Francis Jr., who defined them as small, drawn, monochrome, glass beads. This is almost identical to the definition of seed beads (small, monochrome, glass beads), with the very important distinction that IP beads are drawn. This is a very specific style of manufacture that distinguishes these beads from small, monochrome, wound beads or beads made any other way. What’s important about the distinction is that it essentially makes the IP beads non-European, because nowhere in Europe really made drawn beads. Continue reading

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Beads are Everywhere

When people find out I’m an archaeologist, I usually get incredibly positive reactions. Many people have wanted to be an archaeologist at some point in their lives or have some interest in it, so I don’t usually get negative reactions to that revelation.

And then they ask what I study. And I tell them the truth, because why would I lie?

I study beads. Specifically, I study maritime trade through beads. Continue reading

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