Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Design Shape

eye bead-12Aside from the number of colours involved in the design, the first element I record is the shape itself. This can be any design that isn’t a line, like eyes, flowers, spirals, stars, fish, birds, etc.

eye bead-6The simplest shape is a dot. You can also get a dot with a circle around it, a dot with multiple circles around it, or a dot that looks like a rayed sun. Sometimes these are laid out in a pattern, sometimes they aren’t. There are also simple rectangles or squares, rectangles with another rectangle around it (also called a framed rectangle), or a rectangle with multiple rectangles around it. You can also get rectangles that look like rayed suns, just rectangular.

bird and starOther designs include crosses, flowers, birds, stars, fish, human faces, or any other thing that can be drawn with glass.

When talking about the shape of the design, try to describe the design in as much detail as you can. “Blue-ish purple bead with yellow dots” only says so much. “Yellow dots circling the bead and repeating at regular intervals” says a lot more.

face beadDoes the design repeat? Does it repeat with some sort of pattern? If so, what pattern? Are there several rows of the design or just one? Which direction is the design oriented – parallel to the perforation, perpendicular to it, or at an angle? Which colours are used for each part of the design? The more questions you can answer in your description, the better another person will be able to visualise your bead.

If there are multiple different designs, then simply describe all the designs that are present. Just remember that shape doesn’t cover any of the lines on the bead – I separate those into a difference category. Spirals are actually linear designs, as are wavy lines, or even just squiggles. Lines and shapes occur together on beads so often that it makes sense to separate them.

Photos from:

Bird bead: Lankton, J., L. Dussubieux, and T. Rehren. 2009. “A Study of Mid-first Millennium CE Southeast Asian Specialized Glass Beadmaking Traditions.” Interpreting Southeast Asia’s Past, Monument, Image, and Text: 335-356, eds. EA Bacus, IC Glover, and PD Sharrock. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.

Face Bead: Liu, Robert K. 2003. “Horace C. Beck and His Influence on Non-Academic Bead Research and Collecting.” Ornaments from the Past, Bead Studies After Beck: a Book on Glass and Semiprecious Stone Beads in History and Archaeology for Archaeologists, Jewellery Historians and Collections.

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About Heather Christie

Heather is an archaeologist, photographer, and writer whose research focuses on beads and bead trade, particularly in a maritime sense. She's currently working working on a PhD in Digital Design (focusing on heritage visualisation) at the Glasgow School of Art.
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One Response to Stripes, Swirls, and Squiggles: Design Shape

  1. Pingback: Bead Design: Take 2 | Stringing the Past

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