African Trade Bead Necklace

Inspiration in Design – ‘Dahlia’

Sometimes, when in a quiet reflective place, inspiration in design can appear in the simplest things …. a flower, the colours of the ocean or gorgeous patterns and colour palettes on a piece of fabric.

A beautiful deep red dahlia flower in full bloom with the most unusual black and white spots in its centre from my mothers garden was the inspiration behind this African trade bead necklace named ‘Dahlia’

Rummaging through my bead collection, I began grouping colours of that wonderful image and the necklace effortlessly evolved. I love it when it is borne from such simple beginnings. Sometimes you can labour to get a piece just right, but this just seemed to create itself!

The deep red beads used are glass trade beads from the Fulani tribe in West Africa and are at least 50 years old, possibly more. Beads were a prized commodity amongst the Fulani for centuries and worn for beauty and prestige. Often adorned for wedding ceremonies, beads were a sign of riches. Social status was determined by the quality and quantity of style of jewellery worn which created a high demand for trade beads throughout the region.

The black and white beads are old glass trade beads called ‘skunk’ beads or are also known as crows eye or eye beads, produced in Venice and traded throughout Africa for ivory, gold and other desired goods, services, even slaves!

The two end beads are rare old hand wound Venetian ‘feather’ beads. These beads require the use of an open flame technique where molten glass was spun around a wire or rod to form each individual bead. Brass beads and spacers from Ethiopia compliment the necklace giving it a lush feel and glow.

African beadwork is meant to be noticed. As Angela Fisher has written in Africa Adorned, beads say ‘look at me’. I’m sure this piece will invite comments and not go unnoticed!!! It will be posted on the GEMILA website shortly.

Reference of interesting related books:

  • The History of Beads – Lois Sherr Dubin
  • Africa Adorned – Angela Fisher