Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Favorite Beads: African Trade Beads

Coil Cuff African Trade Bead Bracelet by SarasinArt

Today my guest is the designer behind the exotic and intriguing jewelry of SarasinArt. The elegantly rustic appeal of trade beads really make her designs stand out.

Inspirational Beading: What is your all-time favorite bead?

Sarasin: If I had to pick one type of beads to work with, it would be African trade beads. I love working with gem stones too, but the trade beads are my favorites.

I like them because there's so much involved in them. There's a culture and a set of techniques to make them that we in this country will never understand the depth of. The colors represent a continent that is mysterious and age-old in its ways, and so are the trade beads that the people from there produce.

Inspirational Beading: What is your favorite technique or method to use them?

Sarasin: I love to find different colors and combine them with other rustic and tribal components, like horn and bone, and use a lot of copper in the closures. Sometimes I make my own copper closures, to maintain the primitive style of the finished jewelry. I sometimes mix them with other things too, if I find things that seem to go well with them.

Leopard and Trade Bead Jewelry Set by SarasinArt

Inspirational Beading: Of all the creations you’ve made with these beads, which one is your favorite?

Sarasin: [Leopard Necklace and Earring Set] That is my favorite ever, because I found a cat that seemed to blend so well with the particular beads I combined it with. That set sold at a show about 2 weeks after I made it. It was something I had been tempted to keep.

Inspirational Beading: Do you have any tips for making the most of these beads?

Sarasin: Making the most of them, I believe, is understanding their origin, and explaining to the customer about their origin. These beads are made in Ghana in a labor intensive old way, in wood fired kilns. The molds are hand made, the kiln is hand made, the glass is recycled glass that's gathered up, and sometimes the bead makers have to travel many miles to get the wood to fire the kilns.

Then there are procedures to make the beads, a wooden stick placed in the center of the glass which burns away to create the bead hole....returning the colorful ones to the kiln many times to set each new application of color. These beads are both a source of income in an impoverished area and a labor of love that is centuries old.

Orange and Yellow Trade Bead Necklace by SarasinArt

When I tell my customers the stories about the beads, people like knowing the history of the piece they're buying; it adds to the "thing" being just a pretty thing, and then when they wear the jewelry, they can tell the stories again. People like that.

Inspirational Beading: What is your favorite bead or material to pair these with?

Sarasin: Mostly other natural and primitive materials: bone and horn, and also some brass trade beads made in another area of Africa, Ajiba in the Ivory Coast. And copper findings and copper beads go well with them, the best, I think.

Inspirational Beading: If you were stranded on the moon, and you could have only one kind of bead with you, would you choose these?

Sarasin: Oh, what a thought! I would be stranded with trade beads, because they would give me inspiration, that even when times are tough, you can make good things happen!

Inspirational Beading: In your opinion, what is the best source for these beads?

Tribal Hammered Copper Bracelet by SarasinArt

Sarasin: I buy the majority of my African trade beads from a non-profit organization that operates from here, also has an employee and volunteers in Ghana, and buys the beads directly from the bead makers.

The lady who runs the organization is strongly dedicated to helping the people of the Krobo area of Ghana to improve their lives. There are fewer hands in the transactions when I buy beads from her, and that leaves a large portion of the funds in the hands of the bead makers. I like that concept. The organization is called Soul of Somanya.

You can see even more inspired creations at SarasinArt on Wordpress!

Copyright 2011 Inspirational Beading and SarasinArt
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  1. Thank you SO much for this excellent feature article! You have a great blog here!


  2. What an awesome feature! I didn't know about the trade beads so I was able to learn something new and now I may concider getting my hands on some. Her art is gorgeous!

  3. I've been trying to come up with some design ideas, too! The beads at Soul of Somanya are really gorgeous, and it's hard to resist such a great cause.


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