Monday, May 2, 2011

Jewelry in the Colors of Kenya

Vintage Glass and Wood Beads

Although I sometimes like to admire beadwork and jewelry designs that use some of my taboo materials - like metals and gemstones - I don’t ever regret the decision to stick to glass and sustainable beads. And even though I would sometimes make exceptions for vintage and upcycled metals, I don’t often find myself amassing old keys and antique watches, so I’m really missing out on a popular jewelry genre.

Luckily, I’ve found a fall back in trade beads. They have that same historical mystique to them that can be found in vintage elements and upcycled jewelry pieces. Even when they are new, there is something really special about beads that came from a tiny village instead of a huge factory.

So, when invited me to participate in their What’s Old is New Again design challenge, my first thought was “I wonder if they have any trade beads…?

Kenya Bone and Seed Bead Palette

The Inspiration:

This challenge is all about combining old elements with new, so the first thing I actually searched for was vintage beads. Another personal favorite, I find it interesting how easy it is to use rare old beads. I’ve spent a lot of time hoarding beads that were perfectly common, yet using up vintage or limited edition glass seems perfectly easy.

I came across these adorable little vintage wood beads with red and green stripes, and an idea started to form. Then I searched for some vintage glass to match them with, and found these gorgeous rose gold druks. They aren’t quite as yellow as the base wood color, but I had a hunch that they would work perfectly for the design that was forming in my imagination.

Kenyan Flag.

The Beads:

As often happens while searching, I was stopped in my tracks by one of the suggested items. There, at the bottom of my screen, were strands of trade style beads just begging to be clicked and explored. What I found was a strand of dyed bone beads from Kenya, with a very pretty white and brown swirl pattern. They were exactly what I needed to add an authentic element to the rustic design I had in mind.

I tried to complete the match up of my little wood buttons with seed beads. To finish my palette, I added matte black 8/o’s, and 11/o seed beads in pepper red, cherry, avocado and matte olive. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the colors I had chosen for my design were very similar to those of Kenya’s national flag. A very interesting and inspiring coincidence!

Colors of Kenya Pendant

The Beadwork:

To showcase the buttons, I created a panel of two-drop peyote stitch with the 8/o beads, and stitched them to it in a simple pattern. This I turned into a pendant by adding strands of caged beads and bone tubes. Because I wanted this necklace to be a little more unique than my usual strung pendants, I went with a freeform, asymmetrical pattern along each strand. I think it works really well with the beads - a perfect pattern would dull their carefree nature.

I had planned to cage the vintage druks with all four of the seed bead colors - one per loop - to mimic the stripes on the buttons. Unfortunately, it looked terrible. Instead, I used a different color for each bead, and changed up the location of the reds and greens on either strand to add to the random look. It worked out very well. The druks add a hint of color that helps prevent the red-green-white-black palette from looking like a weird combination of angry and Christmas.

Kenya Beaded Jewelry Set

I particularly like the way the avocado and olive colors work together in this piece. Alone they might look out of place, but together they enhance each other, and the other colors. I wasn’t ready to stop working with this palette once the necklace was complete, so I whipped up some peyote beaded beads, and made a matching bracelet.

Since I couldn’t go with a steampunk or Victorian design, I hoped to create something that would have an ancient vibe - something that could have been passed down from one healer to another over generations. I think I got pretty close. And as usual, I don’t mourn for any of the rare beads that were used up. It’s great to see them getting new life!

I would like to thank for providing the beads used in this piece. Inspirational Beading has not received paid compensation for including products or reviews in this blog post. I have shared my sincere opinions about the products used in this design.

Copyright 2011 Inspirational Beading
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  1. Wow, very unique piece! I love the materials and colors.

  2. This is so different! Really nice.


  3. Thank you! It was fun to work with red and green and never fear a holiday look. The other beads really made the palette come together.

  4. Wow, this came out great! I love it.

  5. I love it and it's red and green but not christmasy at all! You really inspire me!

  6. Wonderful blog post! And awesome results. Very beautiful work!


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