Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Beads: Cowry Shells

Thrifted Cowry Shell Necklace

Ever since I started looking for new Egyptian jewelry inspirations, I’ve been on the hunt for cowry shells. Like many ancient cultures, the Egyptians loved the look and feel of cowries, and considered them to be a feminine symbol and a way to promote fertility. Cowry shapes appear often in Egyptian jewelry designs, so I wanted to get my hands on some and see what they could do.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding anything but sawed cowry shells, which are often used in hemp jewelry and other pieces as charms and dangles. I wanted the full effect, especially the smooth shell backs with their pretty, organic designs.

I had almost given up my search for whole, preferably drilled, cowries, when I got lucky. I was out doing some thrifting, and spotted a long, luxurious shell necklace made almost entirely from whole cowries. I didn’t even hesitate to scoop up this treasure, and took it home to disassemble it and see just how lucky I was.

Sure enough, the necklace design relied on the cowries being drilled once, allowing the strings to be fed through the inside of the shell, and out through the spout on the opposite side. Pairs of cowries were then anchored together by a single shell, hiding all of the strings and making a nice, neat necklace.

Blue Cowry Spiral Necklace

All I had to do was come up with a beadweaving design that would make the best use of the cowry shape. Dangles and fringe would likely be askew and not very pretty. I finally decided on spiral rope, which would allow the shells to hug the beadwork, and show off their pretty backs.

Weaving with cowries isn’t the most fun I’ve ever had. Most of the time, I was able to feed Fireline through the tiny, curved spaces by hand. Occasionally, I needed a little help from a twisted wire needle, which is now hopelessly kinked and mangled from the job.

Although I was happy to be able to use up the blue and white bead mixture I accidentally created this summer, and I like the ocean theme, I sort of wish I had gone with an earthier palette. I don’t have quite enough shells left to make another necklace like this, but there are enough for a few bracelets. I’d like to give them another try in a more tribal design.

Copyright 2011 Inspirational Beading
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  1. I love shells and you wove your magic, even if it was a challenge. I was thinking the blues have an ocean vibe too. Lovely! Makes me want to go to the beach.

  2. Beautifully done - you really show them off well with this design!

  3. I see those shell necklaces sometimes and I may have to pick some up.

  4. Ha! Isn't that the way? You see those shells everywhere when you don't need em! I never would have thought of doing a spiral with them. Very inspirational!


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