Bead Making Techniques

The two beadwork specialists are Beadmakers (who produce beads from various materials) and Beadworkers (who are artists, creating jewellery, garments and regalia). Artists must carefully choose beads that complement or contrast with one another. As well as colourful ensembles, a visual impact can be achieved by a single bead of fine workmanship.

Beadmaking industries still flourish among the Krobo peoples of Ghana and the Nupe peoples of Nigeria. The beadmaking industry at Bida is famous throughout West Africa, with beadmakers melting coloured glass from bottles or other glass beads in a small, wood burning furnace. They then use rods to form the molten glass into various shapes before decorating their beads with a distinctive white pattern by winding a thin trail of white melted glass around the bead while it is still hot.

The techniques of African beadwork vary. Beads may be strung on fibre cord or metal wire to create bracelets and necklaces; stitched to a backing of fibre, canvas or leather; or stitched to burlap or cloth

Powdered Glass Beads

Earliest powder glass beads on record were discovered during archaeological excavations at Mapungubwe, in present-day Zimbabwe, and dated to 970-1000 CE. In our time, the main area of powder glass bead manufacture is West Africa, most importantly, Ghana. The origins of bead making in Ghana are unknown, but the great majority of powder glass beads produced today are made by Ashanti and Krobo craftsmen and women. Krobo bead making has been documented to date from as early as the 1920s but Ghanaian powder glass bead making is considered to date further back. Bead making in Ghana was first documented by John Barbot in 1746, and beads still play important roles in Krobo society, such as in rituals of birth, coming of age, marriage or death.

Common Types of Glass Beads

Glass beads are usually categorized by the method used to manipulate the glass. Most beads fall into three main categories: wound beads, drawn beads, and molded beads. There are composites, such as millefiori beads, where cross-sections of a drawn glass cane are applied to a wound glass core. A very minor industry in blown glass beads also existed in 19th century Venice and France. They include: ·

  •   Wound Glass Beads
  •   Drawn Glass Beads
  •   Molded Beads
  •   Lampwork Beads
  •   Dichroic Glass beads and
  •   Furnace Glass

African Bead Making

The AMASO Project combines unique bead making and jewellery design skills with African Community Upliftment. A process was developed by Mintek in South Africa whereby recycled glass bottles are utilised to manufacture beads in the indigenous style. The project is called “Amaso”, which is the Xhosa word for jewellery. The process involves using recycled bottles that are crushed and ground to a powder, then mixed with a binder and a colourant. Once the beads are formed by hand, they are placed on stainless steel wires and sintered in a kiln around 800 degrees C., which produces both clear and opaque looking beads.

Ceramic Beads

Kazuri’s handmade, hand-painted ceramic jewellery is made in Nairobi, Kenya. Every bead which goes to make up a necklace or bracelet is shaped by hand by one of the 200 local women at Kazuri. The beads are then kiln fired once, glazed and fired again before being strung.

The African Collection had both examples of Amaso and the Kazuri  beads and the finished jewellery.