An Introduction to African Beads

Search online for “African beads” and the list of shops is endless, as are the colours, shapes and sizes. The variety is so huge that a visit to the bead-maker’s, bead market or well-stocked online shop is sure to cost you more than you had in mind!

Having sold beads for a good few years now it might come as bit of a surpirse that I choose to write on this topic now. Well, only last week I had an email from a first-time customer excited to have discovered my shop because she was new to jewellery-making. And going into a new venture she wanted to create “something different”.  She’s not the first… and she had come to the right place!

Africa is one large continent, made up of several countries and with that comes differences in what type of bead are made.  I aim try to write a little about each part in future blogs (keep coming back!).

Today, though, I will focus on 3 reasons why they are different:

1. Handmade, not mass-produced. Each bead, even on the same strand is different in size, and sometimes colour shade. Often labour-intensive, a lot of and effort goes into making them one at a time.

Once I was part of a big bead fair. Striking, was the fact that many, many of the stands there had very similar factory-made stock. It can get almost tiring seeing so much that is the same… Needless to say there was one stand which was unlike the others!

The pink beads in the middle are shorter than others on the strand

The pink beads in the middle are shorter than others on the strand

Handpainted recycled glass beads

Handpainted recycled glass beads

Different shades in colour give you so much variety!

Different shades in colour give you so much variety!

2. Rustic – With only very basic tools used, they have beautiful imperfections which give them a charm and character factory beads simply lack.

Rustic charm

Rustic charm

Granted, there are some projects for which you need perfectly formed beads.  But before “rustic” puts you off completely consider the pieces below:  Apart from the Tibetan-style antique gold coloured findings, every component is rustic.

traditional wedding headpiece & bracelet

3. Well-Crafted – the quality is excellent too.  If you’re not already into them you may be unsure if they’ll be suitable for your purposes, or whether the quality is good enough. On the latter, I believe it’s best to let customers do the talking and you can read their reviews here.

Traditional wedding headpiece & bracelet

Traditional wedding headpiece & bracelet

As to checking out their suitability why not start with a small order? And often I find that thinking outside the box can make certain unlikely beads work for me…

Until next time, thanks for reading.