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Bead Crafting

By Charles Hopkins Published 12/8/2013 | Crafts

It is the most insignificant of Indian crafts. It is made from the cheapest of materials - a tiny glass bead - and threaded together to form a beaded mat of bright primary colors against a white background. This is the traditional bead craft of the women of the dry desert area of Sassan, near Junagadh, in Gujarat, who sit together in the shade of hot afternoons, picking up the beads, one by one to form the tight honeycomb patterns that depict their world. It could be a parrot, a peacock, a stylized tree, branch, or lotus flower. Originally these bead mats were used during weddings. They were threaded around a coconut, or used as decorative covers for the food, or strung along the front doorway as welcoming thorans.

The trade in Indian beads came to an abrupt end with the entry of the merchants from Europe. It is interesting to note how they created a virtual monopoly of the bead trade, first by destroying the Indian market by dumping cheaper and better glass beads made in Europe and by creating a new market in North America, by supplying them to the many different tribes of American Indians. It's estimated that in the year 1879-80 we received foreign glass beads to the weight of 1,800,000 lbs. Since 1947, however, there has been a very gradual recovery of bead making units, in different parts of the country.

The trade in Indian beads came to an abrupt end with the entry of the merchants from Europe. It is interesting to note how they created a virtual monopoly of the bead trade, first by destroying the Indian market by dumping cheaper and better glass beads made in Europe and by creating a new market in North America, by supplying them to the many different tribes of American Indians. It's estimated that in the year 1879-80 India received foreign glass beads to the weight of 1,800,000 lbs. Since 1947, however, there has been a very gradual recovery of bead making units, in different parts of the country.

Beads have a timeless appeal and infinite variety. They can be made from clay, glass, bone, wood, crystal and precious metals. Because beads have played such a diverse role throughout time, as religious artifacts or as a medium of exchange and currency, people feel they can hold "a little bit of history" if they have a special bead. And because so many beads were used throughout the ages for trading, there are still enough around to make such artifacts affordable.

Beads with blue dots were traded for palm oil, while yellow beads were often traded for gold. Beads have also had a strong spiritual significance. Beadwork is also a convenient hobby, as the beads are small and easy to carry. Getting started is simple. All you need are beads, the "findings" (wire clasps, hooks and the like used to hold jewelry together) and something to string the beads on. Patterns for more elaborate beadwork can be found in bead and craft magazines, as well as many beadwork books.