Monday, September 30, 2013

Through the bead hole - A peek at the fascinating world of beads

A necklace of hand-blown seed beads made beginning
of 20th century I purchased in Venice. Saved for special events :-) 

Venice is the place where I fell in love with beads.
I was taking a beading class at the time, still working full time as a senior manager of an international company. I was so busy learning beading techniques, that I did not really paid much attention to the beads.
A short vacation in Venice and continuous immersion in its colors, history and Murano glass art - and I was hooked, addicted to these little glass beauties named beads.

And when I am hooked - I start reading and collecting (yes, I did come back with a small collection of Murano beads - the necklace below is a result of this trip :-))

murano glass necklace by akvjewelry
Murano beads with dark blue Swarovsky - some of the beads I collected in Venice
turned into a beautiful necklace I named 'Midnight Blue'
you can see it in my Etsy store now

When it comes to beads, the more I read and learn, the more amazed I am at the universe of beauty and symbolism called 'beads'.

A string of rare beads on eBay, priced at over 600$!
This post is just a peek, into a tremendously rich and fascinating world of beads.
I have asked Sheila McLaughin and her daughter Shannon - owners of BeadyEyedBird on Etsy and bead collectors for many years to share with us some of the magic this world holds for them.

Question: Sheila, what attracted you to beads in the first place?
Sheila: Years ago, Shannon my daughter gave me a necklace she made, using a carved bead of a sweet-faced squirrel monkey (an animal I had as a beloved pet for many years). This has been a treasured necklace for all years since then.
Watching Shannon collect beads and natural stones, I have come to love the universe of beauty reflected in objects of adornment.

Old Russian beads from

Question: Can you share with us some little known facts about beads?
Sheila: I don't think people realize how highly prized beads have been historically, and even in the present day. Used for trade for many centuries, even today there are beads valued at hundred of thousands of dollars. One story goes that Manhattan was bought by the Dutch for ...24$ worth of beads. Whether true or not, this is an interesting anecdote showing the importance of beads, and well worth reading at 'Manhattan-sold-for-24$' 

Trade beads 1800 till mid 1900 from

Being used for trade, the location where beads were found, provides valuable information about ancient trade and trade routes.
But the story that beads tell us, goes way beyond trade routs.

Quoting Lois Sherr Doubin, author of 'The history of beads' -

"Beads so often mirror the culture of which they are part that they tell us a great deal about the social, political, economic and religious life of the people who have made and worn them."

Ritual specialist in Madagascar, photo by Kus Susan
To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the bead world is their use in rituals, as well as the magic and curative power associated with them.
All across the world, thousands of miles apart, beads were (and are) used in rituals - whether wedding ceremonies in the Philippines or insuring the future of newly built houses in Colombia.
Believe it or not, beads were sometimes used as fees for passage to afterlife!

When I asked Sheila to share a 'bead story' that touched her heart, the one she mentioned was about Kate Diprose, a 3 year old girl who diagnosed with cancer - fought her way to health - encouraged by people all over the world who sent her beads to congratulate her for her struggle and survival through this terrible disease. Read more about it at ' beads of courage'.

Ancient beads, Indus Valley civilization, 2600 - 1900 BC
I do not know about you, but from now on, whenever I will see a beaded necklace, I will always look for the story behind it.
What is the story it tells about the person who made the beads?
The one who made the necklace?
About its wearer?
Was it meant to help someone heal? A memoir from an unforgettable vacation?
I think that if we will look deep enough, we may find unexpected stories in deceptively simple 'string of beads'

I would like to close this post, by thanking Sheila and her daughter Shannon for the information they shared with me, and if you became a bit more interested in beads now - here is where you can 'meet' them:
Web page
Etsy store
Facebook page

Until next post,


  1. Thank you, Amy! So very kind of you to feature us!! Our best to you!!

    Sheila & Shannon

  2. My pleasure Sheila! really enjoyed working with you on this.