Quick Guide to African Beads

by African Beads on March 11, 2010

African beads have been a source of exquisite beauty around the world for generations. The primary reason for this can be attributed to Africa’s diverse array of natural resources.

The following are some common types of beads made from materials found in various parts of Africa.

Seed and Nut beads are easy to find and make and are found in nearly all African communities. The seeds provide a wide range of colors and textures. They are easy to manipulate. You can soak seeds overnight to soften them, and then use wire or string to put them together. Nut beads can be used as centerpieces for beadwork.

Shell and bone beads are made from cowry shells to ostrich egg shells. These African beads make fine jewelry pieces. They are usually used to adorn clothing items such as African shirts and give them an authentic look.

Tusk and teeth beads are now rare to find, but they make beautiful white or cream beads, though tusk beads are more fragile than other types of beads.

Stone and metal beads were uncommon in Africa for many centuries due to lack of the proper tools to make them, but once they discovered them, these made the most durable of beads.

Glass and clay beads are two types of African beads that give good quality adornments, and they are easy to use and can be combined to make more brilliant pieces.

Ceramic and bamboo beads are ideal for smooth pieces of beads that come in cool pastel colors. They can be made to decorate household pieces like lampshades and tea cozies.

Bone and horn beads  - Bones have been a common bead material. The Elk rib bones were the first material for the long, tubular beads. Presently, these beads are usually made of water buffalo and bison bones.

Chevron beads - These are special glass beads, formerly made for trade in the New World and the slave trade in Africa by African glassmakers. They are made of many successive layers of colored glass. Original beads which were made for trade to the New World as well as Africa were usually made of green, white, red and blue layers.

Ethnic African beads - These beads are made in West Africa. Some examples include Nigerian and Ghanaian powder glass beads, and Mauritanian Kiffa beads.

Lampwork beads  are made by using a torch to heat a rod of glass. The resulting thread is spun around a metal rod that is covered in bead release. After the base bead is formed, other colors of glass can be added to the surface creating many designs.

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