- Arts and Design
Natural Beads for Jewelry
Flowering Chinaberry Tree
Craft beads two ways: First Chinaberry seed beads.
Around the Central Valley of California, we have an abundance of a tree my mother introduced as a Chinaberry Tree. It is a soft wood tree that has fragrant sweet white blooms in the spring and produces a hard, woody seed in the fall. As I understand it, these trees are native to India and Africa but have since been transplanted to and warm weather area where they can thrive; specifically Florida and California, where I live. These make great shade trees and are easy and fast growing from seed. The downfall is that the branches tend to crack and break in severe weather. I remember loving to climb them as a preteen because the branches tend to be close to the ground level and spread out, making great places to sit high and get comfortable. I stopped climbing them when one day after a rainstorm, the branch cracked under me and I rode it to the ground, knocking the wind out of me.Photo credit: Photo of Chinaberry blooms with butterfly from Hotsprings National Park.
Berries ripen in Fall
My mother introduced me to the possibilities of making jewelry from these seeds when I was a preteen.
She showed me how to harvest the berries in the late fall and then boil them. Boiling made the outer skin slide off more easily. We then would sit at around the table pealing off the skins and letting the seeds dry on a paper towel. Note: these seeds stink when boiled so crack a window open.As an adult I did some research on the Chinaberry tree and found that the seeds are toxic, even poisonous if eaten. Naturally, I never would have known. It is the pulp and skin that is toxic; the parts you boil and discard. Be sure to dispose of the pulp thoroughly. Other than that precaution, these make charming naturally fluted, woody beads without carving. Photo credit: The green berries turn tan in the fall. When the leaves of the tree drop off, they are easy to harvest.
The next step of coloring can be done a number of ways.
My mother pulled out the food coloring and cups of water with vinegar to set the color, just like coloring Easter eggs. We put as many of the wooden seeds as we wanted in each color and let them set for an hour or so. Later we pulled them out and let them dry again on paper towels.On a rainy day we would sit before the fire and string beads for fun. Using regular sewing thread and needles, some were easy and some were hard to string. They are after all, seeds and unpredictable. Most have a natural hole through the center of the seed but some had deformities causing the hole on one side to be closed up or curved so the needle wouldn't go through. We tossed those in "Oh well" pile.These beads are charming and rustic looking. I love the natural look, but you can also varnish them after they are colored. I have even used clear nail polish on them sometimes for a high gloss.
Do you enjoy creating jewelry?
My bread clay beads
Bread clay beads
To go along with these natural beads, I like to make spacer beads from bread clay.The bread clay only needs to dry overnight and it should be ready to wear or decorate the next day. You can mix the tempura color directly into the clay or paint it later with fingernail polish for a nice sheen, plus providing the added protection of a lacquer finish. You will need: a bowl for mixing white glue white bread tempera paint pin backs or other jewelry finishingplastic bagsPhoto credit: My photo of bread clay beads.
Making beadsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sticky at first
STEP 1. Mixing bread clay
Once you have the clay mixed up you must keep it in bags or it will begin to harden on contact with air. After you create your work of art, it dries overnight and needs nothing further. The clay stays soft in the bags for only about a week, then it will begin to mold. It is, after all, just bread. Also the finished beads cannot be allowed near water. Being just bread and glue they will swell and fall apart if them are immersed in water.Get out five slices of white bread and remove the crust. Then break up the bread in a bowl and pour five tablespoons of white glue over the bread. Carefully squeeze the bread and glue together. It will be very sticky at first but keep kneading and it will become more and more like a soft ball of clay. If you think the clay is too sticky even after kneading for several minutes, add another piece of bread or two.The clay is ready when it doesn't stick to your hands anymore and forms a doughy ball.
Clear Fingernail Polish
STEP 2. Add color and shape.
If you want to add color to the clay, now is the time. Separate the clay into several lumps. With tempera paint, add just a drop of color to each ball of clay. Knead the paint into the clay thoroughly. The clay should be soft like Play dough. You can substitute acrylic paint or even watercolor paint for the tempera. Just don’t allow the paint to be too wet or you dough will get sticky and need another slice of bread.Separate the colored clay and roll little balls the size of large marbles, keeping them in a plastic bag. Pull out only one marble at a time to keep the dough soft. Shape them into any size or shape you want. Make sure you poke a large enough hole for stringing the bead later. This dough shrinks about 20% and so will the hole. I like to use a large paper clip stretched out to put my beads on. I don’t them dry on the paper clip however or they will stick to it. You can get very creative with this dough. I like to make roses by squishing a marble of clay very flat then rolling it up and adding another flat piece or two before cutting off the bottom and making sure I have a hole for threading.