North America, Mexico, Africa, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic
Here and in many other countries and continents, seed beads from the Crystal Valley are transformed into remarkable works of art, which incorporate a message, the culture of the given country or the artistry of individuals, in the hands of the members of traditional nations, professional designers and amateur admirers.
The team at Preciosa Ornela has created a printed six-page calendar, which will transport you into the environment of the six selected countries and acquaint you more closely with their typical seed bead products.
No matter whether this involves Malaysian slippers, a chief’s headband from a North American Indian tribe, a Russian kokoshnik, a typical Ukrainian necklace or traditional African women’s jewelry, Czech seed beads from the PRECIOSA Traditional Czech Beads™ brand always play an important role in the cultures of the individual nations.
We have selected a glistening seed bead handbag, a Charleston dress with tassels and costume jewelry accessories which were typical for the period of the First Republic to represent the Czech Republic.
Likewise, Czech seed beads with their current production brand of PRECIOSA Traditional Czech Beads™, which are unrivalled in the world from the point of view of their diversity, also have their roots deeply embedded in the one small place within the Czech Republic, namely the municipality of Zásada in North Bohemia.
In Zásada and its environs, ladies’ and children’s handbags were embroidered using seed beads in many colors and various types of necklaces (a number of them with their own names), headbands, broaches and bracelets were made.
The ladies’ handbags, which had become an integral clothing accessory, stood out at the beginning of the 20th century due to the distinctive ornateness given by the glass seed beads. A number of types of handbags found their way onto the market, including rectangular bags with a metal frame (fastening) or, on the contrary, pouches closed with a decorative drawstring. This handwork remained the domain of housewives long into the 20th century.
Design by Atlas Bijoux
Czech glass seed beads in Ukraine
Seed beads are used for a wide variety of creative and costume jewelry techniques and have their own history. The principle of traditional embroidery was deeply engrained mainly in Western Ukraine, from where it gradually spread throughout the entire country in the form of folk costumes, clothing, wedding adornments and embroidered pictures. The replacement of the thread in the embroidery with seed beads gave rise to an enormous boom and Ukraine has become one of our biggest markets since 2011.
If we only focus on pieces of jewelry and on the period of approximately 100-150 years ago, every type had its own significance and meaning in everyday life. We will provide you with examples of several traditional pieces of jewelry which are typical for Ukraine.
A "Bus" is a beaded necklace made from a wide variety of materials: amber, coral, river pearls, garnets, but also cheaper beads made of glass and enamel. Such pieces of jewelry pointed to the family’s standing in society. However, the types of “Bus” made of round or olive-shaped clear red beads were most commonly used in Ukraine and were most highly valued. Medium-sized beads were also sometimes additionally decorated with silver. Girls wore necklaces created from up to 25 rows of strung breads to protect their health and beauty.
A "Pacorka" consists of a series of strung painted beads made of Murano glass which comes from the Italian island of Murano, near Venice. Moreover, the beads were also hand painted with a variety of patterns. For this reason, the “Pacorka” is one of the most expensive types of Ukrainian traditional jewelry.
A “Dukač” is a central pendant on a ribbon. Austrian ducats or Russian roubles (it depended on the area where the piece of jewelry was worn) constituted the basis for this type of jewelry. The coins were attached to a metal bow decorated with a stone and were worn on a velvet ribbon above the “Bus”. Pictures of the saints were sometimes used instead of coins. Ladies only wore a “Dukač” on significant feast days or it was given to a bride as part of her trousseau.
Products made from rocailles are currently very popular in Ukraine. One of the main areas of interest includes the embroidery of church icons and pictures where rocailles play the main role. In addition to this, Ukrainian masters have deftly combined beadworking techniques with the modern age. Not only have they invigorated their jewelry, but they have also enriched the traditional Ukrainian folk dress with a modern element through the use of modern materials. You can see, for example, costume jewelry embroidery on T-shirts for young people or on other clothing designed for both women and men. However, the costume jewelry embroidery itself still draws on traditional Ukrainian motifs.
The opulent necklace made from pressed beads and seed beads on the model approaches the beauty of traditional Ukrainian jewellery in a modern vision. It consists of several rows of strung beads supplemented with crocheted tubes with patterns which imitate national embroidery. Moreover, the composition of the jewelry has been supplemented with a “Dukač” pendant in the shape of a flower which can also be worn separately.
The design’s author is Alexandra Lysenko.
Huichol ornaments made from Czech seed beads
If you hear the expression or name “Huichol” in connection with Mexico, then you should know that this involves the members of an ethnic Indian minority. They are estimated to number 25 thousand members, which is admittedly but a “drop in the ocean” among the more than one hundred million inhabitants of Mexico, but for all that they are one of the most significant consumers and users of Czech seed beads in the country.
The majority of Huichol communities live in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit, but partially also in Durango and Zacatecas, which are located in the central area of Mexico, to the north-west of the capital city, Distrito Federal. The Huichols have preserved their traditions, which include their traditional clothing. For men, this involves white trousers and a white shirt, albeit richly embroidered and decorated. If you encounter the Huichol more frequently, your attention will also be drawn to the fact that they are always able to keep their predominantly white clothing snow white and exceptionally clean.
So-called Huichol Art is becoming increasing well-known. In addition to very beautiful, richly embroidered fabrics, this especially involves wonderful colorful pictures which are created using colorful yarns. These yarns are affixed to a base board using beeswax and resin, onto which they are pressed and adhered.
The items decorated exclusively with Czech seed beads, which are all in a single size (so-called 11/0) which has become sought after by the Huichol, strung on a thread are very beautiful. The Huichol mainly purchase opaque colors in the entire color range which only one Czech producer is able to supply (almost 40 shades). And it is necessary to add without any hyperbole that only one producer in the world is able to satisfy the needs of the Huichol as far as the quality of the seed beads, their regularity of size and shape and the perfect alignment of their holes is concerned.
They decorate all of their items one seed bead at a time. The base usually consists of wooden or sometimes ceramic objects of various sizes. This usually involves all possible types of animals, including snakes, puma’s heads, dolphins, frogs, tortoises and so on, but also various decorative boxes, cases and so on, onto which the Huichol apply a layer of beeswax and then adhere the individual seed beads to it in order to create a relatively complicated picture, in which the colors transition from lighter to darker shades and back again. All of this is done without any sketches; it is all from memory. It is said that they have wonderful imaginations and, of course, they must also be blessed with enormous patience. A number of pictures are also of mystical significance. The sizes of the individual items range from the very tiny of just a few centimetres high through to large, life-size pieces depicting rhinoceroses, for example, or a three-metre high elephant.
However, the Huichol do not only use Czech seed beads for the decoration of the aforementioned items, but also to make wonderful costume jewelry ranging from bracelets through to extraordinary, delicate earrings.
The Huichol sell most of their handmade items (so-called “artisania”) for export, mostly to the USA and Canada and Arab countries, but part of their production is understandably also offered for sale directly in Mexico to the large numbers of tourists who come from all over the world.
It is highly agreeable that the activities of the Huichol ethnic group are supported by the Mexican local governments, especially by the government of the state of Jalisco, which has established its own “Instituto de la Artesanía Jalisciense” to this end.
We can only hope that the Huichol do not lose their patience for their truly intricate work and especially that others do not lose interest in their wonderful products.
Czech seed beads in Sub-Saharan Africa
The Czech seed beads sold under the PRECIOSA Traditional Czech Beads brand play an exceptionally important role in the life of the tribes in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are used as a religious medium in traditional cultures and they have become an inseparable part of identity of each individual literally from the cradle to the grave.
The use of seed bead decorations is not merely decorative in these cultures – they have become a source of information about the wearer, they have created their own "language" and they are now used as another method of interpersonal communication. The inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa differentiate among various social identities using clothing and bead decorations. Each of the tribes uses beads in a different way and has developed its own symbolism and rules of communication. Apart from the use as a part of their clothing or jewellery, the beads are also used when making charms to banish evil, during healing or as sacrificial items. In the last decades, beads have also served the inhabitants as a source of income as they make hand-made beadwork and sell it to tourists.
The beads were either made of locally available materials or the glass ones came to Sub-Saharan Africa as finished products via ancient trade routes, mainly from Europe and Asia. The Czech glass beads started to find their way to these places in the 19th century with the development of the European seafaring. Their fancy colors charmed the tribesmen so much that Sub-Saharan Africa has been one of the largest customers of PRECIOSA Traditional Czech Beads™ since then.
In the context of the long-established traditions of textile creation in Southeast Asia, Nyonya beadwork can be seen as a relatively recent phenomenon, with a significant history that appears to reach back not more than 160 years or so. Yet, in the course of its comparatively short life, Nyonya beadwork has come to play an important role in the cultural imaginary of the Peranakan Chinese, the acculturated descendants of Chinese migrants to the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago.
The Peranakan Chinese retained many of their forefathers´ Chinese customs and beliefs. At the same time, through intermarriage and interaction with indigenous communities, they acquired mode of speech, cuisine, dress, and customs that reflected their adoption and adaptation of Malay and other indigenous Indonesian ways of life. Peranakan Chinese were largely concentrated in urban centres – Penang, Melaka, and Singapore as the flourishing historical trading centres, attracting Chinese merchant and artisans from the fifteenth century onwards.
Beadwork is an important aspect of Peranakan material culture. The start of Nyonya beadwork was between 1830 and 1920, which coincides with the golden age of Peranakan Chinese society. Beadwork and embroidery were (and to a large extent, still are) gendered activities. Nevertheless, beaded and embroidered objects touched the lives of those who used, presented, received, displayed, and viewed them. Beadwork was seen by men and women, young and old. Having been crafted at different points in time, Nyonya beadwork provides snapshots of the changes in society and culture as the ideas, attitudes, and aspirations of the producers and consumers of beadwork were distilled into these intricately worked items.
The Nyonya are the womenfolk of the Peranakan Chinese community. Many were taught from a young age to sew: beadwork and embroidery formed and important, albeit not always essential, part of their set of skills. Colorful beaded and embroidered slippers, wallets, purses, belts, children’s shoes and other accessories were either the product of Nyonyan workmanship or were purchased for use by the Peranakan Chinese community.
Beadwork techniques were varied and included loom-weaving with beads, bead crochet and knitting, couching, and beading over a mould. Nyonya beadwork employed mainly rocailles and charlottes, often together on the same piece.
Small glass seed beads measuring less than 2 or 3 millimeters in diameter must have been amongst the European bead exports to Southeast Asia for these are found in abundance in beadwork from the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and other islands of the Indonesian archipelago. Initially dominated by Venice, seed bead production also spread to Bohemia.
Contemporary beadwork activity and cultural expression
Even whilst Nyonya beadwork has come to function as a cultural icon and a signifier of Peranakan heritage, as a contemporary activity, beading has taken on new social roles. Beadwork projects have been harnessed as a force for social empowerment and change.
Many people have taken up beadwork because of their interest in craft whilst some learn it because commercially made beaded footwear is too expensive, not available. At the same time, beadwork lessons and demonstrations have become part of the process through which intangible Peranakan cultural heritage is commodified in search of commercial gains. The increasing number of classes in Nyonya beadwork, which are advertised in the tourism brochure in Singapore and Malaysia in last few years, can also be taken as an indication of its newfound popularity as a leisure activity.
Beadwork practice is opportunistically promoted and legitimized as the transmission of heritage art in danger of demise. The Peranakan Association of Penang, in conjunction with the Penang State Government, advertised beadwork and embroidery classes to revive Penang´s Nyonya crafts.
Source: Cheah, Hwei-Fe’n, Phoenix rising: narratives in Nyonya beadwork from the Straits Settlements, Singapore 2010
Czech Seed Beads and First Nations Beadwork of North America
Beading is a craft practiced by almost every society in the world, giving the simple glass seed bead more significance than just being another small item made of glass. For the First Nations of North America, beading and seed beads historically were and continue to be an expression of social, spiritual and cultural wealth. They transform the material to the intangible: mere decorative items to personifications of the individual, the community and their lives and beliefs. They are a communication medium - a rich tradition that unites form, design and meaning. Glass seed beads, specifically, tell the social and political story of the First Nations.
Beadwork was always an important part of life and artistic expression for the indigenous peoples of North America and thus one of high intrinsic value. Art permeated every-day life for indigenous people, and seed beads and beads were a form of communication. They indicated wealth and prestige and identified individual nations; moreover, their symbolic designs told stories both of the people’s relationships and lives within the community as well as within the natural world. Beadwork conveyed meaning, depicting the living traditions of families and community networks. In the Ojibway (Anishanaabe) culture, for example, when young people start to bead, they are described as starting a beadwork journey that will, over time, illustrate their personal journey or tell their life’s tale. As a result, the value of seed beads and beadwork for the First Nations could never be evaluated or understood merely in terms of monetary value.
The introduction of the glass seed bead by the Europeans in the 18th century impacted this cultural value system to some extent. In the framework of indigenous people’s subsistence economy, seed beads came to have not only a spiritually intrinsic value but a very materially extrinsic one. They became a form of currency used to purchase goods and services and to trade for items other than what was needed to live. The Europeans essentially brought with them a new value system, and through it these little glass seed beads influenced and transformed the lives of the First Nations.
Glass seed beads and the tools associated with beading brought over from Bohemia and other European countries increased the facility of beadwork. Needles, thread, and cloth all made beading easier and more durable. For example, sinew, which had been used instead of thread had to be carefully treated and handled for it to last. Additionally, the making of holes in bone or stone beads was an intensely laborious process that was much aided by the already holed glass beads. The new, sometimes unimagined colors that came with the advent of the glass seed beads also increased the artistic scope, communication richness, and thus also the intrinsic value of new beadwork designs. The colors of Czech seed beads were, in fact, something that was prized by the indigenous peoples, with rare colors sometimes being called “chief’s beads” to denote their value.
Glass seed beads, however, are also as much a story of colonization as the evolution of a traditional craft, customs, and beliefs of individual indigenous First Nations. The beadwork items too came to have an external value as items for gift exchanges, as the basis of treaties with the Europeans, or as items to be sold to “foreigners” or non-natives.
Today glass seed bead weaving, loom work, and bead embroidery continue to underline the economic and traditional aspects of North America’s indigenous people. While decorative beaded items are made for personal use or to be sold outside of the community, indigenous people also continue the tradition to express their lives, beliefs and stories through seed beads. This traditional aspect of beadwork can best be seen on indigenous regalia worn at cultural Powwow gatherings. Items worn at these important social events, like the headdress shown here, are not only tremendously intricate works of art, but are very personal and artistic expressions of the dancers’ and participants’ lives, visually representing their life stories. It is a link between the past and present – using traditional patterns, motifs and meanings while incorporating modern techniques, tools and colors – but one that also shows the continuity and future of this art form. In this manner, the traditional significance and value of beadwork of the First Nations continues to be preserved through the years in spite of the changes brought by those years.
Gray, Malinda Joy. 2017. Beads: Symbols of Indigenous Cultural Resilience and Value. Toronto: University of Toronto.
Belcourt, Christi. 2010. Beadwork: First Peoples’ beading history and techniques. Owen Sound, Ont. Ningwakwe Learning Press.
Dubin, Lois Sherr. 2009. History of Beads, 261-290. New York: Abrams.
Gray, Malinda Joy. 2017. Beads: Symbols of Indigenous Cultural Resilience and Value. Toronto: University of Toronto.
HBC. 2013. Glass Beads. Toronto: Hudson Bay Company.
Koski, Bev et al. 2018-2019. Beads, they’re sewn so tight - Resource Guide. Toronto: Textile Museum of Canada.
Czech Seed Beads in Peru
A tropical rainforest with the most diverse fauna and flora in the world, herds of lamas in mountain villages, the mysteries of the ancient Incas and the fabled Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, but also multihued fabrics and embroidery made using small glass seed beads. All of this belongs to Peru.
These traditional Peruvian handmade items made from seed beads, which the locals call “artesania”, constitute an integral part of the cultural life and traditions and are an unmistakeable symbol of this country.
This hat is only made in the Peruvian town of Ocongate, which is located in the Andes in the southeast of the country, about two hours from the city of Cusco, which was the main seat of the Incan empire. The town of Ocongate has approximately 13 thousand inhabitants living in 33 communities.
They call the hats “Chullos” and they are only worn by single males from the individual communities on the occasional of the feast of “Corpus Christi”.
The completion of the “embroidery” takes approximately one month and approximately 700 g of size 8/0 rocailles in opaque color number 03050 are used on each hat.
Ponchos and other folk clothing, which is only used on special occasions, are also made in the same area and are typical for them.