What is this style of jewelry?
I get asked this many times by people who have never seen this style of jewelry or work before. At first glance, this looks more like a painting or a patterned piece of fabric. But that's not so! Each piece is actually woven using hundreds of beads using an art form called bead-weaving. And that's actually the simplest definition of bead-weaving. You can create flat panels or structural pieces of bead-work using numerous techniques and that forms the core of bead-weaving commonly referred to as bead-work.
So, what is bead-work? An umbrella term for anything that uses beads!! But I do reserve my opinion on this. Though all these various techniques do come under bead-work, they vary a lot in how they are created or designed. To go into details on each of them could make for a very lengthy read, so I will refrain for now.
How old is bead-work? Glass beads were being made as early as the 14th century. So we can safely assume that jewelry was also being made using them at that period of time.
The knowledge about the history of bead-work is quite imperfect. There is no clear indication of when and where it actually originated , only the fact that it has been around for almost 5000 yrs.
Egyptian bead-work has been mostly excavated from burial sites, in the form of clothing,broad collars and headdresses. The beads used here were faience beads a predecessor to the glass beads of today.
The stunning bead-net dress currently on display in the Boston Museum. (Photo source: Museum of Fine Arts,Boston).
Native-Americans also used bead-work to tell stories.They told them by the patterns in the beads. You will see a lot of Native American influence in many of the existing patterns used in the bead woven jewelry now. It is possible that beads were first brought into INDIA by the Europeans when the began their exploration of Africa & Asia. Along with the beads came the related tools and techniques that were suited by the receiver of these beads.
India (I must mention pan India and not restricted to Gujarat as some might think), bead-work was mostly restricted to very few techniques most suited for home decor and less towards jewelry. A lesser know fact - The first seed beads also known as Indo-pacific beads were made in port city in the south-east coast of India, known today as Arikamedu (somewhere near Pondichery). I am sure you would have seen beaded dolls and toran's that are mostly brought out during festivals. And most likely your grandmother or someone from that generation would have been using a few of these techniques to create small pieces of work. (Do drop us a message if you have beaded items at your home. We would love to see them.)
Fan from India(probably Gujarat) of netted bead-work on a woven support with a wood handle early to mid 20th century.
The earliest use of these glass beads was in the form of stringing. It's by far the most popular and easiest way of creating jewelry. It involves stringing various kinds of beads together to form a piece if jewelry. And many assume bead-work to be just that. But there is much more interesting and intricate techniques which have been left behind. And that gets us back to bead-weaving.
They can be broadly categorized as
- On-Loom Bead-weaving
- Off-Loom Bead-weaving
- Bead Embroidery
- Bead crochet,Stringing, Bead Tatting and other lesser known techniques
ON-LOOM Bead-weaving -
This uses a bead loom something similar to how a Weaver's loom looks but in a much smaller size. The warp & weft threads are the same, with additional beads getting strung on the weft thread and then woven in place. I am not sure if the Weaver's loom and the bead loom came into existence at the same time, but it would be interesting to know. Many of our statement necklaces and bracelets are done using the loom.
OFF - LOOM Bead-weaving -
This involves the use of only the needle and thread to weave in the beads in various techniques to create flat,tubular and structural pieces. A very addictive style of jewelry making and our favorite way to design a Risham piece.
Bead Embroidery -
Bead embroidery is a type of bead-work that uses a needle and thread to stitch beads to a surface of fabric, suede, or leather.
Traditionally, bead embroidery has been used on clothing and decorative textiles, but the popularity of using it in accessories especially in jewelry is catching up.I mostly use this technique to make pendants which I then string with semi-precious beads or make a beaded rope to hang it on. But you can use this in so many different ways to create collar necklaces, bracelets, earrings. The options are immense. Below - The necklace on the right side is a combination of bead-embroidery and off-loom bead-weaving.
At Risham, our effort has always been to revive this art form and make it more culturally relevant in current times. Why forgot something so beautiful ? If you would like to know more about its storied history, do comment below.
To see more of these different techniques and how they look on different designs, browse though our collection of intricately woven jewelry.