Beads have been treasured and
collected throughout history and in all corners of the world. They have
been used as symbols to denote wealth, love and status; as currency to bribe
and barter, to ensure health and luck and to ward off evil spirits.
Embroidery and most other fibre and needlework arts are believed to originate
in the Orient and Middle East. Primitive humankind quickly found that the
stitches used to join animal skins together could also be used for embellishment.
The beads that we tend to think of as traditional beadwork are called seed
beads - because of their small size they resemble seeds. These beads were
used in early beadwork by the Egyptians, however the beads were called faience
beads. Our seed beads today are made of glass, but Egyptians were using
beads long before the invention of glass. Their faience beads were made
from quartz particles fused together and covered in a glaze. The beads were
then woven or strung into a variety of jewellery and clothing.
Some religious texts from India refer to beads being woven into hair and
into horse's tails. These references were recorded around the 9th century
BC. and beads were also widely used throughout Asia in ancient times. There
were beaded items found in temples in Japan that date back to 800 A.D.
Early Egyptians valued the beads according to the stone that was used to
create the beads. Different stones were thought to have different properties.
Lapis Lazuli, a beautiful blue stone, was believed to protect the wearer's
health. This stone was often fashioned into beads, as were carnelian, feldspar,
amethyst, turquoise and jasper - many of the same stones we use today.
Modern jewellery and beading certainly benefits from the advances made in
the production of beads, but there's no doubt that even today, an individually
handcrafted bead can be the star attraction of any beading piece.