An eclectic blog about beads, beading and beyond

Monday, September 28, 2009

Victory blue, Lapis Lazuli, the beauty and the beast!

Blue is everywhere around me this week. Ruthie (from the Etsy Beadweaver’s Team) has featured blue work by the EBW team on her blog. Do drop by and have a look. There are some beautiful pieces. Just as Ruthie blogged on blue, I was busy organising my own blue beadwork feature called ‘Blue note’ for the local market that I sell my beadwork at. It drew lots of interest – see what you think of it. Blue is also everywhere around me because shops, cars and people are adorned with the blue and white colours of the local Australian Rules football team (Geelong – aka ‘The Cats’) who won the Grand Final here in Australia on Saturday. The victory blue of the ‘The Cats’ and my ‘Blue note’ display each echo the deep blue tones of the gemstone Lapis Lazuli. I recently bought several lovely large cabochons of lapis lazuli during a trip to Thailand and I’ve been looking forward to creating something wonderful with them. Maybe this will prompt some action.

The deep blue stone of lapis lazuli often includes specs of golden-colored pyrites that make it seem like the stone is sprinkled with gold dust. Whilst, pyrite is often referred to as ‘fool’s gold’, in the 1970s the finest grades of Afghan lapis lazuli with their ‘gold dust’ cost more than gold did on the world’s gemstone markets. Perhaps that should not be surprising given that this lovely deep blue gemstone has been precious enough to adorn the ancient Egyptian King Tutankhamen's burial mask, to be worn ground up as eye shadow by Cleopatra and to decorate palaces and other grand buildings around the world (e.g. the columns of St. Issac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg and the panelling in the Pushkin Palace (Russia)). Lapis Lazuli has also been used to create jewellery, pottery and to produce the ultramarine pigment in the vivid blues in Renaissance paintings and illuminated manuscripts.

A majority of the lapis lazuli used historically and sold now has begun its life as blue rock in the northeast mountains of Afghanistan where it has been mined since ancient Egyptian times. Afghanistan has some of the richest deposits of lapis lazuli in the world so it’s not surprising that it produces the highest-grade and most beautiful lapis lazuli in the world. However, little beauty surrounds the journey of this blue rock to the world’s gemstone markets. There is a recent and very powerful video-clip on U-tube (see link below) of just how appalling the conditions are for workers in the mines in the rugged northeast of Afghanistan. Mines are at 8000 feet above sea level and can only be accessed on foot or via horseback on very steep and unstable tracks. Miners work underground in totally unregulated conditions with no regular pay for their work. Often they are paid only if they find stone and then they are paid a fraction of what a stone is sold for in the gemstone markets. Amongst this, raids by armed bandits and smugglers are commonplace. Nearly 25% of the costs associated with uncut gemstones are for bribes to police and bandits to ensure the rock’s safe passage south to the lapis lazuli exchange in Kabul. Recently, the armed conflict associated with lapis lazuli mining in the northern provinces Pakistan and Afghanistan became more complex when the Taliban took control of lapis lazuli mines in the Swat Valley (north-west Pakistan bordering the north east of Afghanistan) and nearly 10 tonnes of high grade lapis lazuli recently disappeared mysteriously from the vaults of the old presidential palace in Kabul (Afghanistan) during a period of armed conflict in the capital. Lapis lazuli’s association with smuggling, armed conflict, danger and violence seem destined to continue despite efforts by new Afghanistan government to ensure only legally mined and traded rocks reach the world’s gemstone markets. In 2007 they established a gemstone exchange in Kabul where for the first time in over 50 years Afghanistan lapis lazuli was legally traded. That is a small victory for those in Afghanistan whose life is linked to the beautiful blue gemstone.

So, as I look at my beautiful blue gold-dusted cabochons I wonder how their journey began, were they legally traded and what bribes and dangers have been part of their life? Would I have bought them if I had known their history? It’s hard to reconcile the beauty of those gemstones with their potentially beastly history of exploitation and corruption. Those who see spiritual power in gemstones say that wearing it encourages self-awareness and brings qualities of honesty, compassion and morality to the wearer. It assists those who wear it to confront and speak one’s truth. Learning a little about the journey of lapis lazuli from mountain to me I have had to confront some new truths that suggest a beast behind its beauty. Those truths make me determined to use my cabachons with care and to try to find out more about how to make ethical gemstone purchases. I’d welcome thoughts from others on how to do this? How do we bring victories to those who risk so much to bring us the beautiful blue of lapis lazuli?

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Beady Greenery Treasury, green healers and a touch of arsenic

Prompted by my ‘Yellow’ blog last week that briefly explored the different meanings of Yellow I’ve just started reading Victoria Finlay’s (2002) Colour: travels through the paintbox. London: Sceptre. (7th edition). I was prompted by this and by the happy coincidence of two Etsy beading events in my life this week to blog about ‘Green’. Ruthie, a member of the Etsy Bead Weaving ( team featured EBWer’s green creations on her blog and I found one of my Ziangles (see picture) in a an Etsy treasury – Beady Greenery (see photo) curated by Nemeton another EBWer. For me, there is a wonderfully calm and fresh feel to the treasury.

I’m not alone in associating green with a sense of calmness. Apparently, the rooms that people to relax in prior to a TV appearance (known as Green rooms) are green because of a longstanding belief in western society that green is a calming and refreshing colour. However, not so relaxing, is the idea that a green room may have killed Napoleon. In all likelihood he died of arsenic poisoning from the green paint used in his wallpaper. The paint known as Scheele’s green (after it’s creator) was made from arsenic and copper (see Finlay, p. 291). Wallpaper dyed with Scheele’s green became highly fashionable throughout Europe in the late 1700s and 1800s. It produced a vibrant green colour that was new and highly desirable. By the late 1800s wallpaper poisoning from Scheele’s green became recognised as a cause of illness and death.

Apparently, less deadly is the green of crystals. Wearing green crystals reputedly brings balance, a sense of freedom to do and bring a desire for growth in your life. If you use crystals in your life for health and healing there is quite a range of green crystals to choose from – here are just some of them:
- emerald
- malachite
- aventurine
- jade
- peridot
- moss agate
- dioptase
- bloodstone
- infinite stone
- chrysophase
- serpentine
- green calcite
- green tourmaline.

Alongside the life-affirming meanings of Green gemstones is it’s varying spiritual meanings. In Islam green is a sacred color. In the Qur'an, sura Al-Insan, believers in God in Paradise wear fine green silk and Muslims often wear a green turban or carry a green flag after a pilgrimage to their holy city of Mecca. This is why many flags of the nations of the Islamic world are green. Interestingly, the simple green flag Libya is the only national flag in the world that is a single color with no other markings. In Hinduism, green symbolically represents the fourth, heart chakra (Anahata). According to Wikipedia “Anahata chakra symbolizes the consciousness of love, empathy, selflessness and devotion. On the psychic level, this center of force inspires the human being to love, be compassionate, altruistic, devoted and to accept the things that happen in a divine way.”. So, green may be deadly, life-affirming, calming or holy. It depends not only on our cultural and religious context but also on our historical contexts. In many countries, laws protect us now from deadly wallpaper paints meaning that sitting in a ‘Green room’ can indeed be calming and refreshing.

Many ways of being green exist in nature that can offer wonderful inspirations for beaders who want a little green beadery in their life but as I use I am now wondering how are the dyes used in our beads made? How do bead-makers produce colours such as:
- Asparagus green
- Emerald
- Sea Green
- Feldgrau
- Fern green
- Forest green
- Jungle green
- Moss green
- Myrtle
- Pine green
- Sap green
- Shamrock green
- Tea green
- Teal

Off to find out more now… but would love to hear what Green means to you.

PS - There’s a good there’s a good review of Colour on Hughes’ News blog -

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

A yellow Etsy feature, 20 ways to be yellow and the yellow law

Thanks to Ruthie for her blog rainbow feature on Etsy Beadweavers. This week she’s featuring yellow and she has included a bracelet of mine in her feature called Yellow Tartin. You might like to pop by Ruthie's blog and look at the other lovely yellow beadweavings from the team.

I found her selection of yellows very cheering on what was a very grey early spring day in Southern Australia. They reminded me of the bobbing yellow daffodils and jonquils in our garden that tell me spring has sprung. In Australia, the golden wattle (Acacia pycnantha), which has a bright yellow flower is Australia's national flower. It is also a sign that spring has sprung in Southern Australia.

However, like most things in life, the meaning I give to yellow is not necessarily the meaning that others may give to it. What I think is cheery, someone else could find sad, angering or funny. Colours evoke memories, meanings and feelings. They are laden with personal and cultural meanings. In reflecting on Ruthie's blog feature, I wondered what yellow has meant in different parts of the world at different points in time. Little did I realise how many different and divergent meanings lay behind yellow.

Here’s just a little of what I found. For Leonardo da Vinci yellow represented earth, to the Hopi yellow is north and for the ancient Maya it was south. Here in Australia,yellow represents the sun in the Indigenous people’s flag. In some cultures yellow has been, and remains, a colour of renewal and growth and in other countries it is a sign of deceit. In England, early anti-semetic feeling led King Edward I (1200s) to decree that all Jews must wear a yellow star to identify themselves in public, in 10th-century France, doors were painted yellow to identify the homes of felons, traitors, and criminals and in Elizabethan England yellow denoted your status. More specifically, in Elizabethan England by law the duller, muddier yellows were worn by the lower classes and the brighter, more vibrant yellows by the upper classes. Similarly, during the reign of the first emperor of China (known as the Yellow Emperor) yellow was associated with personal status. Only members of the Chinese imperial court were allowed to use the color yellow in their buildings or clothing. It's likely that this was because the yellow dye in clothing of the time came from the labour-intensive process of producing bright yellow dye from stamens of the saffron crocus. Some of yellow’s controversial cultural history in clothing may be linked to the fact that it is apparently the most visible of colours at a distance - hence it’s use in many countries as a hazard or warning colour.

Yellow not only has many meanings but comes in many forms - I stumbled across 20 ways to be yellow - pale yellow, marigold yellow, banana yellow, golden yellow, lemon, canary yellow, champagne, chrome yellow, citrine, citron, flax yellow, lemon yellow, mustard, saffron, butter yellow, corn yellow, straw yellow, toffee yellow, tumeric ... and more.

Those of us who have use yellow in our bead-weaving will bring our own meanings to it – some may be steeped in history, some will be full of emotion but all will be steeped in culture. I wonder what the meanings behind the Etsy beadweaver’s yellows are and were? I wonder how many other ways to be yellow they know?


Monday, September 7, 2009

100 hearts, 100 delicas and 100 pounds of gold but... avoid ball point pens

Today I reached my 100th Etsy heart. 100th ‘event’s’ are often celebrated. For instance, The New York Times published a five-part series on US President Obama’s 100th day in office (29th April 2009), the famed jewellery design house of Cartier celebrated its 100th year this year by putting some of its most famous pieces on display (including Elizabeth Tayler’s LaPeregina Pearl – pictured left) and every 100th year a new century begins. Contemplating centenaries and other 100ths in life I was horrified to find out that approximately 100 people choke to death on ball point pends each year, perplexed to find that there is a pop song called 99 Bottles of Beer that paradoxically has 100 verses and amazed to learn that wolves are capable of covering 100 miles in a single day. As a beader, these facts are interesting but not immediately helpful to my next beading project. It might be more useful for me to remember that there are nearly 100 Size 11 Delica beads in 0.5 grams, Delica bead number 100 is a lovely transparent light amber and 100 Delica beads are approximately 5 inches wide. Tiny glass Delica seed beads from Japan are one of my favourite beads to weave with. Whilst, they are more expensive to buy than other types of seed beads, they are well worth it for the lovely finish they give. Mind you, when I say expensive, the cost of the bead is relative. The last Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma, reportedly gave the Spanish conquerer Hernán Cortés three jade beads each worth 100 pounds of gold. Puts Delica prices in perspective a little!


Friday, September 4, 2009

Luscious apricots, beading and a tale or two

Spring has sprung here in south eastern Australia with a mixture of sun, rain and wind. Amongst the wind and the rain our apricot tree (planted last Spring) has burst into blossom. So, how lovely and how fitting to wake up this morning to find one of my beadwork pieces - Apricot Zest hairstick - (the hairstick in the top row, right hand corner) in an Etsy treasury called Luscious Apricot. It's a beautiful treasury curated by Moonspritstudios ( If you get a chance do pop by and comment on it. It's always very affirming to be in a treasury curated by other Etsians. This is my lucky 7th such treasury. Anyway, with the lucky coincidence of apricots in my garden life and my Etsy life I started wondering about Apricots... and was surprised to find them, or at least their ground pits, at the heart of a controversy about living long lives and cancer.

It starts with the fact that the Hunza people (Kashmir, India) live rather long lives compared to the rest of us. They regularly make it to 90 years of age and some reach 120 years in age - what a lot of beading that would make possible in a life time. Apparently, the Hunza have a near zero cancer rate AND (here come the apricots) they sprinkle lots of ground apricot pits on salads. Apricot pits contain Amygdalin a substance thought to help fight cancer. But, they also contain cyanide, known for it's toxicity rather than it's curative powers. Apparently, clinical trials testing the apricot pit theory found according to Wikipedia that:

"None were cured or stabilized or had any improvement
of cancer-related symptoms. The median survival rate was about five
months. In survivors after seven months, tumor size had increased.
Several patients suffered from cyanide poisoning."

I found various sites promoting the cancer fighting benefits of apricot pits and many warning against them. One rather public promotor - a former arm wrestling world champion (Jason Vale) was imprisioned for his role in promoting them as a cancer cure in the USA. In talking about the court's verdict Commissioner McCLELLAN stated that "The FDA takes seriously its responsibility to protect patients from unproven products being peddled on the internet by modern day snake oil salesmen such as the defendant in this case. There is no scientific evidence that Laetrile offers anything but false hope to cance patients." (Quoted from a press release issued by the US. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York on July 22, 2003.) Much controversy followed the decision.

Who would have thought such a lucscious fruit capable of such controversy. When I beaded my hairstick it was the lovely zesty color of ripe apricots that inspired me, little did I know what lay at their heart. In other coincidence, the rose wood in the centre of my beaded hairstick comes from India where the tale first began! Neither did I know that there are over 50 varieties of apricots, that range from the size of marbles to that of baseballs. Their color ranges from white to dark purple.

For those of you who are beaders, you can see a very luscious photo of their wonderful colours by clicking on the natural cuisine link below. More inspiration for beading...

Thanks to Moonspirit studios for beginning my journey into the deep and dark world of apricot pits and finding purple and white amongst it.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Kimberley Lizards and bead art inspirations

Australia is a place of extraordinary contrast naturally and culturally. In my ‘other’ life I have had the privilege to travel to one of the most dramatic and remote areas of Australia – the west Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. My work with Indigenous communities in the area has held profound meaning for me.

It's natural beauty is haunting and powerful. In part, this is because the West Kimberly has some of the oldest rocks in Australia as part of it’s landscape. In part, it is because of its enormous contrasts - two sides of the Kimberley are flanked by oceans (The Indian and Timor Sea), the other two are flanked by deserts (the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami). The Kimberley is vast – around 3 times the size of the UK and moving around such a large and remote area is hugely challenging but enormously rewarding. It’s no wonder then that it has offered many sources of inspiration for my bead art. Kimberly Lizard (just posted for sale on my Etsy site) is the first in a bead art series I have designed based on Australian fauna and I have chosen to start with fauna of the West Kimberley.

That a lizard is linked in my mind with the Kimberley is no accident. Western Australia has over 60 species of small lizards (Geckos) and 18 of the worlds 30 species of monitor lizards (this includes the smallest and the third largest of the monitor lizards) and many of those are found in the Kimberley. During my many visits to the Kimberley, I have only glimpsed but a few of it’s many lizards – my bracelet honors those I have seen and the splendour of the world they live amongst and the Indigenous communities that own the countries of West Kimberley.
Sources Map

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The brooch in history and beyond - the top 30 ways to wear a brooch

I have just completed some gemstone brooches that I am planning to post in my Etsy shop. In honor of the brooches I decided to find out more about the brooch. I have discovered that the brooch, like many things in our lives, has a long history. For instance, it is thought that safety-pin type brooches were widely used to hold clothing together in the Bronze Age. Apparently, brooches were first mass-produced in Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries. Those early brooches often used elaborate designs that included beadwork. Whilst the brooches were decorative they were also hardworking and practical as they were still primarily used to fasten clothing, especially women's dresses. But, brooches were not just for women. In the ancient Greek and Roman empires women and men secured tunics, capes and other pieces of clothing with the modern day equivalent of a brooch (it was called a fibula). By the early 20th century, women in Europe were experimenting with different ways of wearing brooches. It became fashionable for a period to wear brooches at the waistline and later on the shoulders. Now, the brooch knows no fashion bounds. It is used to embellish clothing, wrists, handbags, hairbands and beyond. I've drawn on various bits of historical and contemporary advice on about wearing brooches(see references below) to compile the current top 30 ways to wear a brooch (or two or more) with flair.

How do you use brooches to add flair or fun, zing, zest or zizzle to your look?

Dress, top, blouse, T-shirts
1. Tradition says wear it on the upper left of your blouse, dress or top.
2. Break tradition and wear several at once.
3. Wear it at lowest point of your neckline on a low cut dress or top.
4. Wear a plain shirt buttoned to the neck and pin a brooch over the top button.
5. Pin some matching brooches on a blouse like decorative buttons - pin in lines, make triangles or whatever takes your fancy.
Cardigans and Jackets
6. Use a brooch to close a cardigan
7. Follow tradition and pin a brooch to your label, break tradition and pin more than one.
8. Cover a vest with lots of brooches for drama.
9. Wear just one on a vest to make a statement – formal, fun or casual.
10. Pin brooches on plain shoes to dress them up – match or not depending on your style.
11. If you wear slit skirts a brooch at the top of the slit will highlight your legs.
12. Pin brooches down the side of the leg of your pants. Apparently, it makes your legs look longer – but it is also fun.
13. Tie a scarf over your hips and pin the brooch on the knot of the scarf.
14. Wrap a scarf or a pashmina around your shoulders and pin the knot or the overlap with a brooch.
15. Use your scarf as a bandana and pin the brooch to the front or to the knot at the back.
16. Create a signature hat (any style) with a brooch – fun, dramatic or stylish.
Bags or purses
17. Pin a brooch on a tote bag for effect.
18. Use a brooch on the fastener or use it as one.
19. Pin the brooch on the handle of a handbag at the point it rests on your shoulder.
20. Pin a brooch on the front of a clutch purse to change its look.
21. Add a brooch to a chain strap – co-ordinate with your outfit.
22. Pin brooches onto a simple chain and draw the draw towards your neckline.
Key chains
23. Put a small length of patterned or plain ribbon knotted around a ring keychain and add a brooch to it. Use durable brooches that won’t snag.
24. Pin a brooch on the back of your gloves – just one, or both.
25. Pin the brooch over a leather (or fabric) buckle of a plain belt.
26. Pin a brooch to a cloth or chain belt for individual style.
27. Pin brooches on a headband. If it’s the colour of your hair they will pop out from your hair. 28. Pin a brooch on a plain fabric hairclip for effect.
29. Pin a brooch onto a leather thong tied around your hair.
30. Pin brooches on a simple chain, cloth or leather wristband.

Ways to wear a brooch
History of the brooch
NB - the brooches in this post are designed and beaded by Glenda - visit the Dax Designs Etsy shop for details.

Dax Designs - now on Artisan Co-op