Sunday, March 13, 2011

African Trade beads-part 1

I am going to do a series of single image patterned rods of African Trade Beads.
"Trade beads are usually associated with West Africa where they are usually found, but they were originally created in Venice, Bohemia, and Holland. The history of trade beads dates back to the end of the fifteenth century when Portuguese trading ships arrived on the coast of West Africa to exploit its many resources, including gold, slaves, ivory, and palm oil. In those days, beads were a major component of the currency exchanged for people and products. Over the four centuries that followed, millions of beads were traded to Africa, and by the nineteenth century, European bead makers were producing a wide variety of designs specifically for the African trade, such as millefiori, chevrons, striped melons, feather, and eye beads." Full article at Beadopedia,
My very first experience with Millefiori in polymer clay was when I made rainbows and watermelons for my little magnets and ornaments I was making at the time. I did not know it was a technique then. I have a ceramics background and Neriage was what I knew. Using colored porcelain to make images or patterned rods. It is also called Nerikomi and you can see that here.

Faith Rahill is a talented ceramicist and she works with Nerikomi blocks of pattern and you can see her work here
This really the same thing we call the Millefiori technique in Polymer clay.

There is a great explanation of Neriage and Nerikomi here by Robin Hopper

So, I would make bullseye canes of rainbow colors, slice off sections and cut the slice in half, tah-dah rainbow. I would make watermelons basically the same way.
It was a production method for me.
I liked doing this. I started practicing other designs by copying glass rod patterns used in Millefiori paperweights and glass beads.

These are the cane rods slices used for those Imitative African trade beads.
 One year for my line of jewelry I used African trade beads as the basis for my whole line.
I thought it would be fun to make these canes again and that you might be interested in it too.
It is good practice for you and fun sometimes for me to go back, and I need canes for a Bottles of Hope workshop later. I thought I would share.
I will also show you how to make some beads from these, you game?

Flower cane (it is shown as #2 above)
Green or Light Green Cernit- 1 2.2 ounce block
Opaque White Cernit- 1 2.2 ounce block
Yellow Cernit- 1 2.2 ounce block

Poppy Red Cernit- 1 2.2 ounce block

Porcelain white Cernit- 4 2.2 ounce blocks
Kemper Blade
Clay Machine
Clay extruder and triangle disk
All links lead to my husband's store, thank you for looking!

I mixed all of my colors with the same amount of porcelain white and a 3/8" ball of Opaque white.
For the white I used in the cane I mixed 1 part Opaque white with 1 part porcelain white.

Start with a coil of yellow 1/2" in diameter by 3" long.

Roll out conditioned Poppy red clay on the thickest setting in your clay machine.
Lay the yellow coil on the sheet of red clay.
Cut the bottom edge with your clay blade at an angle.
Angle the blade towards the coil of a beveled edge.

Place the clay blade right next to the end of the coil and cut off the end of the clay sheet to the end of the yellow coil.

Cut the other side too.

Roll the yellow coil back to pick up the end of the red sheet and then roll forward over the red sheet of clay to roll the yellow coil completely in the red sheet.

Roll the leading edge of the red sheet lightly over on the other end of the red sheet to make a little mark on the sheet. Pull the coil and sheet back. Cut with the blade at an angle just inside the line closet to you.
Angle the blade back toward you to cut a beveled edge.

Roll up the coil in the sheet so the edges match.

Condition the white clay and roll a coil slightly smaller than the barrel of the clay extruder and load the barrel up. Place the triangle disk in the end of the clay extruder and screw down the handle extrude one full barrel of the white clay.
Cut the triangle extrusion in to lengths as long as the coil and red sheet that you just made.

Add the triangle sections to the length of the coil and sheet.

Roll a coil of white clay that is 3/8" in diameter and cut that in to 3" lengths.
Place the coil in to the dips left between the triangles.
Add a triangle add a coil all the way around the center coil.

Condition and roll a coil of the green clay a little smaller than the barrel of the clay extruder. Using the triangle disk and extrude the barrel full of the green clay.
Place the point of the triangle in to each dip between the white coils.

Add triangles in to each dip and press them all gently in place.

Roll out a sheet of the green clay on the thickest setting in your clay machine.
Trim leading edge and sides to the coil.

Roll the coil back to stick the sheet to the coil and forward to roll the coil in the sheet and over gently to make the little mark.

Cut and trim away the excess just inside the mark closest to the coil and also at an angle.

Roll the patterned coil up in the green sheet.
Match the cut edges and smooth together.

Grab one end of the coil with your thumb and forefinger and squeeze a little dip in the top.

Turn the cane a little and squeeze a little lower.  Keep turning and squeezing a little at a time. Slowly reducing the size of the cane. When you get to one end, turn the cane over and squeeze again.
Reduce the cane to half the diameter.

The ends will start to come out in the center of the cane rod. This is good.
Roll the cane on the work surface to smooth and reduce the coil further to about 3/4" in diameter.

I cut the coil in half to see what it looks like.
I also cut by rolling the coil and the blade forward. I call this a rolling cut.
It is easier to cut the cane right away after I have made it if I do it this way.

I will show you how to make a couple of beads from this next.
Part 2


  1. Marie, this is a fabulous tutorial. You make it look so easy.

  2. holy moley marie!!! indeed you make it look easy. i am mesmorized. and here i am still waiting to open my little package of paper clay (the time will come)

    i now would recognize your hands anyway. i will be at a mall and this woman will be at the hallmark store paying for valentines and i will shout, "marie!"

    and...the making of this looks like my beloved sushi. that made me smile.

    i love these african beads. do you ever make them as buttons? would you?


  3. I loved watching this flower bead develop and grow! So pretty. A lot of work, but worth it. Thanks for teaching.

  4. Marie, wow!! Now, I just wish you lived next door ;o)

  5. As Liz said, yes Marie makes it all look so darn easy. OK so added a few words. LOL It must be African Trade bead weekend. I posted yesterday that I am selling part of my African Trade Bead collection. I like what you are making here.

  6. Sure, that's easy for YOU! I love this cane. The colors are so fresh and springy!

  7. they are a lot of work but what fun to make! Great tutorial marie. I used to do these and people always want to know how in the world they are done. It is rather hard to describe but your photos really show the steps well. I need to send people here!

  8. I love daisy flowers, what a nice tutorial, you make it look very easy. I don't do cane work but I have the complete set of your wonderful small tools I got at your web site I use them all the time and find them invaluable!

  9. Oh Marie - you´re always so nice to us!!! Thank you for sharing - I really love this idea. Thank you for sharing!! Hugs and love!!

  10. wow! thanks for your tutorial! it looks very beautiful!

  11. Thank you so much for the brooch! It's beautiful and I love it!


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