When I first began braiding hair professionally, I had a goal of learning how to do micro-braids and micro-beads. I had no one to teach me; it was something that came with practice. Initially, my braids were the width of a pencil, but I eventually widdle them down to the size of a needle.
Hours and hours of practice and then one day it just clicked, just like that, I was able to create perfect micro braids. It was necessary to make the braids that small in order the beads I wanted to use to fit onto the braids. These beads weren’t the plastic pony beads made famous by Venus and Serena Williams, used on the pencil sized braids above. These were 3mm Czech glass beads from Czechoslovakia, as seen below.
These styles were works of art and generally took anywhere from 12-24 hours to complete, a two day process. After working 8-12 hours the first day, the client would go home and then return the following day for me to complete the style. A number of clients decided to lock their hair after having micro-braids and beads, so traumatized were they by the time and effort it took to un-braid those tiny styles. The upside to these styles is that they could last up to three months before locking.
The first time I ever saw one of these micro-beaded hairstyles was on composer, musician, and singer, Patrice Rushen. I ran into her in the west village, in New York, while on summer break from college. Patrice was stunning, beautiful, energetic, and smiling. Seeing her with that magically beaded style that day, made me feel as if I was looking into my future. This was the mid to late 70s and this kind of braid work that was coming out of Compton and Los Angeles California and was just making its way to the east coast. One of the most popular hair braiders back then was Rosa Johnson, aka Malakia. Malakia was the first to braid Stevie Wonder’s hair and is considered Queen-Mother of braided hairstyles. Many years later when I began braiding Stevie’s hair, he was so tender-headed that I convinced him to allow me to lock his hair with tiny braids and beads. You can see him with this style in my video, Beading Then and Now.
I have thought about my relationship with beads quite a bit lately, as I have once again incorporated small beads into my work. This time around it’s jewelry instead of hair. Initially, when I began adorning pearls with miniature semi-precious and precious stone beads it hadn’t dawned on me that I was returning to something I thought was far in my past. I then had an aha moment realizing, here I go again with small beads. I am enjoying working with pearls and adorning them with gemstones of labradorite, rhodochrosite, Ethiopian opals, rubies, and sapphires, just to name a few. There is a special feeling I have when working with beads. I can go without sleep or food. It’s crazy! It also reminds of the fact that countless indigenous cultures around the globe have been working with small beads for eons. The native people of this land used and still use small beads on their clothing, moccasins, tools, head gear, etc. In South Africa, bead work is a phenomenal form of art. For me, it’s a sacred kind of work.
Like with beading braids, I began working with larger beads for Intention Bracelets and eventually worked my way down to smaller, more refined beads for my work with pearls. Just as with beading braids, I am enjoying this new beading medium. Perhaps you have had a similar experience in your own work. You may have started out doing one thing and then morphed into something new for you. If you’ve had such an experience I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment here or drop me a line and share with me your story of transformation at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, please take a look at my latest beaded creations, Baroque Pearls.