Throws, A Survivor’s Love Token

Hand-wrapped choker of Czech glass beads, inspired by vintage Mardi Gras “throws”.

It’s Fat Tuesday today and you know, I went and made a necklace inspired by my by-gone collection of vintage Mardi Gras beads.  You see, the first things I sold on Etsy were collections of my vintage pieces– I couldn’t find decent work to save my life and I needed money, so I sold my things.  When I had sold most of the vintage beads and Bohemian necklaces, the old pawn silver and vintage rosaries, I started to make jewellery designs based on these beloved things, like the necklace pictured above.  The mardi gras beads were some of the last things I sold. I held onto them and wore them during the Katrina nightmare– if these beads could survive and make it to England with me, that City could survive and rebuild.

Sometimes I think of my old collection with a tinge of sadness and longing.  Maybe it’s homesickness, maybe I’m jonesing for colour in the long, grey Yorkshire winter.  When I visited New Orleans, I always combed the second hand stores, junk and antique shops hoping to find a stash of them, some still with the paper tags on them.  The ones that survived so that they could be collected in the present day must be lucky indeed.

“Thows” or beads thrown from floats to the parade audience, weren’t always made of plastic like they are now.  From the 1920s until WWII, Pressed Czech glass was used.  These beads came in a dazzling array of shapes and colours, like bon-bons. My inner  child really loved these joyfully random toy necklaces destined for the gutter. They could survive a street party of such magnitude an still be worn decades later– they were survivor beads. I loved restringing them (as they were often in dire need of it!) but I kept the randomness and would wear them in layers. Maybe someday I will return to New Orleans and rebuild my collection.  Until then, I’m using new, pressed Czech glass beads, which I would like to think are being made with the old moulds, and making these luxe versions of the old fashioned glass “throw”.

An old photo of me waring some of my vintage Mardi Gras beads.


My dashing alchemist on the stairs leading to our Hotel in Prague.

I have just returned from Prague. People say it is a fairy tale of a city, and you don’t really believe it. How could it be? That is, until you see it yourself.  Despite the onslaught of tourist hordes, all traveling in massive groups, the city’s dark soul survives, suggesting narratives around every bent corner.

While many beer lovers champion Czech pilsners, there are myriad microbreweries around the city making up some original, gorgeous beers that break with tradition. The best was Klasterni Pivovar, where we went every night for their special November ale.

My obsession with Czech glass beads, one of my favourite materials, was a driving force in this trip…this is the subject for another post. I found only one source in the city, and will most likely have to return after doing more research, and travel farther outside of the city.

In the Bone House, Sedlec, Kutna Hora.

We spent a day traveling to Kutna Hora, to visit the surreal ossuary of the Sedlec monastery. This also merits it’s own post– as you can see I will be writing about Prague for some time!  The Kostnice, or bone house, was relatively free of tourists on the day we went, and had the cold static of an unquiet grave about it. Not really a peaceful place at all.

Around every corner was something that inspired my jewellery, as if the whole city were talking back to me. From the Art Nouveau facades to the elaborate iron work of the heavy doors, the sparking crystals and blood red garnets winking from every tourist trap of a shop, the dark glamour of the place ameliorated a lot of the indignities of tourism. It is a testament to the power of this place, and to the Czech people. The ones we met remained gracious and warm– something the Brits of York could learn in the face of their own tourist invasions!

Alphonse Mucha inspired necklace of sterling-plated brass and Czech glass beads, in my Etsy shop.

While the Kafka museum in Prague was unforgivably pretentious, my dealings with security in Heathrow were indeed Kafkaesque.  I was retinally scanned (twice) but still interrogated by immigration, X-rayed a total of 4 times, frisked (twice) and everything in my carry on and purse dumped out and examined down to every crumpled receipt and tissue.  The second security agent pulled me out of the queue and actually lifted up my clothing so she could search inside my trousers and underwear– this was in front of the large crowd also queuing; it wasn’t a private search. It was shocking and intimidating, especially given the signs every where that say that failure to comply will lead to fines and possible imprisonment. If this is travel in the 21st century, perhaps staying home is the better option?

Check back soon for happier tales of ossuaries, beer halls and beads, beads, beads.