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”.
Through the Christmas rush I’ve had a kind of breakthrough. It has to do with new skills, new magic tricks. It all seems to be summed up in this humble ring– the “spiral promise”– because the wires seem to endlessly circle each other and because it reminds me of a simple love token. I made one of these for myself– which is how most of my designs begin. I thought, it’s so humble, what would it mean to anyone who regularly collects my designs? And yet I wore mine every day and came to love it. Little by little I have been introducing these new pieces that feel much more personal.
When I opened the shop I was recreating the vintage pieces I had to sell off, one by one, because I could not find work in Yorkshire. I still love the Victorian and early 20th century Bohemian influences and have kept those percolating through my design imagination, but then something else crept in, something I wasn’t expecting. This early 70s witchy woman muse showed up, with her hand forged boldness and her raw stones.
This is primal stuff– the first memories of adornment are of this crazy ankh necklace made of railroad nails which my mother wore. The thing looked dangerous and puzzling, a powerful piece! So I’m on a journey back to my roots.
I have always loved wire wrapped links, and as my designs have progressed they have formed the basis of almost all my pieces. Now I have explored using different metals, pickling them in various solutions, hammering and bending. The deliberation of a simple metal spiral reminds me of binding spells and of the Celtic and Viking adornment which is very much of the place where I live now, its ancient history.
Things are changing. There is more of me in this new work– more of my hand, my heart and will. I hope you will come with me on this journey.