Zulu Beadwork

 Copper, silver, brass, or ?

I'm going through a copper phase. The last few necklaces I've made (including "September" pictured at left) have all used copper. I'd blame it on fall–this time of year always makes me want to wear brown or golden colors–except that I've been favoring copper since at least last spring. I'm not really sure why I like it so much. I suspect it's at least partly because it is less common than silver. What's your absolute favorite metal for designing? Take this quick, one-question poll. (Poll has ended.) I'll share the answers next week.



 An Interview with Diane Fitzgerald 

Diane Fitzgerald is the author of several books, including The Beaded Garden, Netted Beadwork, Beading with Brick Stitch, and Zulu Inspired Beadwork. Diane took a brief break from her busy schedule to talk about her beadwork, including her experience beading with Zulu women.

Michelle: How and when did you first become interested in Zulu beadwork? Was there a particular design, museum, or book that sparked your interest?

Diane: A square tube chain necklace in dusty rose caught my eye while I was perusing a Chicago Bead Society sale several years ago. I could see that it was different than any Native American beadwork and I later got in touch with the vendor for more information. She told me it was a Zulu piece and offered to send me a box of Zulu beadwork for me to consider buying. When the box arrived I was intrigued and bought all the pieces, eventually taking each one apart to see how it was made.

Zulu women beading. Photo by Diane Fitzgerald.

Michelle: In the introduction to your book, Zulu Inspired Beading, you mention that you had the opportunity to sit and bead with Zulu women. Tell me about that experience.

Diane: The Zulu women sit on the ground when beading with their legs straight out in front of them and a shallow woven tray to hold their beads. Although neither the Zulu women or I spoke each others' language, we had no trouble communicating. When I showed them a technique I had been teaching the women on the Beadventure Tour, they caught on immediately without reference to written or illustrated instructions. They later danced and sang for us with lots of enthusiasm. I cherish the time we spent together and remember it all clearly because I have such respect for the body of work they created over the last 200 years.

Michelle: You also mention that in learning about a new technique, you sometimes take pieces apart. That sounds scary (especially the first time you did it)! Do you worry about being able to figure out the technique and put the piece back together?

Diane: Yes, it was a bit of a challenge taking apart a piece the first time. I make sure I have a good magnifying glass, a couple of uninterrupted hours to work on the piece, a pencil and paper for sketching and then just snip close to the end. Each time one does it, one becomes more familiar with how to follow the thread path and what to look for. 

Square Tube

Michelle: Do you have a favorite technique or project in the book?

Diane: The favorite technique of readers has been the Flowerette Chain, but I think my favorite is the Square Tube because it offers so much potential. I have modified the technique by increasing and decreasing in all the possible ways and used it to make my May Basket Pin/Pendant and Pod People but since these are not Zulu techniques, I did not include them in the book. (Instructions for those two projects are available for sale on my website.)

Michelle: I know you're traveling to England. Are you studying beadwork there? Have you studied beadwork in other places besides Africa?

Diane: I study beadwork wherever I can find it on my travels and constantly look for inspiration for my work. For example, when I visited the Russell-Coates Museum in Bournemouth, England as part of the Annual General Meeting of the Bead Society of Great Britain, I came across a case of Zulu beadwork and in it was one particularly unusual tiny piece of beadwork. We couldn't touch it, but we were able to get good photos and from those, Stefany Hornblow, Vera Gray and I worked out two different versions of how it was made. It is unlikely though that we'll ever know whose version is correct.

Michelle: How would you describe Zulu beadwork? Are there certain common characteristics that make it easy to identify?

Diane: Zulu beadwork, of all the beadwork I am familiar with, is the most unique in its technique. Many of the stitches are fairly complex and unlike any used in other parts of the world. Also, many, if not most, have never been documented before. One characteristic that makes Zulu stitches unique is the way a thread may be looped around another thread rather than passing through a bead. This helps to shape the beadwork in unusual ways such as with the Square Tube. Regarding identification of Zulu beadwork, the color palettes, the strong geometric patterns and the thread looping techniques are the keys that signal to me that the piece is likely made by Zulu women.

To learn more about Diane Fitzgerald, including her upcoming teaching schedule and free copies of many of her articles, visit www.dianefitzgerald.com.

Bead Crochet Corrections and Updates
There are several corrections and updates for last Friday's post: The correct website for Mary Ann Cowie (Morning Sky Jewelry) is www.morningskyjewelry.etsy.com. Photos for the clever amethyst chip bead crochet necklace by Cheryl Elsinger and a lovely necklace by Deborah Rice now appear in the gallery. Ellen Hess reported that the "Landmark pattern" she used for her bag was a design from CrochetNBeads. Wanda S. asked about the crochet snowman earrings. That project is available in the free project library.

Coming This Week
I'll share the instructions for my wirework and daisy chain necklace that I created as part of a Beadwork challenge, plus beading tips, and two new projects from Step by Step Beads.

Michelle Mach is the editor of Beading Daily. On her bead board: a pair of dangly glass, pearl, and (of course) copper earrings.

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