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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : Expression on a String : Hobby: Teens are discovering the pride--and economy--of making stylish and unique jewelry with beads, an ancient craft.

October 28, 1994|MICHELLE PHAM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Michelle Pham is a senior at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo.

Beads are one of the oldest expressions of beauty in the world. Ancient tribes used them to adorn themselves, so did the flower children of the '60s. Teens today are discovering anew the beauty of beads and the personal expression putting them together and wearing them allows.

Beads come in a gazillion colors, shapes, sizes and patterns; they can cost pennies or be priceless artifacts. They come from all over the world and can be made from plastic, glass, wood, ceramic, porcelain, metal, rocks, quartz and almost anything else.

In addition to the pleasure of creating, those who design their own jewelry save up to two-thirds of what they'd pay for similar pieces at the mall.

While browsing through a department store, Lake Forest hairstylist Susane Rodriguez saw a pair $40 earrings she liked. She returned the next day and sketched the earrings on a piece of paper. She took the drawing to a bead shop and duplicated the earrings for $6 worth of supplies.

Making it yourself also means a custom piece.

Trabuco Hills High School senior Brandi Harms likes to make jewelry to match her clothes. For the past three years, she has made her own necklaces, earrings and bracelets. She first got into beads when she worked as a summer camp counselor in Big Bear, where kids liked to put beads on safety pins to decorate their shoes.

Back at home, she started tinkering with designs. Sometimes she gets her inspiration from pieces in department stores or at bead shops; others times it's strictly free-form. She has created about 50 pieces, most of which took from 30 minutes to an hour to string.

Amy Trowbridge, 16, of Mission Viejo says she visits bead shops "a lot." Sometimes she has a design planned; sometimes she just selects the beads she likes. She sells her crafts to friends. Bracelets go for $5; anklets for $3.

"Beads are an expression of my soul. When I sell my (works), I am selling a part of myself," she said.

Lisa Urone, 18, a June graduate of Trabuco Hills High and now a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, has been making jewelry for four years. Urone plans to sell her creations at a friend's Christmas boutique later this year. Making jewelry is "inexpensive, fun, and easy," Urone said.

Creations are restricted only by a person's inventiveness. Beads can be threaded, braided, entwined, woven, knotted, worked with metal, knitted, crocheted and appliqued (applied onto another surface).

Finished products can be as simple as necklaces, earrings, bracelets, anklets, rings, belts, hair accessories and scarves. But they can be more complex, like wreaths, flowers, paintings, masks and tapestries.

Annalee Dixon, co-owner of the Bead Shop in Laguna Beach, believes that beads have been around so long because "people are drawn to beautification. Beads are one part of that."

She says beads are something "fun to do besides surfing. We encourage people to find their own creativeness. Bead on!"

The Bead Station in Lake Forest and San Juan Capistrano offer directions over the counter. After customers pick out the beads, they can have an employee start stringing the project for them. Then the customer finishes it at home.

Anklets are now the rage, according to Bead Station owner Linda Mondt. Last year it was clothing embellishment, she said. The Bead Station also sells books, tools, clasps for earrings and necklaces, nose rings (also popular), and semiprecious stones.

"You can save so much by making it yourself. We will work with you to create whatever you want," Mondt said.

Beads can be opaque, but also carved, spotted, swirled, shiny, dull clear, or translucent. The shapes can be round, flat, wavy, square, oval, tubular, rectangular or triangular.

The most primitive beads, according to history books on beads, were made from natural materials like wood, teeth, bamboo, bone, kernel, shell, leather claw, and stone. Glass beads were first prominent during the 15th Century BC in Egypt. By the time of the Romans, Alexandria was one of the most important bead centers. Byzantines later passed on bead manufacturing to Italians.

Beads have as many functions as they have variations. For archeologists, beads reveal a record of trade and also serve as a dating medium. The Chinese still use beads in their abacus for counting and, as recently as 1950, beads were used as currency in Africa.

Beads have also been used as religious objects and for status identification. For example, during the Ch'ing Dynasty in China (1644-1912), the king wore a certain bead while his courtiers wore different beads to identify their social standings. Beads also marked the rank of tribal chiefs, warriors and brides in Africa.

If you're a bead fanatic, plan a visit to the Bead Museum in Prescott, Ariz. The museum opened in 1986 and attracts about 20,000 visitors each year.

"It's a funny thing, the effect beads have on people," says museum founder and director Gabrielle Liese. "People get caught up in the history behind the beads and suddenly everything they do becomes oriented around where they might find beads. They get hooked, and it becomes an overwhelming passion. The idea behind this museum was to make it possible for other people to see and compare and learn."

Beads at the museum represent all major countries and most time periods. All are catalogued with sources, materials and background information. The beads come from donors, connections and auctions.

"Adornment is instinctive in us and it has always existed, long before man made containers to put food in. It's just a human thing to do," Liese said.

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