Featured bead: Cowrie shell

June 4, 2009

This week’s featured bead is an old, old, old favorite!

Still hip after 1,000 years...cowrie shell beads

Still hip after 1,000 years...cowrie shell beads

Loose matte cowrie shells, a favorite from Africa for centuries, get their extra-large stringing holes by grinding or breaking off the top of the shell.  With the tops ground off like this, they sit nice and flat, forming a smooth border.

How big are they?  Anywhere from about a half-inch by 1/3 inch, to an inch by a half-inch.  (13x8x8mm to 25x20x10mm.)

These bleached shells are often sewn upside-down on beaded Nigerian wall hangings, belts and ceremonial items. We’ve been seeing these woven or sewn onto chokers, too.  They’re a classic staple of macramé work, too!

Love cowries, and want more ethnic beads?  Rings & Things carries a full line of African beads, both old trade beads, and newer beads made or strung in Africa for the world-wide bead trade. Trade beads are old and/or used beads, and will show varying amounts of wear. Newly-made African beads are generally handmade in small communities. Style and availability vary.

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  • Reply Dawno June 5, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I love using shells and am going to see about drilling some found ones, but it’s great to know where to get cowries, they’re very versatile, as you’ve shown!

  • Reply Russ Nobbs June 23, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Our African suppliers tell us that these cowries may be a thing of the past. Prices are rising in Africa for them because few people want to grind, clean and bleach them. US Fish and Wildlife requirements make more work for the African traders if they comply with them and big fines or confiscations if they don’t.

  • Reply Dave June 26, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Hope we can keep these in stock…

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