The tale of 12,000 beads

23 May

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away About 14 years ago, as a uni student, I got a part time job in a costume jewellery shop. It was a tiny store, owned and run by one woman. It stocked costume jewellery, bags and shoes made from matching leather, hats, and gloves. Basically everything you needed for a bridal party, mother of the bride, school ball, or other fancy schmancy event. Or you know, for fun.

Although some of the costume jewellery was bought from wholesalers, some of it was designed and made by the owner. I worked one and a half days a week, sole charge, and on those days one of my jobs became to make replacements for any jewellery sold during the week. The owner would leave me with a box of supplies and her design specs, and in between customers I would make jewellery. This was where I learned the basics of jewellery making, skills I still use!

Eventually, the owner decided to close the store. It came up in conversation with the owner that she had heaps of old supplies she’d inherited from the previous owner and had never sorted or used and she was going to give them away. I pounced – perhaps I could have some? She said yes!

Being a destitute and now unemployed student, my aunt agreed to be my cargo driver, so we bowled up to the owner’s house together.

There was a room haphazardly carpeted with over a dozen huge boxes of supplies, all jumbled up, no sense or structure or even labels. We didn’t have time for a through investigation so my method was simple: glance in the box; if the box looked more than half interesting take it; if it looked less than half interesting, leave it.

In amongst all the supplies there was one thing that kept catching my eye. There were dozens of small plastic containers laden with hand painted glass beads. They looked liked lollies and were just as enticing. I had to have them ALL. I’d open a box and see them and claim the box. My aunt would say “but you’ve got those” and I’d point out that these ones were DIFFERENT.

Beads like lollies! There were black ones and blue ones and green ones and red ones and purple ones, in lots of shapes like teardrops and eggs and hearts, and they were all hand-painted with gold swirls and little jewel-like drops of colour. I loved them.

Beads like lollies! There were black ones and blue ones and green ones and red ones and purple ones, in lots of shapes like teardrops and eggs and hearts, and they were all hand-painted with gold swirls and little jewel-like drops of colour. I loved them.

Eventually we exchausted our stamina (and more constraining, my aunt’s boot space) and we left. I had claimed 9 banana boxes of supplies. Now, in fabric that might not be much – but this was jewellery supplies. Tiny tiny things. So imagine how many supplies were in those 9 boxes!

The boxes went into storage for a couple of years while I moved around, but once I settled I dug them out and started the laborious process of sorting the contents. Like went with like: beads with beads, chains with chains, clasps with clasps, etc. Then I sorted inside each of those categories, by colour or type or similar. This significantly reduced the amount of space it all took up (as I threw out bags and bags of snaplock bags that weren’t needed), got me familiar with my haul, and appealed to my ‘must-organise-all-the-things brain.

As I did this, I grouped the plastic containers of glassy lollie goodness together. And eventually discovered I had over 60 of these plastic pots, each with a different design of bead in it. It was, to use a technical term, LOTS.

How they were stored. There are more in the drawers and those are more underneath too.

How they were stored. There are more in the drawers and those are more underneath too.

I was a little overwhelmed by the quantity. I could never make enough jewellery to use them all. And they hadn’t been cleaned, meaning the holes were filled with glass dust and using them required cleaning the holes out first. So although I made one or two pieces I mostly just moved them around the house over and over again trying to make them take up less space then they did without the use of a TARDIS, with limited success.

Eventually I realised my tastes had changed and I was no longer drawn to these beads – and even if I made them all into jewellery I could never sell it all, so l decided to sell the beads.

I sold them at markets. I sold them on TradeMe. I sold and I sold in packets of 10 and 20, and after a while I sat back and realised… I’d barely made a dent. So. Many. Glass. Beads.

The beads had stopped being inspirational and exciting and started being a millstone, taking up both physical and mental space in my life. They sapped my creativity, made me feel guilty and uninspired. I had to get rid of them but was out of ideas.

Then one day I was reading some unsolicited mail from the Child Cancer Foundation, asking for donations. They told a story of a young child who had undergone so many procedures, and made reference to their Beads of Courage programme, where they give away a bead for every procedure, so that every child has a long strong of beads to mark their history. I looked at the photos of the beads and thought “they’re so pretty. They’re just like mine.” And like that, I made the connection.

I contacted the Child Cancer Foundation and asked if they would like to have my beads. They were so excited! They’d love to have them, we just had to get them to Auckland.

Could I post them? they asked.

No. No I cannot. There are lots.

Could they put them in someone’s carry on luggage? they asked

No. No you cannot. There are LOTS.

Sorted out ready for packing. I couldn't get them all in a close shot. Still haven't figured out how many there are?

Sorted out ready for packing. I couldn’t get them all in a close shot. Still haven’t figured out how many there are?

Eventually we agreed that we’d wait until Mechanic Man was heading north and load them into the van for him to drop off. It took a couple of months but eventually he was ready for a trip north.

I hauled all the beads out and tried to figure out how to pack them in a way that was transportable and could be carried by one person, and as I did so I decided to do a quick bit of maths.

Based on the average weight of the bead, and estimating the number of beads in each container, I worked out I had 10,000 to 12,000 beads, weighing about 70 kilograms and taking up over a cubic metre of space.

That, people, is the very essence of a LOT of beads.

Does this help?

Does this help?

Mechanic Man dropped them off to the Child Cancer Foundation, who has arranged an army of volunteers to clean all the holes and anneal the beads to make them safe for children and their families. The people there were so excited, I wish I could have been there to see it! I asked Mechanic Man to take a photo with this post in mind, but he’s not that way inclined and forgot. So you’ll just have to imagine it.

It's hard to tell, but the three large cardboard boxes stacked around the motorbike? They're ALL BEADS.

It’s hard to tell, but the three large cardboard boxes stacked around the motorbike? They’re ALL BEADS.

So I have divested myself of 12,000 beads. Of 70 kilos of beads. Of over 1 cubic metre of beads.

So after 14 years, I created physical space in my home, mental space in my creative juices, and made a bunch of people very happy. It’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done with jewellery. And to top it off, I got a Christmas card from them saying that they’d been giving the beads away to parents and siblings of their child cancer clients, who were making their own necklaces, or earrings, or even Christmas decorations out of them.

I did keep one bead of every design, for sentimental reasons, of course!

Now don’t get me wrong – these weren’t the ONLY beads I got that fun day 14 years ago. I’ve kept all the others, so I can still continue to create jewellery, but the ones I’ve got left take up much less space and remain exciting to work with. But clearing out those beads? That was truly a moment of satisfaction!

6 Responses to “The tale of 12,000 beads”

  1. prttynpnk May 23, 2014 at 10:08 pm #

    I just love this and the idea of the treatment necklaces- what a lovely thing!

  2. Holly May 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    That’s an amazing amount of beads, and such a fantastic use for them. Yay for making room for things you love.

  3. dstonedesigns May 28, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    What a wonderful story! 🙂

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