Maa Beadwork uses the finest quality materials for their products.
Traditionally, the beads used were made from bone, clay, shells, wood and seeds. The first trade beads arrived from India and the Middle East in around 200 to 300 AD when they were used by merchants in exchange for gold, ivory and even slaves. In the 19th century, great quantities of brightly coloured glass beads began entering East Africa by traders from Europe.
Italy was the main producer of glass in Europe until the mid 16th century when a major glass industry was founded, centered around the city of Jablonec in Bohemia which is today’s Czech Republic. The glass industry developed here because nearby mountains contained quartz deposits that were easily mined, there was cheap labour and the surrounding forests provided a supply of wood to heat the large furnaces required to melt glass.
Czech glass became famous for making exquisite cut glass for chandeliers and tableware and glass beads were a byproduct. Today, the finest quality glass beads still come from the Czech Republic, and the seed beads used by Maa Beadwork exclusively come from Preciosa Ornela, the finest glass bead company within the Czech Republic. Cheaper glass seed beads are produced in India and China, however, unlike their Czech counterparts, these are not all perfectly uniform and fade over time and when in contact with water.
Maasai women have been using the small glass seed beads now for many generations and they are intrinsically interlinked.
Maa Beadwork only uses stainless steel wire so as to ensure that the beautiful wire products such as coasters will not rust over time.
Brass buckles, D-rings, trigger hooks and other brass accessories are produced through recycling in Nairobi by melting down old padlocks and reforming them into the desired shape by hand.
The string used for leather products is hand-made by the ladies from plastic sacks used to transport potatoes and other vegetables. The ladies pull apart the sacks and twist together two strands by rubbing them on their legs to form the string. This string is favoured for these items because it is water resistant, strong and is free. To make the tip of the thread easy to pass through the leather, the ladies use tendons from sheep, goats or cows to make a fine needle. Before the introduction of plastic sacks, these tendons were used for the entire string.
Carved wood products, including wooden keyrings, bottle stoppers and wooden clubs that are beaded are handcrafted by a local carpenter from Olive or cedar wood.
We source our high quality leather within Kenya from three different factories based around Nairobi: Alfa Rama, Leather Industries of Kenya and Sagana.
For fabric linings we source kitenge, batik and kikoy fabrics from Nairobi. The fabrics used in products will vary according to availability, however, we always seek to match the same colour codes.
Maa Beadwork has recently developed a West African jewelry range which combines the normal Maasai seed beads with West African beads.
Baule wax print beads come from the Ivory Coast and were historically used as weights to measure gold. Tribes use the lost-wax method where molten metal is poured into a mould created from wax to cast a desired bead shape or pattern. Flat cast brass beads are decorated with detailed parallel grooves that run throughout each bead.
Recycled glass beads are fashioned by the Krobo tribe in Ghana. First, recycled glass is crushed and compressed into dry grain. The grain is heated, fusing the glass pieces together. The recycled glass is then rushed into a cast – the bead maker uses cassava leaf stems to create bead-holes. Finally the beads are placed in a homemade furnace causing the glass to melt together and cassava stems to burn away.
In comparison to other African beads, bone-beads are lightweight but strong – craftsmen are able to carve and polish them into various shapes and sizes, often combining wooden elements in their bead-making. Their decorative patterns are formed through a wax relief method called batik. Bone beads used by Maa Beadwork are crafted from camel bone.
As dividers between beads, some of our products such as bookmarks use ostrich shell and coconut rings as well as fish bones of various sizes.
There are a wide variety of different shaped brass beads produced in West Africa and we are enjoying experimenting combining these with Czech seed beads.
Production phases of a belt:
Step one – leather is cut to size and the beading area is marked by our leather manager, Godfrey.
Step two – the beads needed for the specific design are selected by the satellite coordinators at Maa Beadwork HQ.
Step three – the raw materials and a design card are given to the beader
Step four – the belt is beaded
Step five – the belt is returned to the satellite coordinator who undertakes the first quality control check
Step six – the belt is returned to Maa Beadwork HQ to the field coordinators who undertake the second quality control check
Step seven – the belt is sent to the leather department for Noonkuta to glue on the lining of the belt and Philip to sew around the edges. David then does the finishing, with the edges died and waxed, and the recycled brass buckle polished.
Step eight – the finished belt has the label added for the beader who made the belt.