@ E J G @ I < ;
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Zulus and Their Beadwork

Zulu Beading Techniques
Flowerette Chain
Spearhead Chain
Lace Leaf Chain
Zigzag Chain
Ladder Chain
Tri-Leg Chain
Square Tube
Triangle Tube
Slinky Chain
Double Weave
Wrapped Rope

Netted Triangles and Swags
Switchback Chain
Bow Tie Chain
Trefoil Chain
Hexagon Netting
Netted Diamonds
Popcorn Stitch
Fingo Chain
Zulu Love Letter Pins
African Netting Stitches
Square Netting Stitch
African Circle Stitch
Ngwane Fringes

Tools and Supplies




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Beads and beadwork are an integral part of many African cultures,
not least the famous Zulu Nation of southern Africa. From earliest
times, Zulus made beads from natural materials like seeds, ostrich
eggshell, animal teeth, and even metal. On the basis of archaeological evidence, it is known that imported glass trade beads were
used as body ornamentation in Africa as early as the eleventh
century. These beads were made available until the sixteenth century through Arab traders. Later, from around 1680, Venetian and
Dutch beads began to reach South African shores via European
merchant traders.
The largest of South Africa’s indigenous populations, the Zulu form part of the
Northern Nguni group, which also includes the Swazi and Ndebele. According to
tribal tradition, the Zulu people originated from a mystical land called Embo, probably located in the region of present-day Congo, and migrated south in the sixteenth
century, establishing themselves by the seventeenth century in KwaZulu-Natal, a
fertile province in what today is eastern South Africa.
Eventually, glass seed beads were used in various color combinations to distinguish one tribal group from another. Beads also carried complex meaning akin to a
symbolic language, and this formalized code of communication served to convey
messages relating to love and courtship, grief, jealousy, poverty, and loss. White
beads, for example, were widely seen as representing purity, truth, or spiritual love.
Blue indicated fidelity, the sea, or the sky; a more negative interpretation was of
hostility, dislike, or gossip. Red represented blood, fire, anger, passionate love, or
sorrow. And green, while suggesting fields, grass, garden, homeland, or domestic
contentment, might also symbolize discord and illness.

Opposite: Wrapped rope necklaces like these
are often worn in multiples.



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Armband with fringe from the Ngwane region. The
band is worked with square stitch and has a twobead square stitch embellishment that borders the
black center panel.
Opposite: Selling beadwork on the Durban

Zulus and Their Beadwork
Beadwork is deeply embedded in the culture of the Zulu people
of South Africa. It is unique and distinctive in its colors and patterns, and particularly in its structure. Among traditional Zulus,
men, women, and children wear beadwork in abundance for
occasions such as family gatherings, coming-of-age ceremonies,
and weddings, especially when there is dancing. The beadwork conveys gender, age, marital status, and accomplishments.
Because it is highly valued and expensive, it is not worn every
day. Zulu women produce all of the beadwork and prefer opaque
beads in colors such as white, red, green, blue, yellow, pink, and
black. Their patterns exhibit vibrant geometric designs, such as
zigzag bands, diamonds, or triangles, which often contain symbolic meaning.


Zulus are widely known for the color
symbolism of “Zulu Love Letter” pendants—
small beaded rectangles attached to safety
pins and sold as tourist curios. But they
should be credited for a far more unusual
aspect of their beadwork: Zulu women have
created a class of beadwork which may be
characterized as “looped”—somewhat like
brick stitch—in addition to being strung.
In other words, when weaving beads, the
thread is often passed around another
thread between two beads in addition to
Typical Zulu Love Letter Pin worked in brick stitch.
passing through the beads. The tension on
the beads holds the thread in place. This
technique results in some of the most unusual and unique construction methods of
any in the world. Several of these techniques are described in this book, in particular
the Square Tube, the Triangle Tube, the Tri-Leg, the Ladder, and the Lace Leaf Chains.
Detail of a beaded Ngwane cape made with bands of
brick stitch worked in geometric patterns and applied
to a fabric support.
Impromptu dancing by Seliphi Blose, better known as
Buselaphi, a sangoma, with singing accompaniment
by Zulu beaders at the Abacus Studio of Jane Bedford
in Durban.

Use of this looping technique may have resulted from the early use of sinew as a
stringing material. Sinew is made from a cow’s tendons or ligaments, which are dried,
separated, and rolled into a durable thread. Because sinew is thicker than ordinary
cotton or synthetic thread, it would be difficult to pass it through beads more than
once, and the looping technique may have been an adaptation to this constraint. Zulu
beadworkers today use nylon and cotton thread and occasionally monofilament line.

Contemporary Beadwork
A tourist arriving at one of the major airports in South Africa will notice an abundance
of small pieces of beadwork in airport stores. These range from coasters to bracelets,
necklaces, and small insect or animal pins. Most are inexpensive—they sell for just
a few dollars each—and one can assume that the beadworker who made them
received less than a quarter of their marked price. Within Durban, Cape Town, and
Johannesburg, outdoor markets and upscale galleries near tourist destinations offer a
wider range of items than what is available at airports. These include older pieces and
larger more intricate pieces such as bead embellished hats, new one-of-a kind sculptural figures, and fashionable beaded jewelry. Beadwork produced by Zulu women is
also sold internationally by various entities. A typical organization is often operated


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KwaZulu-Natal, home of the Zulu people, is a province
of South Africa. A fertile area known as the garden
province, the area is about 35,560 square miles
(92,100 square kilometers), about the size of the state
of Maine. It extends from borders with Swaziland and
Mozambique to the Eastern Cape in the south. Inland
it is bounded by the Kingdom of Lesotho, and the Free
State and Mpumalanga provinces. The population of
KwaZulu-Natal is about 9.5 million of which 80 per
cent is Zulu, 13 per cent is English and the remainder
is other groups.

The South African flag, designed by Mr. Fred Brownell and adopted on April 27, 1994, melds symbols of
many aspects of South African culture: red for bloodshed, blue for the open skies and the two oceans it
lies between, green for the land, black for the black people, white for European people, and yellow for the
natural resources, in particular, gold. The Y symbolizes unity and the coming together of many peoples.
This flag necklace features three large flag panels and ten small ones made with fringes and herringbone
stitch that are attached to a two-bead cord.

This postcard, dated 1904, shows four young Zulu
women wearing a profusion of beadwork. It also
reveals the lasting tradition of wrapped/rolled
necklaces and bandoliers, the popularity of tabular
necklaces, and the use of beaded aprons worn over
a skirt. All four of the girls have similar designs
worked into their belts and wrapped necklaces. It is
noteworthy that all are wearing some type of blouse,
which may have been donned for the photograph to
appease Victorian sensibilities about revealing the
upper body and would not have been part of their
normal wear. Carole Morris Collection.

by South African professionals who serve as “go-betweens.” They assist Zulu women
by obtaining and distributing beads, teaching techniques, and suggesting designs for
jewelry or home decorating objects that will sell based on market research. They then
promote, package, ship, and collect payment for the finished beadwork throughout
the U.S. and Europe. Such organizations expose a broader audience to Zulu beadwork
and give Zulu women the opportunity to earn a small income while staying at home
where they can oversee children and households.
An example of this type of organization is Jane Bedford’s Abacus Studio in Durban
(www.beadwork.co.za/ourpeople/index.htm). Jane combines the traditional skills of



A contemporary necklace made for the
fashion industry consists of strands of
Czech beads twisted into thick ropes.

Zulu beadworkers with contemporary designs to create jewelry and objet d’art that
have graced the shelves of Harrods of London, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus
and been worn by the late Princess of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, among
others. Through education and employment, Jane has empowered these women to
take charge of their circumstances and make a real difference to their own lives and
those of their children and wider community.

Some critters typical of
those you’ll find on the
wezandla website.


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A similar organization is Wezandla Crafts (www.wezandlacrafts.co.za/), which was
started by a missionary couple. Located some 50 kilometers south of Dundee near
the rugged hills of the old Zululand in the northern part of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South
Africa, the area is plagued by poverty and hopelessness. Nearly all women are housebound, with many chores to attend to such as fetching water, collecting firewood,
tending to cattle and crops, and seeing to family needs. The missionaries identified
beadwork and grass basket-making as two strong skills that have become a springboard to a limited income for local women.

In other areas, some women sell their beadwork to traders who resell it at informal
outdoor markets around the city or to other middlemen for overseas markets. Other
outlets include local boutiques and galleries whose managers purchase pieces for the
local tourist market and collectors. Among these are The African Art Center (www.
afriart.org.za) and the BAT (Bartels Art Trust) Center (www.durbanet.co.za/bat/batinfo.
htm). Having their work shown in galleries not only brings respect to Zulu women but
also expands their horizons.

New Directions
Zulus continue their strong beadwork tradition in the present century. With a strong
background learned from older women, a small but growing group of beadworkers
began to create a new, more artistic and sculptural type of beadwork in the early
1980s. This work is often composed of a wire armature or frame that is covered with
stuffing, fabric, and beads. Beads may be sewn to the fabric covering, beaded panels
may be applied to the objects, or the objects may be wrapped with strings of beads.
From modest beginnings with dolls and human figures, the designs have expanded
into imaginative animals, small birds, bugs, and other
objects. Airplanes, helicopters, radios, and purses have also
been created. Perhaps the most intriguing are the small
tableaus that depict scenes from everyday life: women
having lunch, a woman having a baby, children at school.
These may remind one of “Outsider Art,” a term that is
applied to art that is made by self-taught artists and which
is “outside” of mainstream art. It is poignant and whimsical,
but most of all authentic and appealing.

A new direction in beadwork includes
figures beaded over armature wires.




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Flowerette Chain
The Zulu Flowerette Chain is often the class favorite when I teach
Zulu techniques. It is worked in rows up and down the length of
the chain, usually with eight or nine rows of size 11° seed beads
with size 6° seed beads shared by all rows, until the desired fullness is reached. The directions are given for a bracelet in two
colors, but three or more colors may be used and the chain may
be any length.

Materials for a 7.5" (19 cm) bracelet
Size 11° seed beads: 15 g
color A, 10 g color B
Size 6° seed beads: 18 to 20
One 1/2" (1.3 cm) button with shank
Nymo D thread
Beading needle

Bracelets made with the Flowerette Chain stitch.
The bracelets close with a button-and-loop closure.

Opposite: Flowerette Chain. An antique store find,
this was one of the first pieces that intrigued me
about Zulu beadwork. Made in traditional colors
with size 8 beads, the necklace is embellished with
silver color buttons and ties provide the closure. 17”
(43 cm) long.



1.Thread a needle with 1 1/2 yd (137 cm) of thread and tie a shank button
on one end, leaving a 4” (10 cm) tail that will be woven in later. String 1
size 6° seed bead. *Add 5A and 3B (for the tip) then pass back through the
last A. This is a picot. Add 4 more A. Add 1 size 6° seed bead.*

2.Repeat from * to * until the piece is
9 3/4” (25 cm) or equal to your wrist
measurement plus about 2 1/4” (5.5
cm) to allow for take-up. If you work
with very tight tension, the take-up will
be greater. Add a loop of beads large
enough to go around your button (Figure 1). Pass back through the last size 6°
seed bead and continue making picots,
passing through each size 6° seed bead
(Figure 2), until you come to the button end. Pass through the last size 6°
seed bead, the button shank, and back
through the last size 6° seed bead.
Figure 1

Figure 2

3.Continue working up and down the chain for 8 or 9 rows, passing through
the button on one end and through the loop of beads on the other end. If
the loop becomes filled with thread, you may knot the thread between the
beads and reverse direction or add a fringe (see Working the Loop End on
page 33). Knot the thread and weave in the tails.

Helpful Hints
Allowing for Take-up
If you are making a necklace, you also must allow for take-up—the piece will
become shorter as you add more rows. The amount of extra length to allow
will vary depending on your beads and your tension, but in general, the
beginning strand should be about one-quarter to one-third longer than the
desired finished length.

A modern black and white Flowerette Chain necklace
made by Zulu women for the tourist trade. 30” (76
cm) long.


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Making a Picot
One of the most common mistakes made with this technique is incorrectly passing
through the bead to make a picot. After adding the 3B beads, bring your needle back
through the last A bead in the opposite direction of the first pass. If you go through
in the same direction, the beads will lie differently and your piece will not have the
correct tension.

Working the Loop End

Figure 3. Correct. Needle goes back
through in the opposite direction
and bead hole is perpendicular to the
length of the work.

Figure 4. Incorrect. Both threads pass
in the same direction and bead hole is
parallel to the length of the work.

If you find that the beads in the loop are filled with thread, make a half-hitch knot
between the size 6° seed bead and the loop, then continue back along the strand
(Figure 5). Another option is to make a strand of fringe at the base of the loop, then
continue back up the strand (Figure 6).
Figure 5

Figure 6

A Flowerette Chain necklace made by the author
with bronze three-cut beads and size 6 triangle
beads accented with a vintage Bali silver bead and
button closure. 40” (101.5 cm) long.




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Zulu Inspired Beadwork
Weaving Techniques and Projects

In the last decade, there has been a growing worldwide interest in South African beadwork.
In Zulu Inspired Beadwork, the first book devoted to the beading techniques used by Zulu
women, bead master Diane Fitzgerald shares her expertise on Zulu beadwork with 25 stunning
projects, celebrating the culture of this indigenous population.
Begin with an introduction to Zulus and their beadwork, an inside look at the importance
of beads in this South African culture, and the many beading techniques—some of which have
never been published until now—used by Zulu women to create adornment. The author shares
several dozen unique beading techniques garnered from years of visiting South Africa and
countless hours spent examining—and dissecting—Zulu beadwork.
Next move into projects inspired by the author’s visits to Africa, including netted diamond
earrings, a netted triangle and swag bracelet, zigzag chain, and a Zulu wedding necklace. Techniques include netting, wrapping, fringing, braiding, and weaving. Projects are illustrated with
easy-to-follow diagrams and supplemented with helpful hints. Readers will find gorgeous photographs of original Zulu beadwork juxtaposed with the author’s interpretation of the design
and techniques. Part how-to, part history, part travelogue, Zulu Inspired Beadwork is a beading
journey in a book.

Diane Fitzgerald is a bead collector, jewelry designer, and the owner of Beautiful Beads in
Minneapolis, Minnesota. Diane has traveled to South Africa to study Zulu and Xhosa beadwork and to
the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and other areas to learn about the glass bead industry and to meet
beadworkers and beadmakers. She is the author of eight beading books including Netted Beadwork,
Beading with Brick Stitch, and The Beaded Garden (all from Interweave Press) and writes frequently for
Beadwork, Bead & Button, and Lapidary Journal. Diane lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Paperbound, 81/2 x 9, 128 pages
100 photographs, 20 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-59668-034-0
$24.95 US / $31.95 Canada
November 2007
IWP warehouse October 2007


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