Faience is a mixture of powdered clays and lime, soda and silica sand. This is mixed with water to make a paste and moulded around a small stick or bit of straw. It is then ready to be fired into a bead. As the bead heats up, the soda, sand and lime melt into glass that incorporates and covers the clay.
The result is a hard bead covered in bluish glass. This process was probably discovered first in Mesopotamia and then imported to ancient Egypt. However, it was the Egyptians who made it their own art form.
Since before the 1st dynasty of Narmer (3100 B.C.) to the last dynasty of the Ptolemaic Kingdom (33 B.C.) and to the present day, faience beads have been made in the same way. These beads predate glass beads and were probably a forerunner of glass making. If a bead maker was a little short of clay and had a little extra lime and the fire is hotter than usual, the mixture will become glass. In fact some early tubular faience beads are clayish at one end and pure glass at the other end. Apparently the beads weren’t fired evenly.
The uneven beads were noticed early on, this led to experimentation, slowly at first. It took a long time for new ideas to be accepted in a conservative, agricultural society. One of the first variations to take hold was to color the faience beads by adding metallic salts. By the beginning of the eighteenth dynasty (1850 B.C.), faience making and glass making had become two separate crafts. Faience beads were so common because they were cheaper and less labour-intensive to make than stone beads.
Aside from personal use and daily wear they were used to create beaded netting to cover mummies. Most of the archaeological specimens come from burials. As early as the Old Kingdom (circa 2670–2195 B.C.), Egyptian artisans fashioned images of gods, kings, and mortals wearing broad collars made of moulded tubular and teardrop beads. These beaded collars may have been derived from floral prototypes. In antiquity the collar was called a wesekh, literally “the broad one”.
In the Americas, the Cherokee used bead work to tell stories. They told them by the patterns in the beads. They used dried berries, grey Indian corn, teeth, bones, claws, or sometimes sea shells when they traded with coastal tribes.
Beadwork is the art or craft of attaching beads to one another by stringing them with a sewing needle or beading needle and thread or thin wire, or sewing them to cloth. Beads come in a variety of materials, shapes and sizes.