Prayer bead chain

This is a prayer bead chain that I made. It isn’t a rosary, but it kind of is. It is a reminder to pray but there are no set prayers for it. I’m open to adding more beads to it in the future, but it is still good the way it is. It would be too heavy to make into a necklace. It is meant to be carried in a pocket so that it is ready to be used as a prayer aid whenever needed.

The cross is a replica of the cross that Pope Francis wears. It is not a crucifix – rather than depicting Christ crucified, it celebrates his life and teaching by depicting him as the good shepherd, one who seeks out the lost and protects them, even willing to lay down his life for them.

The next bead is a heart, as a reminder of God’s love for us, that God loved us enough to come down to earth to experience life among us.

This bead is made from broken pieces of glass that have been put together and remade into a new bead. It is a reminder that God can make something new out of our brokenness.

This bead is a chevron bead.

It doesn’t look special until you see the sides.

The only way you can see it is if you cut the bead and then grind away at the edges. This is a reminder that our true beauty isn’t on the surface, but is what is revealed after we are tested.

This bead is made of copal. It is a reminder of the incense used in churches as “an aroma pleasing to the Lord”. Instead of making animal sacrifices, our prayers and work are what God desires.

This millefiori bead has six pointed stars, as a reminder of the faith of Israel that told the world about the One God.

This is a glass bead that I made myself many years ago. Unintentionally, it looks like an egg. It is a reminder that what I did many years ago can still be of value and needed today. It is also a reminder to use whatever talents I have to glorify God.

This bead is also a millefiori bead, but it has faces. Because it is made of many different canes of glass fused together, it is a reminder that the Body of Christ is made up of many people, all working together in unison to do God’s will on earth.


I made this bracelet to illustrate God dwelling among us. This is the picture of the whole thing, which has three units of the same “story”.

Here I’ve blocked off just the story itself. It reads going up.

This is how you read it –
(light green beads) God created the world. God sustained it for thousands of years.

(Deep green small bead)
Then, God said to the Jewish people
“I want to dwell among you”
and the Mishkon,
the traveling tabernacle, was built.
The tangible reminder that a non-tangible presence was among them.
It wasn’t a house for God
so much as a reminder
that God was already present with them.

(Large deep green bead)
Thousands of years passed with Jews following the One God.

Then the Holy Spirit (red bead)
spoke to Mary (blue bead).
God wanted to dwell among us even more intimately.
God took up residence inside Mary.
It wasn’t something forced.
She was asked.
She said “Here I am. I’m your servant.
Do unto me according to your will.”

God took up residence within her and created a pure, holy, being, a blend of past, present and future, fully human, fully Spirit, and the culmination of the Jewish hope. (Bead with green, red, blue, and white)

Never before in human history has God spoken to someone and asked them to make a place for God within themselves. He’d asked plenty to trust and to follow, but never to actually have God dwell within.

When Jesus came into the world, he asks us to do the same – to make a place for God in our hearts, to let God work through us. God is not in a building – God never was. God is here, within us, now.

Poem about beads

I could lie
and tell you
an amazing story
about these beads,
the far reaches of the world
I travel to get them,
the famous people
who previously owned them,
the magical powers
they have.

I’d rather spend
my energy
making the necklaces
than making up
about them.

If you want stories,
read my books.
If you want beauty,
buy my jewelry.
I won’t lie to you
but especially
to sell you something.
Beware of people who do.

Once more with feeling…

I’ve finally gotten over the idea that I can’t repeat myself when I write. I found that I was bringing up the same examples, the same stories. I really wrestled with this, feeling that I should go back and rework what I had already written, to update it perhaps.

But sometimes it is good to just write, let it go, and move on. If I go back and rewrite pieces, I feel like I’m not moving forwards. And sometimes what I wrote wasn’t immature, necessarily. It was my viewpoint, from that day, at that time. On another day I’ll want to talk about the same topic, from a different perspective.

Beads have helped me with this. Here are two different necklaces, using the same main beads.

bead combo


In neither was I able to “say” what I wanted to express when I got the beads. I’ve come to realize that is normal. When the beads are jumbled together in the store or in bins, they spark ideas in my head. But when they have to be put together in a line, such as when they are in a necklace, they just don’t come out the same way as they are in my head.

But here’s the thing – what came out looks good, and nobody knows what I had in my head anyway. The only unhappy person is me.

Now – what I do with that feeling is what matters. It could cause me to stop creating. Or, it can cause me to create more, to try to get across what I was trying to “say”. Or, it can cause me to totally reinvent how I use beads. That too might happen.

I’m looking at incorporating beads and paint and collage. Essentially going 3-D with 2-D stuff. While beads are three dimensional, they aren’t in a way. They lay flat on the body, and you only look at them from one side. Going multi-stranded helps – you have colors and textures “rubbing” up against each other from west and east, rather than just north and south. But wrapping around, and under, and through? That is 3-D, and engages the viewer. The viewer can’t see all that is there in one glance, and will never see the entire piece at once. It is constantly presenting new viewpoints and things to discover.

Is that where I am is going? Maybe. I currently don’t have the skills for that. Yet. But that is part of art too. I think part of what makes an artist is a constant low-level feeling of dissatisfaction. If you are happy with things as they are, you don’t need to create.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

But unhappiness is the mother of art.

It doesn’t mean that I’m depressed. How about unhappy, in the sense of dissatisfied? Or feeling like something is missing? That sense is what drives me to create.

It is funny that creating itself, whether music, painting, collage, writing, beading – can lead to unhappiness. I keep feeling like I almost have it, that it is close, but no cigar. But I’m learning how to be OK with that feeling, and use it to create more. I’m learning how to use my tools and get better at what I do. I’m learning to be patient with the process.

When I first started writing, it could take me five hours to get across what I felt I was trying to say. I feel like I’m much more efficient now. And I’ve learned that with anything I do, the “message” may not come across with the medium. No matter how much work I put into it, the audience may not get what I was trying to give them.

That is OK too. I’m learning that just creating is the goal. I’m learning to just let go, and let God work through me, and in me. I learn when I create. The creations aren’t the goal. It is what I learn while I’m making them. If I can sell them to get more materials to create more things, all the better.

On cheap beads and cheap jewelry

There weren’t many bead stores when I first started making jewelry over twenty years ago. I hadn’t even thought about making my own jewelry until I met someone who did. She took me to a bead store in DuPont circle in Washington DC, near where I was living at the time. When I moved back home to Chattanooga there weren’t many options to get supplies for my new hobby.
There was one bead store, way out in the middle of nowhere, thirty minutes away from my house. It was a rarity for that time. That lady was forward thinking. It was called Fat Jane’s beads, and while the owner was named Jane, she wasn’t fat. It was a joke from when she was pregnant. Her store stocked a lot of beads, but they were all in containers and all the containers were in display cabinets. It was a long drive to get there, and a lot of work to find the beads I wanted while there.
I prefer to look for beads unmolested. I like to study each strand for as long as I want to pick out the exact shade and variety I require without having a shopkeeper stare at me. I also don’t want to have to ask for each box to be pulled out of the cabinet. It is as if she didn’t want to sell the beads at all. Beads were the main focus of the store, not a sideline, but it didn’t feel like that at times.
Another place that sold beads was called the New Moon Gallery. They didn’t have many beads, but at least they left me alone to study them. Beads were not their main source of income. They sold books and clothing and music and jewelry to the New Age crowd. I even sold jewelry to them for a while.
The best place to buy beads was Goodwill. I bought necklaces and tore them apart carefully to learn how to make my own. There weren’t books or classes about how to make jewelry then. I figured it out in my own. Goodwill was the best for beads. Not really for selection, but for price. I could buy a necklace for a quarter and redesign it into a triple stranded bracelet and sell it for $15. Cheap price, huge profit. The ladies at the one I frequented knew me and saved off the good stuff just for me so I’d have first dibs.
Too bad people don’t understand how much beads cost these days. They aren’t cheap at all. Goodwill sells all the really good stuff online now. Plastic junk is all you’ll find when you go into the store. Bead stores are more plentiful, but the prices are much higher. At the price per amount of space in the bag, beads cost way more than I remember pot ever costing.
Back when I first started making jewelry, the two went hand in hand. I’d smoke a bit and bead a bit. Creativity flowed. Now I’m sober, I don’t create with beads near as often. I’m just as likely to write or paint or draw now. But I still like creating jewelry and I still like selling it, but the prices have had to go up because the cost of the beads has gone up.
I can certainly make everything cost $20 or less but it will be watered down. There will be lots of cheap glass filler beads. There will be very little design. Boring. Bland. Blah. People have to understand that they get what they pay for.
Who am I kidding? This is a society that eats food with artificial colors and flavors and chock full of preservatives. They don’t like homemade, organic, good for you. They don’t appreciate individual, artisan work. They don’t get one of a kind. It appears I have two choices – I could lower my standards or just expect people to raise theirs.



Paternosters are one-decade rosaries. They are more easily documented than rosaries, since many rosaries were destroyed during the Reformation. Beaded cords used to recite prayers have been found in many cultures and over many years. In fact, our word “bead comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “biddan” meaning “to pray” and “bede” meaning “prayer.”

It was very dangerous to be a Catholic during the Reformation. To possess a rosary or any other Catholic paraphernalia was to risk imprisonment or death. One way that Catholics chose to practice their faith in secret was to carry Paternosters instead of rosaries. They were easily portable and concealable. It was possible to use the paternoster discretely while going about daily life in public because it could fit in the palm of a hand.

Pre-Christian people valued certain stones for their talismanic or protective qualities. Among these were coral – to strengthen the heart, rock crystal – for purity, amethyst – to protect against drunkenness, and agate – for protection. Other materials that were used included amber, carnelian, and emeralds. When Christianity became popular, beads fell out of favor. God was to protect you – not the beads. But old habits die hard. When people made rosaries, the used the same stones, for the same reasons.

Paternosters are not meant to be worn, but used. Following the standard order for rosaries, the prayers go as follows: at the cross, recite the Nicene Creed. At each of the ten following beads (Aves), recite the “Hail Mary” prayer. At the final bead (the Paternoster), recite the “Our Father” prayer.

References –

The Book of Beads – Janet Coles and Robert Budwig
The History of Beads – Lois Sherr Dubin
Sacred Origins of Profound Things – Charles Panati


We are the remnant.
We are the crumbs.
We are the forgotten.
We are the ones
we’ve been waiting for.

We were lost
And now we are found.


Empty cross necklace made with leftover, irregular beads. Each one was pulled for a project and then not used either because of an imperfection or being superfluous.

I feel this beautifully illustrates the church I’m envisioning, full of all the people who were cast out from their churches for being misfits.

Agate – God in the details

I love Botswana agate. It looks like this.


It looks like a topographic map, but not flat.

Here’s a necklace I made with two different kinds of agate. The small round ones are Botswana agate. The tabular ones are bamboo leaf agate.




It doesn’t really look real. It is hard to believe that God made something so amazing. But then again, God is constantly making amazing things and we are constantly taking them for granted. Just look at a bug – any bug. It is totally mind-blowing to me that something that small is self contained and alive. Surely it needs more space to be a fully functioning being, right? We do. We humans need quite a bit of space for our bodies to have all the stuff they need to work.

But I think that is the point. We often compare things to ourselves, because it is the only reference point we have. We look at something as tiny and intricate as a piece of agate with a bunch of fabulous lines on it, and we think it can’t be natural. Surely a human made that.

We forget that we ourselves are part of creation. We are not the most creative things around. We are co-creators – but God is the One that created us. The only reason we are able to be creative is because God created us with this impulse and ability.

I used to carry around a coin that was dated exactly one hundred years before I was born. I carried it around to remind me that the world existed long before me. There were people who lived and loved and lost long before me, and will do so long after me. I carried it to give me a sense of perspective.

This is part of why I like Botswana agate. It reminds me to stop and look at tiny things, and appreciate that God is indeed in the details.

Thoughts on art – heavy vs. light

Sometimes I think that I just like buying beads.  The potential is always more interesting than the reality.  Seeing all the beads together in the bin- I go a little wild.

When I have to pick what I’m going to work with, I am a little overwhelmed.  There are so many choices, but I can’t use them all.  I like that at least if I change my mind I can take the necklace apart and do something else.  Somehow that makes it easier to get started.

Sometimes I just want minions.  I’ll finally work out the pattern that will use the beads in a way I like, and then it is all about just doing the work.  This is so boring.  This part is not the part that keeps me beading.

          Some of what I make is really boring.  Sadly, this kind of stuff sells well, so I make a fair amount of it.  Sometimes I think I make it so that I can afford to make what I really want to make.

Figuring out the pattern can be the hardest part, yet the most rewarding.  There are a lot of factors to consider.  Necklaces have weight that is both physical and visual.  I don’t want to make something that is very heavy and thus a pain to wear.  Some designers don’t seem to ever wear what they make, so they don’t get that this “art” piece is completely impractical to wear longer than twenty minutes.

Then there is visual weight.  If there are a lot of large beads very close to each other, the necklace will look heavy.  This is ok for certain people, but not others.  In general, older and larger women like “heavy” designs, while younger and thinner women like “lighter” designs.

Here is an example of a “heavy” design –

Here is an example of a “light” design. This is an end-of-week necklace, made with leftover bits of other projects.


Making a heavy piece lighter often just means adding some plain glass beads into the pattern.   This also reduces the cost, which is another factor.  You may make the most beautiful necklace ever, but people will simply not want to pay for it.

These are heavy beads, but I’ve watered it down by adding some plain glass beads.



I was interested in making a big chunky necklace but didn’t have enough of the big beads to make it work. I’m trying to not get obsessive about what I make to the point that I have to go to the bead store to finish out a design.  If I really want to make that specific piece a specific way, I’ll remember it the next time I’m at the store and just make a second version of the necklace.

Would you believe that the cost of just the beads alone in this necklace is $80?



And that is just the ones I used.  I had to buy the whole strand of antique chevron beads.  That was $200.  The strand of pre-Islamic cut lapis lazuli wasn’t cheap either. I did manage to get the centerpiece for free.  There is something to be said for not being pretentious at a bead show.



Sometimes I have just a few beads for a necklace and I want to use them up.  I’ll work out a decent pattern and then be short a few inches.  Then I have a choice.  Take the whole thing apart and figure out another design, or just add some filler beads to the end.  Nobody looks at the back of the necklace anyway, right?  And, after all, it isn’t like I’m going by a pattern that anybody knows.  They won’t know I didn’t mean for it to look like that.



I guess that is part of it.  Nobody knows what I’m aiming for, so when I miss they don’t know.  I think that is true with everything.   Just do it anyway.  Keep on trying.  Keep on making and writing and drawing and beading.   Keep on putting it out there.

Maybe one in twenty is a keeper, is one that I think ended up somewhere near what I was aiming for.  But I think that is the trick. If I don’t keep trying, I won’t keep getting that one at all. The funny part is “the one” is the least likely to sell if it is jewelry. In my writing, “the one” that really matters is only rarely noticed.  I have to remember that even if others don’t get it, I do, and that is good with me.

If you don’t love your art, quit doing it, because it isn’t about the money.  Well, getting money helps.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love it when my jewelry sells.  Now, in part I love it because it means I can buy more beads to make more jewelry.   It is about the chance to create, and thus the chance to get it right.

Creating is like mastering a language.  You’ll get really frustrated trying to express yourself until you figure it out.  Either you need a new set of words or a new phrase or a different way to communicate. Perhaps you need sign language, or poetry, or email.  Perhaps you just need to keep slogging away at it until you figure it out.

Bead Shaman

I love to invite people to my home to help them create their own custom jewelry, or to take orders for it. I am like a shaman, but with beads. I use beads this way for myself, and I know there are others who have this need but don’t know how.

This is about more than just making a necklace or a bracelet. This is about making beaded items that have energy and meaning.

Making jewelry for the beginner isn’t easy. Perhaps you need only three beads, but you have to buy the whole strand. That is way too expensive for individuals. Perhaps you have an idea in mind but you aren’t sure how to do it. Perhaps you don’t know how to use crimp beads or clasps.

This is where you need expert help. There is an art to making things look simple.

Now, this doesn’t mean that making jewelry is simple.

Sometimes I’ll try to get across an idea and I just can’t do it with one design, so I’ll try with another. Sometimes even that doesn’t work. The beads are beautiful, they just aren’t beautiful together. This happens a lot more than I would like. When things happen in my head they work great. In reality the colors don’t work together or the proportions are off or the textures clash. I’m starting to realize that I’m better off if I just don’t think about it too much and just start trying it out in reality.

Sometimes I’ll buy a strand of beads just because I want to work with them. They are beautiful or rare or have a texture I’ve never seen. This happens a lot. When bead shopping, it is best to buy whatever catches your fancy then, because you won’t see it the next time. I’ll make something, and then have beads left over.

But being a bead shaman is more than that. Perhaps it is pretentious to say the word shaman, but I can’t think of anything else that comes close. How else can I describe an ability to create exactly what someone needs and I’ve not even seen them? How else can I describe being able to use beads as medicine?

If someone is grieving, giving them beads that are sharp or angular will only make it worse. Smooth beads, and ones that are oval or round, will be more soothing. Giving them beads that are neon colored will only make them hurt. Colors need to be muted.

This is part of what I mean. It is about knowing the effect that color and shape has on a person.

Knowing the history of beads is important too – where did they come from? Who made them? Are they used for any ritual purposes? What is the material? All of this knowledge comes from years of study. Beads aren’t just beads. They have layers of meaning.

Sure, there are books that talk about the powers of gemstones, and I know some of that. But I’m more interested in the other layers of meaning. For example, knowing that the majority of beads in one necklace were made by refugees gives the necklace a certain kind of beauty that isn’t apparent to the eye.

I love making power necklaces, and that other people can sense it. I love that I made a necklace in honor of the Holy Spirit and a lady wore it to a meeting in defense of her disabled child and prevailed.

I have studied beads over half my life, and there is always something new to learn and share about them.

The best thing anybody can do is give me a rough outline of what they want – a color, or a particular stone that they like – and then let me do the rest. A lot of this is by feel, and for that to work the person has to trust me. I’ll make exactly what they need, even though they may not realize it at the time. And when I make it, I pray for them. That energy goes into it too.

Beads are prayers made visible, and are stories in miniature.