Recycled glass beads have long been a part of Ghanaian culture. They are believed by many to carry healing powers and assist with the passage to the afterlife. Beads in West Africa were originally worn by people of higher social status, such as kings and queens, as a sign of one's stature. However, in modern Ghana, recycled glass beads are enjoyed by all and incorporated into daily fashion.
The production of recycled glass beads is a work-intensive process conducted by skilled Ashanti and Krobo artisans including both men and women. In this article, we will outline the steps taken to produce handmade recycled glass beads from Ghana.
Preparing the Materials
The first step to making recycled glass African beads is preparing the materials. This is what makes these beads so unique!
Gathering the Glass
The process of making recycled glass beads begins with collecting the materials. The beads are made with a wide array of recycled glass materials ranging from glass bottles (such as cola bottles, beer bottles, wine bottles, etc) to old windows, to other scrap glass collected from nearby sources. Some individuals may specialize in collecting the materials and delivering them to the workshop, who in turn pays a fee based on weight.
Cleaning the Glass
The next step is to clean the recycled glass. This includes removing any labels, washing the glass to remove any residue or impurities, and drying the glass.
Crushing the Glass
After the glass is cleaned, it is broken into small pieces using a heavy metal tool. The glass is crushed into tiny pieces not more than 5 millimeters in size, however it is not ground to a powder (unless it is for recycled powder glass beads).
Making the Bead
The next step in making Ghanaian recycled glass beads involves the actual production.
Putting Glass into the Mould
After the glass is crushed, it is placed into a clay mould. The moulds are handmade by artisans and are built to withstand the high heat of the wood-fired kiln. Each mold will have "pockets" for anywhere from two to ten beads. Crushed glass is put into each pocket.
Placing the Mould in the Kiln
After that, the mould is placed into a kiln using a long metal spatula. Kilns are made using locally sourced red clay and are heated for nearly an hour before any moulds are placed inside. The beads are cooked for 20 to 35 minutes at heat in the range of 600-700 degrees celsius (or 1200 degrees Fahrenheit).
Making the Bead Hole
Once the glass begins to fuse, the mould is temporarily removed from kiln so that the artisan may use a pointed metal tool to create a hole, which will later be used to pass string through. After that the mould is placed back in the oven for a short period of time.
Finishing the Bead
Before the beads are ready to wear, there are some final steps to get them looking good!
After the beads finish cooking, they are taken out of the kiln and left to cool for several minutes. This allows the temperature to reach a point that they may be once again handled by hand.
The beads are then polished by hand using sand, water, and a special stone. Different workshops may polish recycled glass beads in slightly different ways, and for different durations, resulting in quite a bit of variation in the "finish" of recycled glass beads between workshops.
Finally, after the beads are polished, they are washed, removing any sand and residue from the production process. It is only at this point that the true color of the beads begins to show.
After the beads are washed, they are left to dry, at which point they are strung on cotton string or West African raffia and sold in the local market or to partnering organizations such as The Bead Chest.
Buying Recycled Glass Beads
The Bead Chest carries over 500 different styles of recycled glass beads sourced from Ghana. We are proud to partner with multiple workshops and support the work of over 100 artisans throughout West Africa through our distribution network.