Saturday, 12 July 2014

Vintage beads - cleaning up!

One of the really fantastic/dangerous things about working with beads is that there are just so many of them - so many shapes, materials, sizes to choose from. Not only that, but there are beads made yesterday all the way back to pretty much the beginning of human civilisation! There is a ridiculous and sometimes overwhelming amount of choice. 

I usually work with contemporary beads, be they glass, gemstones, pearls or handmade, but recently, I have had a bit of a 'thing' for vintage beads. I have turned into one of those ebay stalkers, trawling through auctions, scrolling through pages and pages of vintage glass on does make for rather a pleasant afternoon, if an expensive one too! 

Last week, an order of vintage glass beads arrived with me from America. The beads are from Japan, the Czech republic and Germany, and range from the early 1900s to about the 1960s. Gosh, I am thrilled with them! It was all I could do not to place another order with the supplier the very same day, but with an impending move and all funds going towards that, I held back - for now...Although they were all unused, due to the age of them, some of them were just a little dusty - nothing terrible, they just needed a wee bit of a clean. I thought I'd take you through that process here, and give you a peek into how to care for these precious beads.

Here are some of the beautiful beads that arrived with me. Glass nailhead (traditionally for embroidery) beads, from the Czech republic, still on their original strands. These date back to the 1920s. 

You can see the rather deep detailing the moulds have given these lovely beads, not surprising that they had picked up a little dust over the last almost 100 years. They are a really delicious shade of red - a deep crimson, with just the slightest hint of pink to them.

Although the beads are red glass throughout (rather than coated), I wanted to do a test wash of just a few first of all, to make sure they wouldn't react badly with the mild soapy water that I had made up for them. I would always recommend doing this first - nothing worse than giving them all a dunk and discovering that your precious vintage beads don't like what you're dunking them in! I used a wee scoosh of mild hand soap in a shallow tin for these.

As the main reason my beads were a little grubby (other than being almost 100 years old!) is their deep moulded impressions, I needed something that could get into all the crevices. A soft, clean toothbrush is the perfect tool for helping out with this. I just used the top white section of the brush head here, and it worked a treat.

I scrubbed each bead gently after their initial water dunk, and then put them back into the mild soapy water. As the beads weren't very dirty to start off with, I just used the same water to put them back in after their quick and gentle scrub, but if your beads were more dirty, you might want to have another tin of soapy water to put the beads into afterwards, and another tub of water for rinsing your toothbrush. You could then repeat the process if necessary.

Once they were all nice and clean, I transferred them into another wee bowl filled with clean water, to rinse off any residual soap. 

...and then onto some kitchen towel in the sunshine to dry off.

Here are the beads - clean and dry, and ready to be worked with! Don't they look lovely? Come back tomorrow to see what some of these have turned into...

Rebecca is a Scottish jewellery designer, currently living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. You can read more about her and her work at her blog, and see more of her jewellery at She also has a supplies shop at


Claire Lockwood said...

These are beautiful - and very you! I have some that look like they may be the same but they're yellow. Thankfully they didn't need cleaning. Looking forward to seeing what you do with these!

Ann Schroeder said...

These are beautiful. I have a weakness for vintage beads. These look just your style. Can't wait to see what you make.

Maneki said...

Beautiful! In fact, I have some beads like that on my wishlist, but had to use the money for a vet bill instead. So I'm going to be a little envious of you now. ;)

As you say, there's just so many beads out there and it's hard to say if it's mostly fantastic or mostly dangerous as you get addicted so fast, you just have to have more and then just one more... Promise, just one... :D


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