Making Do with the British Royals

Little did I know, I share similar obsessions with Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth as outlined in the article, “The Life-Changing Magic of Making-Do” by Benjamin Leszuz.

My obsession with using every inch of every sweater, coat, or shirt that I have snagged from the Arc Thrift Store in Fort Collins is shared by Prince Charles. Leszuz writes, 

“The journalist Marion Hume discovered a cardboard box containing more than 30 years of off-cuts and leftover materials from the Prince’s suits, tucked away in a corner at his Savile Row tailor, Anderson & Sheppard. ‘I have always believed in trying to keep as many of my clothes and shoes going for as long as possible … through patches and repairs,’ says Prince Charles. ‘In this way, I tend to be in fashion once every 25 years.”

The article further praises Prince Charles for his penchant to mend his clothes rather than discard them. “Most modern consumers are not nearly so resourceful: The average person buys 70 new pieces of clothing each year, about 60 of which ultimately wind up in a landfill. (Thrift stores only sell one in four pieces of donated clothing.) According to a British study, the average article of women’s clothing is worn seven times before it’s discarded.”

I have an uncountable amount of scraps of material stored in my house patiently waiting to find their places in my recycled art. I never throw any item that may find its way on my hats or as embellishment on my line of upcycled clothing or my line of bottle cap bead jewelry. Nothing goes to waste just like Prince Charles, who insists on mending his clothing. The article reports on another recycling practice that I share with the British royals. 

“The Prince comes from a tradition of admirable frugality – the Queen reuses gift-wrap – but his inclination to repair rather than replace, to wear his clothes until they wear out, is an apt antidote to our increasingly disposable times.” 

Just like the Queen of England, I gift wrap my presents in old road atlases and reuse gift wrap. Just like Prince Charles, I save scraps.

Fashion Choices Heat Up The Planet

What you wear and what you buy and how you buy your clothes impacts the planet. It’s shocking to learn the apparel and footwear industries are responsible for 8 percent of the global climate impact.  Total greenhouse gas emissions related to textile production are equal to 1.2 billion tons annually or more than all international flights and maritime shipping trips combined each year. Fast fashion is leading the charge on this impact and that means your clothing choices can have a negative or positive impact on global warming.

Upcycling and repurposing used clothing is one creative way to reduce your carbon footprint and something I have been doing for 10 years. Out of wool sweaters, ties, shirts, socks, wool blankets, coats, jackets, buttons, bottle caps, zippers, resistors, floppy disc centers, old aluminum coins, fabric scraps, aluminum cans and other curiosities, I have designed a line of upcycled clothing and created a line of bottle cap bead jewelry. Most of the materials I use in my art practice are recycled and repurposed. 

For my line of clothing, I cannibalize wool sweaters to make my hats. Every part of the sweater is used for making hats and the leftover pieces are fashioned into flowers, polka dots and birds for decoration. The ribbing of the sweaters become tree trunks and leaves. I even save the labels of all the sweaters I cut up and use them for embellishment. In the end, the entire sweater has been used for in some way in my fashion line. 

My line of shirts and coats are repurposed and embellished with embroidery, buttons, rosettes made out of men’s ties or socks, lace dollies or whatever suits my fancy. I am always on the lookout for new ways to use cast off items in my line of clothing and jewelry.  Each item in my line of clothing and jewelry is a unique, one-of-a-kind creation and eco-friendly.

Beauty and Kazuri Beads

Before you go inside the factory, you can hear the faint roar of women talking and laughing. Seated at long tables were about 200 women doing a variety of tasks to make the finished beads. The workers are able to multi-task, they are able to hand craft beautiful jewelry from start to finish and gossip simultaneously. 

Some women rolled out the clay into beads and put them on small wooden skewers. Some had unpainted pottery beads in front of them, plastic tubs of glaze and paintbrushes and painted various patterns on the beads, others were loading the kilns or stringing the beads into necklaces, bracelets and earrings.  Some women tended the kilns. 

All beads are shaped by hand and the women used forms to make sure the beads were completely uniform. The woman working rarely used the forms because they were so adept at forming beads. The beads came out uniform every time without the form. Holes were made in the beads with a wooden skewer not unlike what we use for shish kabob. Kazuri beads come in small beads, large beads, ovals, triangles, squares—anything you can imagine.

Once the beads are made they must dry to leather hard before glazing. Rows and rows of unglazed beads were roasting in the sun on the patio outside the factory. One woman would step outside to check on the progress of the beads every once in awhile. 

I was dumbstruck by their storeroom, which had shelves and shelves and shelves filled with large glass containers filled with handmade ceramic beads in a rainbow of colors and assorted shapes and sizes. I was immediately inspired to use these beads in my work. 

Kazuri has branched out and is making pottery dinnerware, mugs, water pitchers, ornaments and figurines. One of their patterns is a giraffe print. Others patternspay homage to life in Kenya. 

I love how this company purposely employs women who need work to support their families. “I enjoy my job.” one worker explains, “I have learned how to do new things and is very satisfying doing something so creative.”

While it is fascinating to visit the factory, it is overwhelming to visit their store.  Entering the store is like experiencing the grand finale of a fireworks display. I was overwhelmed by the explosion of colors and the variety of jewelry. Every piece of jewelry was so beautiful, it was hard to make my choices. I had no idea how to narrow down my choices, but honestly, that was part of the fun visiting the Kazuri Bead factory store in Narobi.

Kazuri Beads: The Power of Small and Beautiful in Kenya

Kazuri Beads, which means, “small and beautiful” in Swahili, began as a tiny workshop experimenting with handmade clay beads. Each handmade colorful bead reflects the culture and wildlife of Kenya.

For forty years, Kazuri has provided employment for many single women. Today, over 300 women handcraft these colorful, beautiful clay beads in Kazuri’s Nairobi factory. 

The enterprise improves the lives of single women.  Many of the women employed by Kazuri were nearly destitute, abandoned by their men or widowed by the AIDS epidemic that is still ravaging Kenya. Employment and empowerment of women are guiding principles of this craft enterprise.

Kenya embraces women’s empowerment and there are many women run enterprises that provide employment and training with the intent of improving the lives of all Kenya people.

I have always loved and coveted Kazuri beads long before I knew they were made in Kenya. But once I found out where they were made in Kenya, I always visit their factory and their showroom whenever I go to Kenya. 

I love learning about how craftspeople make their work. The tour starts with a discussion about the clay they use, and how it goes through a giant pug mill. From there, they take the clay into a room where the beads are formed and shaped. All beads are handmade from start to finish. To take a tour of the factory is totally overwhelming.

Beading with the Maasai Women at Twala Cultural Center in Il Polei, Kenya, Pt.2

With legs stretched out loose beads in the depression of their dresses, the Maasai women were stringing beads with monofilament—no bead needles! Some of the women had small saucers for their beads, and one clever woman used an upturned Frisbee. The idea prompted me to bring as many Frisbees as I could each time I returned to Twala. A bonus: their kids could play with them as well.

Most of the women at Twala do not speak English so teaching us how to bead consists of demonstration, then they hand the beads to you and you have to figure out the instructions. All the while, they are tapping you on your arm, demonstrating the pattern again, and then handing it to you, so you can replicate it. There is a lot of nudging, gesticulating and laughter. Its like a pantomime and lots of instruction gets lost in translation.

Every group I take to Kenya is exposed to this system of beading. Its hilarious to see how some interact with the whole process. 

In January 2019, my friend Janis was beading with one woman, and all seemed to be going well until there was an issue with quality control.  It seems my friend was just happily stringing beads with no pattern in mind. 

Her teacher definitely had a pattern in mind. I watched as the Maasai woman snatched Janis’ work from her hands and handed it back to her to start over. And this process is pretty much what happened to me. In the end, all was well, as how often does one have a chance to bead with the Maasai under a tree in Kenya?

I always bring back lots of Maasai beadwork to sell at Screen Door Studios. The studio is filled with beaded mirrors, belts, animals, watchbands and warrior beads and other items from Kenya. I am located at 310 S. Sherwood, Old Town Fort Collins, 1 block north of the Lincoln Center. Open Saturdays 10am-4pm.

Beading with the Maasai Women at Twala Cultural Center in Il Polei, Kenya

In Kenya, I always visit the Twala Cultural Resource Center located in Laikipia outside of Il Polei. The Maasai Ranch Groups has set aside 40 acres of land for the woman to share their culture and give visitors an intimate look at the Maasai way of life.  The center includes accommodations either traditional Maasia boma or manyatas or more modern cottages, cook house and meeting house, an aloe farm and beehives.  Everyone who has traveled with me to Kenya reports this experience was their favorite.

At the cultural center, visitors can participate in many activities including dancing with the Maasai warriors by a fire under the Milky Way, walking with a troop of baboons, and beading with the woman of the tribe. 

Unlike Americans and our rigid schedules, the Maasai woman appear like magic under a tree on their own time in their traditional bright colored clothing resplendent in their beadwork singing a welcome song and getting us to dance with them. They wear their bright beaded collars, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and tiaras.

What happened next reminded me of the Kenyan version of a quilting bee. We all sat under the tree trying to learn how to bead. We gossiped and laughed and smiled.  Even though we did not speak each other’s language, we created a community. 

I decided to give beading a go because I am a jewelry maker, but I only lasted a few minutes. The whole process was tedious for me and I have never been good at following instructions.  A common theme in most things I do… to be continued

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