How You Can Tell If It’s Real Amber

March 14th, 2013

Baltic amber beadsAmber –  fabulous or faux?

I have always been a fan of amber, since I was a little girl. Its golden color, the way it captures the light, the feel of it. Some moms even swear it soothes their babies’ teething troubles when worn.

Over the years I have accumulated a bunch of different kinds and types of amber. While staring at a piece that was gifted to me with a spider in it, I had to question, just how authentic, really, is that bug trapped in there forever? How would I be able to tell? With a lot of research and testing, I would like to share with you the knowledge I now possess that can help you identify if your amber is the real deal or not.

Amber is not actually a tree sap; it is from the resin of a tree. Tree resin is beneath the bark, used by the tree for protection from insects, animals, or breakage. Resin smells sweet and pine-like and is like syrup in consistency. That smell is actually a chemical called terpenes. Over millions of years, the terpenes chemical breaks down and is completely released from the resin, resulting in amber.  Copal – immature amber – is resin that has not fully released the terpenes chemical.

The word amber is casually tossed around, and stores or dealers could sell you fake specimens, perhaps not even knowing it. A lot of amber is becoming rare, which makes it more expensive. Please be careful and considerate when purchasing! A reputable dealer should be able to tell you why their amber is authentic.

The Taste Test

You can tell if your amber is plastic or resin instead of the real deal just by tasting it. Clean your piece with a mild soap and water and rinse off. Authentic amber will not really have a taste; it should be subtle, and maybe have a little tingly-from-the-touch sensation. Imitation amber will taste nasty or bitter.

The Chemical Test

Real amber will not break down in solvent, unlike resin or copal. If you drip acetone nail polish onto your sample piece and it turns the liquid the color of the amber or it gets gooey at all, it’s fake. Authentic amber will not be harmed whatsoever.

The Burn Test

If you heat up the tip of a safety pin or needle and placed it on your amber or copal, it will smell sweet. Resin will have a nasty chemical smell.

The Saltwater Test

Real amber floats in saltwater. Mix one part salt to two parts water and add your specimen. Fake amber will sink.

The Bubble Test

I have never seen any authentic amber contain bubbles. Over the millions of years that amber has to transform from resin to amber, air and water had the time to exit the resin, only leaving behind solid matter. Hold up the specimen and carefully examine it. If you see any bubbles, you better be cautious.

The Bug Test

Many people have been inserting bugs or fossils into resin or copal and calling it amber. Be cautious! It is quite rare to find bugs in amber, and if you do, make sure they are not any current species that would have not existed in the same form millions of years ago. Look for bubbles near the bugs. If you see bubbles, it’s a fake.

by Megan

Beading with Stella Lighting

February 5th, 2013

Stella Lighting Lamp photo.I usually use a simple halogen light for beading but had the pleasure of trying out Stella Lighting over the weekend.

I give Stella a thumbs-up and here’s why:

I could see the actual color of my beads, metals and strings. I usually walk outside to see how the true color of my materials look in daylight, but this lamp has a natural daylight setting. This is especially convenient if you’re beading after the sun’s gone down.

I left the lamp on for several hours – it never got hot. My usual halogen lamp starts to feel warm after about half an hour.

Stella Lighting has 3 Spectrum SettingsI switched back and forth between the natural daylight, warm and cool settings just for fun. Not only do these options make my eyes feel fresher, it’s amazing how different the same beads look under the three different spectrums. I took pictures of my Swarovski crystal sample board illustrating the different effects of the three spectrums. This lamp has dimmer settings, too.

This lamp is portable, adjustable and stable. Since I’m usually sitting on the floor at my coffee table with the television on, it’s nice to bend the lamp to shine on my work and away from everyone’s eyes.

Serious crafters know that having the best tools makes creative time so much better. Proper lighting ranks high in importance for me. I found that my eyes didn’t feel strained or tired working under Stella Lighting. I like seeing true colors and having so many options at the touch of a button.

I’m a fan and looking forward to getting my very own Stella lamp. I’m worth it.

You can now order Stella Lighting LED Craft Lamps from the Harlequin Beads & Jewelry website in our tools section.

To read more about Stella lamps, visit the Stella Lighting website.

by Margit

Beading Helped Me Survive Chemo

September 25th, 2012

We’ve all heard the horror stories about cancer.

I also have a story to tell, but my story has a little twist to it. Not only do I have the good fortune to be able to brag about being a two-time cancer survivor, but I also get to tell you about a remarkable gift that was given to me by cancer. Sure, I have the life-altering new outlook on life that many cancer survivors have, but I also have the gift of beads and how they have changed my life.

When I was first diagnosed in 2009, I was briefed by my doctor about the different treatments I was to go through – surgery, chemo and radiation. He explained all of them to me in depth, but what kept resounding in my head as I drove home were his words about chemo. I’d have to sit in a recliner for up to five hours while I got my chemo drip every three weeks.

Five hours! I dread boredom. What was I to do for five hours? So, I went to the bookstore to see if I could find an engrossing novel that was a minimum of 3,000 pages. What I found instead was The Art of Bead Embroidery by Sherry Serafini and Heidi Kummli.

Art Deco Seed Bead Embroidery Piece by CenyaI’ve always been artsy-craftsy, and I have embroidered my fair share. I’ve loved seed beads ever since my mother bought me my first tube when I was six or seven years old (the tubes were glass then). As I leafed through the book, I found lots of beautiful beadwork and simple-to-follow directions to create each project. I bought the book, stopped by Harlequin Beads to pick out some seed beads and supplies and put everything in a bag to take to my first chemo session.

I found that I LOVED beading. During those first eight chemo sessions, I made over 125 beaded brooches and gave them all away to friends and supporters who had helped me through my treatment. Afterwards, I kept beading. I joined the Beading Circle at Harlequin and, since I was starting to feel like I had gotten quite good at it, I started selling a few of my pieces on Etsy and to friends. In the spring of 2011, I was invited to share a booth at our local Saturday Market in Eugene – a thriving microcosm of wonderful artisans.

I was selling each week and enjoying it immensely when I was hit by a return of the cancer. So, I went through more surgery and more chemo – and my beads went with me.

Featured Artist Cenya at ArtWalk 2012I just had my 6-month scan and I am cancer-free. I bead almost every day, and this year I’ve been at my Saturday Market booth every weekend. I was the guest artist at Harlequin Beads during one of Lane Arts Council’s First Friday ArtWalks. I love my connection with other local artists and the time I spend in my bead room stitching away at some little beaded something.

I feel very calm while I bead and believe that my healing was helped by it. I doubt that I would have gotten into beading if I hadn’t had cancer, because my job ate up all of my time. I would never wish cancer upon anyone, but if they were to get it, I hope that they could find a gift in it as I have.

by Cenya

Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Feature at Harlequin

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Harlequin is featuring a Think Pink Bead Special to inspire you to show your support. Create some meaningful pink beaded jewelry to wear and give as gifts to those who share your hope for a cure.

Mala Beads for Design and Prayer

September 13th, 2012

rudraksha seed and wood mala beadsMalas can have 54 or 27 beads, but they typically have 108 beads and are traditionally used in Buddhism for praying and counting recitations. The mala is comparable to a Catholic rosary, which has 59 beads.

Stacy tells me that Buddhists actually keep track of their recitations throughout their practice, and some malas have counters on them. Your guru may tell you to do a recitation one million times, and the extra 8 beads are for good measure in case you missed a few.

We’ve just added these Rudraksha seed and wood mala beads to Harlequin’s wood bead section. You can also wear mala beads as a necklace, or take apart the strand and combine the beads with other complementary beads in your jewelry designs. The sandalwood varieties even have a wonderful scent.

I love using wood beads in my designs, because they date so far back in history. When I wear earthy wood, seed and stone beads – I feel like I’m following the well-worn paths of ancient footsteps. Beverly shares my appreciation of wood beads and has contributed a couple of wonderful articles to our bead library about the history of wood beads and how to make wood beads yourself.

I associate the intrinsic beauty of natural wood and seed beads with fall. Imagine earthy natural stones combined with wood – especially brown, green and rust colored jasper and agate beads. Wood and stone beads work well with silver, gold, copper, bronze, brass and gunmetal – so you can really achieve a variety of jewelry styles. And all of these organic colors work beautifully with the rich, warm earth tones of your autumn wardrobe.

This summer I made a couple of sweet pieces with dark wood, turquoise and mirage mood beads, antique copper chain and findings. Another of my favorite combinations is almost-black, dark brown wood with sterling silver beads and findings.

I hope you’ll explore some new looks with wood and feel a connection with your earliest ancestors.

by Margit

Muggy Monday

August 28th, 2012

Completed Misty Monday Kitty seed bead bagThe temperature has dropped, but the humidity is way up. It was like this last night, too. I decided to stay in next to the air conditioner. The heat and humidity just drains all my energy. All I want to do is to sit in the cool and bead.

Wow, the strap is done! When did that happen? Maybe during NCIS? Guess I was on auto-pilot last night and finished the strap while I was watching TV.

Here is Mysti Kitty, done and ready to wear.

by Beverly

(Beverly has been working on this seed bead purse during the occasional misty days of summer.)

Super Old Beads Discovered in South Africa

August 23rd, 2012

More old beads have been found at Border Cave in South Africa.

While these beads are not as old as the ones found in Blombos Cave, they have been dated to 44,000 years ago. The really cool part is that they have been associated with a group of people still living in the area – the San People of the Kalahari.

The San People used to be known as Bushmen of the Kalahari, and it is believed that the San culture can be dated anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. The San may be the heirs of the original hunter-gatherer cultures of Africa.

Just think, the ancestors of the San were making ostrich egg and marine shell beads just as more recent San people did before the Europeans arrived with trade beads.

This new evidence may push the date of documented human culture back even further. Cool stuff!

San People Beads

Click on image to read LA Times Article by Thomas H. Maugh II

Source:  Research published in the online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 30, 2012. Social Sciences – Anthropology: Francesco d’Errico, Lucinda Backwell, Paola Villa, Ilaria Degano, Jeannette J. Lucejko, Marion K. Bamford, Thomas F. G. Higham, Maria Perla Colombini, and Peter B. Beaumont

by Beverly

Bracelet Beading – Harlequin at Lane County Fair

August 17th, 2012

On Wednesday, August 15th, Angela and I hosted Harlequin’s annual FREE Bracelet-making Event in the comfortably air-conditioned exhibit hall at the Lane County Fair. This fun forum has become a yearly tradition for me – two hours of helping people make memories in the form of a bracelet.

Free Bracelet Making at the Lane County FairThis year there were several really young beaders, and I was so impressed by them! Apparently, four and five year-olds can do my job. We used size 6 pony beads and some of our pressed glass beads. Angela and I started the bracelets by cutting a foot of Soft Flex cable and attaching a clasp by using a crimp bead. We had 12 seats and 12 trays of beads to choose from, and the chairs were full for the entire 2-hour session. I only dropped and spilled one person’s bracelet – a little embarrassing, but it happens. Angela didn’t drop any.

It was really fun to observe each person’s beading style, from the pattern-oriented to random freestyle. I think my favorites were the mixed bead bracelets, because the combinations of colors achieved without over thinking were the most exciting to me.

When our brave beaders had strung enough beads to fit their wrists, we finished the final crimp for each person, so everyone left with a finished handmade bracelet.

It was nice to see whole families beading together. It really is an ideal craft to do with children, and with mixed ages. Beading is for everybody!

by Nome

The Casino Bag

August 7th, 2012

Casino Bag Seed BeadworkI love casinos. Well, I love casinos that have buffets. Hmm, almost. I love big fancy buffets in casinos. That’s more like it. It’s the food that gets me into a casino, and the games are a definite second.

My sweetie and I used to take long drives all over Oregon. We would spend hours just watching the scenery go by and finding new restaurants. That was when we found out about casino buffets. They were big, fancy and had really good food – cheap.

John didn’t gamble, but I like penny slots. He would watch me play, shake his head in complete bewilderment and smile. He never did understand that it wasn’t the thought of winning big that made me happy. It was the flashing lights and spinning wheels that I found fascinating.

Well, one time we were at a casino (I think it was Spirit Mountain) and looking forward to an early dinner about four o’clock in the afternoon. I had a new amulet bag that looked just like a slot machine. The pattern came from Suzanne Cooper’s book Dimensions. It was gorgeous, and it felt good just playing with that ample jingly fringe I’d put on it.

There was a couple behind us in line for the buffet, and the lady asked about my bag. Well, if you know me, you know I can’t keep quiet about bead work. We started talking about beads, pouches – all sorts of things – and all the while she was fondling my casino bag as it hung around my neck on its long strap.

John and I went to our table, the couple behind us went to theirs. John and I talked a lot during dinner and it took awhile before we finished. The desserts were super good, and the coffee was very fresh. Well, the couple I had been talking to quickly finished dinner and went back to gaming.

Just as we left the restaurant area, the lady I had been talking to rushed up to me and said, “That bag is so lucky, I have to have it! How much do you want for it?” She was very excited, and I was quite startled and started to back up. She stepped right up again and, before I knew what was happening, she had a hold of the bag. At this point I was more than a little flustered, and if John hadn’t been standing right behind me, I would have bolted for the door. Being the calmer and more sensible one, John held me by the shoulders and whispered in my ear, “If you don’t want to sell it, set a really high price.” While this was happening, the lady was chattering about how much she loved the bag and how perfect it was. It was beautiful and on and on and on.

Okay, I can adjust on the fly. I took a deep breath and said, “I can’t part with it for less than eight hundred dollars.” I really thought she would be sad and go away.

Boy was I surprised when she asked, “Are hundreds okay?” I think I froze. I certainly didn’t know what to say. John came to my rescue again. He whispered, “You know, you can make another one.”

Suddenly, it hit me. Bead money! Yes, I can sell my work – if it means I can buy more beads!

I soon made another casino bag, and it was just as much fun to make as the first one. I’m not so flustered about selling my work now. It’s still a thrill when someone likes my work well enough to pay for it, but I still mostly bead for the love of beading. When I wear my beaded bags and pouches, they still make great conversation pieces. And who doesn’t love a great conversation?

by Beverly

Misty Monday

July 30th, 2012

misty monday kitty seed bead bagIt is a cool misty morning. As I look out my window I see that the trees in the distance have faded to a light pastel blue-green. The sidewalk is a little damp, and the merest whisper of a mist is falling ever so gently. Maybe I can finish the strap in the next few days and start working on the fringe. Here is what I have done so far.

I love the kitty cat theme for my seed bead work – especially when I’m in a quiet morning beading mood. You can see a couple of other variations on this theme in my Rainy Monday post.

Oop! Here comes the sun, so I’ll pick this up when it’s misty again.

(Photo updated as of August 22)

by Beverly

Summer Care for Silk Thread & Beads

July 18th, 2012

summer jewelry no-nosIt’s summer and the sunshine means lots of sunscreen – not a good mix with silk thread. Silk thread doesn’t mix well with perfume, makeup, hairspray, hair gels and treatments. Even water is hard on silk thread, so be sure to remove your jewelry when you shower or swim. Remove it when you’re having your hair done. A good rule of thumb I heard is, “Put your jewelry on last and take it off first.”

I know we ladies don’t sweat – we “glow.” Well, that glow is acidic, so keep an eye on your jewelry and clean it regularly. Wipe real pearls with a damp cloth, and glass pearls with a dry cloth. Don’t use any harsh soaps or cleaners on any type of pearl, because you might ruin the nacre or equivalent faux finish. If you aren’t sure if your pearls are real, only clean with a dry soft cloth to be safe.

Swarovski crystal beads and pendants are durable. If they are strung on wire instead of silk, it’s okay to wash them with water and a soft cloth or a soft toothbrush. If they are on thread, string or soft cable – just use a soft dry cloth and no water.

Another popular summer bead is the color-changing mirage bead – also known as the mood bead. According to the manufacturers, mirage beads shouldn’t be immersed in water. So wear and clean mood beads with the same care as you would your glass pearl or silk strung necklaces.

by Beverly