by Tammy Honaman, Author, Jewelry-Making Expert and Educator,
Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

''Walking onto the bead show floor, I could've been anywhere in the United States--the sights, the sounds--they were all very familiar. I wasn't in the U.S. though--I was in South Africa!''

Beadex 2008, South Africa was a show just like any show in the U.S., which helped ground me upon my May 13th arrival in Johannesburg, a bustling city not unlike New York City or Los Angeles. The show was held in a luxurious convention center in Sandton City, a section of Johannesburg much like Wall Street in New York City. And for a girl who grew up in New Jersey, these similarities helped me get over the fact that I was far from home.

The one thing Beadex had which was very different from any shows I've attended in the U.S. was the Clover Mama Afrika program. The Clover Mama Afrika is a program designed to help educate rural villagers with life skills that utilize their hands and creativity. For each village that participates, a woman is chosen based on her connection to the villagers, her loyalties to tradition and her passion and strength that symbolizes South Africa. Once chosen, she is called ''Mama.''

The Clover Mamas are trained in workshops taught by professionals. Each Clover Mama brings what she's learned back to the village, sharing her experiences and lessons with the people. As they develop and hone their skills, a line of products is developed for sale in local markets. The skills taught range from baking, to sewing, to marketing and business. The list now also includes beading, thanks to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads who sponsored a day-long beading workshop for the Clover Mamas.

''I was thrilled to be chosen as the Clover Mama Afrika teacher for beading and couldn't wait to meet all of the wonderful ladies on our bead-filled day. The Clover Mamas arrived at Beadex early and very excited--they had been taking classes all week, throughout South Africa, yet the beading, and the beads, seemed to be bringing out a level of energy that was electric (and surprising given their week-long schedule). My weighty agenda was to share three beading techniques, so we approached each one with fervor.''

First up was a single-strand necklace (shown above) which taught the basics of design, working with Accu-Flex® beading wire, crimp beads and crimping pliers. Each Clover Mama finished her necklace and some moved on to a bracelet, using up the extra beads they had.

The second class included a few basic bead embroidery stitches (shown below). The director of the Clover Mama Afrika program, Dr. Elain Vlok, requested this specifically so the Clover Mamas could combine beading with their already strong sewing skills. I hadn't worked with the South African fabric Shwe-shwe before and found it to be very heavy cotton with a great feel (after it was laundered and the waxy coating removed). The prints were fun to work with and, although challenging when incorporating beads, were inspirational at the same time. In this class, we also worked on Lacy's Stiff Stuff so the Clover Mamas could get a feel for the beadwork before applying the final version to the fabric. And, because the Lacy's is white, it offered a more simple background.

The third class was a peyote-stitched bracelet with a delicate edging detail. The bracelet, shown below, was made using Matsuno size 8/0 seed beads. This size bead was chosen over a smaller bead as time was of the essence. The same instructions that the Clover Mamas used in their class can be altered by changing the beads to Matsuno size 11/0 or Delica® seed beads--the choice is yours!

Discover the Clover Mama Afrika Program at the Beadex International Bead and Jewelry Show

Each Clover Mama was provided with the tools and materials to practice and explore additional designs on her own once she got back home. She also left with a second kit of beads and supplies so she could teach all that she learned to someone in her village. Fire Mountain Gems and Beads also sponsored a prize which was awarded through a random drawing and included tools, beading supplies for seed bead work as well as bead stringing, spools of beading wire and storage containers, all piled into a tote.

I was honored to have spent the time with the Clover Mamas, sharing my passion for beading. I'm grateful to Fire Mountain Gems and Beads for providing me with the experience, giving me hope that I helped make the lives of the Clover Mamas a little brighter through beads and jewelry-making. Spending time with the Clover Mama Afrika program also opened my eyes to the possibilities. The program model is a great way for professionals to share their gifts with the community, a model that would work well in other parts of the world, including right here in the U.S. This experience has definitely allowed me to take to heart Fire Mountain's motto, ''Uniting the world one bead at a time.'' I now know it's possible!

This year's Beadex drew in 60 vendors, sponsored 25 classes and hosted over 4,000 attendees. Just like shows in the U.S., the vendors sold everything from seed beads, to findings, to lampwork beadmaking supplies. The classes covered a range of techniques including seed bead stitching, bead-making, jewelry-making, and a bit of healing--using beads to reach deep inner feelings. There was also a beading contest which was judged during the show. The winners were announced during an evening reception.

For more information on the Clover Mama Afrika Program, view their website here.

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