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Ethiopian crosses

My sister-in-law travels occasionally to East Africa, and on one of her trips she very kindly picked up a number of beads for me in the marketplace. When I saw the beautiful beads she had chosen, I immediately thought of using them with one of the Ethiopian crosses that I had bought a few years ago. These crosses are fascinating, and it’s quite easy to find inexpensive small ones online and in catalogs.

According to Angela Fisher, author of Africa Adorned, these crosses have been worn for over 1600 years. There are also Stars of David made in the same style that are worn by the small community of Jewish Ethiopians. Today they are either made through the lost wax casting process or are cut directly from a Maria Theresa dollar. The oldest, largest, and most intricate pieces can obviously be very expensive, but even the inexpensive small ones have nice patterns. Some are hinged; all have built-in bails.

The beads that my sister-in-law brought back were mostly glass Venetian trade beads and large smooth “Somali Amber” beads. “Somali Amber” is not amber at all, merely resin, but they are still very attractive beads as long as you don’t pay too much for them! The most common glass trade beads in East Africa are the European-made Venetian and Czech beads, and not as many of the ground-glass cast beads that are found in West Africa and are made indigenously.

The necklace that I have made is not modeled after any authentic African style; rather, the mixture of beads that she brought me from the area, mixed with other colors and materials commonly found in East Africa were my inspirations. One of the nicest things about this necklace is that the only tools needed are a pair of scissors and a measuring tape!

Materials and tools:
2 pieces of black waxed cotton cord, 36 inches each, 1 mm diameter
1 Ethiopian cross
12-15 inches of assorted large beads. I used the following:
5 Somali amber beads
6 Venetian glass trade beads
8 black resin beads
2 pot metal silver-toned beads
2 glass E beads

Measuring tape

1. Lay your beads out in a pleasing pattern. Choose one or two beads to hang down from the bottom center of the necklace with the cross.

2. Center the bail of the cross on one piece of cord and thread both ends up through the beads you chose in step 1.

3. Take one end of the cord emerging from the central beads and begin to thread beads on for one side of the necklace. Add your second piece of cord so that you are now stringing onto two cords. Since bead-hole sizes vary, you may have to work at getting the double cord through some of the beads. Snip the ends of the cords into a point and/or dip the ends into glue to stiffen them if needed.

4. When you’ve finished stringing one side, proceed to string the other side on the remaining two loose cord ends. Note that when you are finished, the two cords will not be exactly the same length. Slide the second cord so that it is centered. Knot the cords together with an overhand know just above the last bead.

5. Create a closure as follows:
String a bead onto the two cords at one end and slide it to about 3 or 4 inches from the end. Tie a knot to anchor the bead in place. On the other end, create a loop, big enough to slip over the bead, and tie a knot. Add a bead or two to each loose end and knot them into place.

Copyright 2011 Cyndi Lavin. Not to be reprinted, resold, or redistributed for profit. May be printed out for personal use or distributed electronically provided that entire file, including this notice, remains intact.


Charlene said…
I love Ethiopian crosses and Tuareg ones too. I think you did a beautiful job with the necklace.
Anonymous said…
I love it! The beads are so pretty and I just love those crosses. And thanks for the history!
Cyndi L said…
Charlene, I love the Tuareg beads too! Thanks both of you for the comments :-)
Pretty Things said…
How exciting to travel there! I've traveled to Korea, Japan, and parts of Europe and South America, but never Africa.
Anonymous said…
So interesting