Making A Paper Bead Necklace

Paper beads are a foundational staple seen throughout many Fair Trade businesses. There are many countries in Africa that product paper beads. All of our ladies make paper bead necklaces, earrings and bracelets. This post will focus on how to make paper bead necklaces. 

According to several sites online, paper beads originated in England around the Victorian age. Women would convene together in groups as a social event to create paper beads from scraps of wallpaper rolled on knitting needles, strung on yarn and polished with beeswax. They also used newspaper and other printed papers.

They made beaded curtains and room dividers. If they made jewelry they had to use a different tool to make smaller beads for the jewelry.

The history doesn’t say how women in Africa started making beads but perhaps someone showed them how but no matter how it got started, it is very popular in Africa and even here in the US many people learned how to make them as a child.

Picture of 2 magazine pages and ruler on a wooden tableMagazines in a rack in a shop standing upfright

Materials needed for paper beads. Paper/Magazines, pencil or pen, ruler or straight edge, scissors or something to cut the paper with, glue, string/line/wire, paint, varnish. Seed beads for embellishment.


Woman cutting paper strips with paper cutter
stips of magazines and bowl of rolled beads

The paper is cut into strips. Most of our ladies use a paper cutter/trimmer or scissors to cut the paper.


womans hand rolling paper bead

Roll the paper into beads. Most of our ladies have a tool to roll the paper into beads. Before they had that tool, they did by hand. Some use a toothpick or other stick to roll them.


Woman sitting on the ground on a blanket holding plate filled with rolled paper beads and a child sitting beside her

Once rolled the end is glued and removed from the tool or stick. They are rolled into different shapes depending on whether they are being used for a necklace or bracelet.


Woman sitting on ground in house holding up string of paper beads she is working on making

For a necklace they are then strung on a long string similar to fishing line with seed beads in between to add style and flare. They are made in either long length or medium length.


paper bead necklaces hanging on a line drying inside a mud hug on a line stretched across the hut

 Once the stringing is complete, they are then dipped in varnish to seal them and give them a sheen and hung to dry. Sometimes they are painted different colors. The drying time depends on the weather. During the rainy season it takes longer for them to dry because of the moisture in the air and limited sunlight.


Dozens of long multi color paper beads laid out on a black cloth

 We did a time study to see how long it takes 1 woman to create a long paper bead necklace. It takes an hour to cut and roll the beads for 1 necklace, 12 minutes to string it and about a minute for the varnish. Drying time is not counted as it’s not a direct labor function.


black and white paper bead necklaces piles into a black and white zebra stripe soap stone bowl

The long paper beads have regular and long beads used in them. The medium paper bead necklaces only have 1 size. Both have seed beads in between for embellishment and style. We also have bracelets in stretch, wrap and single strand.


2 women and a child from the waist up

We named our paper bead collection “The Patricia Collection” after one of our ladies Patricia who was part of our original group and gifted me with a paper bead necklace the first time I went to Kenya and met the ladies in Kipsongo (pictured here).

Want a great gift for yourself or anyone on your gift giving list? Consider paper beads. We have single necklaces and bracelets and some matching sets. Check it out here in our online store. 


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