How to make African waist beads

Written by sarah mcleod | 13/05/2017
How to make African waist beads
Bead strings take on significant meaning when worn as waist adornments in Africa. (beads image by Florence from

In Africa, waist beads serve as visual symbolism. Bead colours, sizes, and shapes are combined to communicate age, social status and life achievements. West African women, in particular, are given waist beads as children to wear throughout life to help shape their figures. As adults, they wear waist beads under their clothes to be shown only to their husbands for sexual arousal. As the world gets smaller and people share cultural traditions, the use of waist beads is quickly surpassing African shores.

Measure your waist in the area where you would like your waist beads to fall. Measure beneath your belly button, or even down to your hips if you want your beads to rest on your hips instead. If your belly overhangs, measure the circumference beneath it. Make note of the measurement.

Buy a length of bead wire equivalent to the measurement size taken. Beading wire is made of cabled stainless steel threads coated with nylon. This makes beading wire very strong and suitable for heavy beads. You may want to adorn with more than one string of waist beads, so several lengths of bead wire may be necessary.

Choose your beads. African traditions vary in their use of beads. Decide which African tradition to follow. An article published in Nigeria Guardian News suggests that to make true African waist beads, a wearer would need to attribute some cultural significance to the kind of beads worn. The Yoruba lagidigba waist bead is made from palm nut shells. Because the nuts grow in clusters, this particular waist bead is worn to bless a woman with multiple births. Some Yoruba waist-bead wearers wear bead colours that correspond to their deity of worship for protection.

Slide a small cylindrical crimp onto the bead wire. Slide on a lobster-claw clasp. Take the wire hanging from the clasp end. Move it over the clasp and push 2.5 cm (1 inch) of the wire through the crimp. Hold the inch of wire under your thumb and index finger. Pull on the long end of the wire to pull the loop down. The clasp will dangle, leaving a small loop in the wire above the crimp. Squeeze the crimp down with your chain-nose pliers. This will flatten the crimp and secure it against the bead wire.

String your beads one at a time onto the remaining long end of the bead wire. The first few beads will eventually cover the double-wire tail extending from the crimp. Slide another crimp onto the wire once all of your beads are placed on the wire. Slide on the loop end of the clasp. Take the wire hanging from the clasp end. Move it over the clasp and push it through the crimp and the first few beads. Hold the clasp and pull on the wire to tighten the jewellery. Squeeze the crimp down with your chain-nose pliers. Do not squeeze the clasp.

Use wire cutters to trim the excess wire.

Things you need

  • Tape measure
  • Beads
  • Bead wire
  • Chain-nose pliers
  • Bead wire crimps
  • Lobster-claw clasps
  • Wire cutters

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