How to Make Zulu Ucu Bead Necklace

Colourful beads image by Vladimir Melnik from

Working with beads is not only an artistic endeavour, but it also brings to light ancient and cultural history. For example, explore African traditions and the culture of the Zulu's by creating a Zulu Ucu beaded necklace. As in many native cultures, beads have a language all their own. Colour, placement and design all have meaning and broadcast information about the wearer. In the Zulu culture, beadwork is dominated by the women of the tribe and given to the men to wear. A Zulu Ucu necklace is a symbol of an engagement and is given to the man by his intended wife.

Select your beading thread. The necklace itself will be five meters or 16 feet and 4.8 inches in length, so you will need a good quality, waxed, white thread of about 18 feet to complete the project. An additional amount will be needed if you create the optional tassel. Your thread should be strong and flexible as well. The beading needle's hole needs to be large enough for the thread yet small enough to pass easily through the holes in your beads.

Collect your beads. The traditional Zulu Ucu necklace is made strictly from white beads and often has an added blue and white tassel. White is the only completely positive colour in the Zulu bead language and symbolises spiritual love and purity, while blue represents fidelity. Use seed beads of the same size for both the necklace and the tassel, should you decide to include one.

String the beads onto the white thread. You will need to string the entire length, leaving at least 4 inches of thread on each end. Once completed, string beads onto the extra length. Bring the thread back around so that it forms a loop. Tie the thread to the main necklace thread with a double knot and trim the end. This will give you a 2-inch beaded loop on the end. Repeat on the other end to complete the necklace.

Create the tassel. Tie a knot onto the end of an 8-inch piece of thread. String white and blue beads onto the string. Create a small loop at the top as described in Step 3. Repeat this at least six times. With a small piece of thread, tie the tassel pieces together just under the looped sections so all the top loops are above the tie. When worn, the loops on both ends of the necklace can be joined in the front and placed over the top of the tassel, allowing the ends to hang free.

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