No! The intricate designs are made by arranging different coloured pieces of polymer clay to create a design that runs longways. This is known as a cane and it is based on the millefiori technique you may be familiar with from Venetian glass. It’s a bit like blackrock candy, or really complicated sushi.
Over the years Samunnat Nepal have developed many different colour recipes to produce their own colours by mixing different proportions of these basic colours. They do most of their mixing using a pasta machine!
Once the ladies have mixed the colours, they make the canes.
When you cut a slice from a well made cane, the design on the slice will always look the same. The cane can be made smaller (reduced) by squeezing it. If this is done slowly and carefully, even a design that is quite large (many centimetres across) can be reduced to a very small design.
The ladies make their intricate designs reasonably large and then reduce them before cutting the cane into slices to decorate their beads. Watch the video below showing the tiny slices being applied to the surface of the bead.
Once the beads are made they are cured in a regular cooking oven. Hopefully no power blackouts! The ladies then string the beads into different pieces of jewellery. Their studio is light and airy and often filled with their singing as they work.
What are the beads made of?
All the beads are made from polymer clay. Polymer clay is a synthetic modelling clay which comes from a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) base. It’s the stuff plumbing pipes are made from! The PVC base is combined with other stuff which makes it malleable and means it can be cured in a normal oven.
The ladies of Samunnat use a small range of 15 or so basic colours (including metallics) and then combine these colours by hand to make a HUGE range of glorious bespoke colours.
Although polymer clay is not naturally occurring, there is no waste. Any scrap clay is used to create the inside of beads or handles for some of the tools we use.
Project Didi Australia is committed to restoring hope, dignity and independence to women and girls in Nepal exposed to trafficking and abuse, through trauma-informed care, family strengthening and reintegration, education and pathways to employment.
Project Didi Australia is a partner for Project J1082N Futures of Dignity and Opportunity with Global Development Group (ABN 57 102 400 993). For more information please visit GDG projects: www.gdg.org.au.