Sunday, August 24, 2008

Through medieval eyes

pretty pictures, part 4

I made this set of green beads as another gift recently, and it presented some interesting opportunities. As is common in today's society, not all of my friends are Christian, and in fact the woman I made this for is Pagan. But since she's a re-enactor, I wanted the beads to look acceptably medieval-Christian. The colors she requested were green, white and black, and as I often do, I used a nicely non-sectarian silk tassel for the pendant at the end.


The green heart is a personal symbol (again from Venetian Bead Shop), and as I was contemplating what else I might add, I thought of the little flat silver charm you see attached.

It's been sitting in my box of charms for several years, since I bought it along with the similar one I used on a little six-decade set of coral beads. Both of these little square charms are fine silver from India, stamped with (presumably) figures from Indian legends. I immediately claimed the first one for one of my own projects.

This six-decade rosary was one of my fairly early ideas. I had found a nice string of small pink beads that were reasonably priced, real coral and not dyed (which is uncommon). The marker beads were part of an eBay purchase: they were sold as rock crystal, but the price was very reasonable, so I wasn't too disappointed when I got them and discovered they were glass, as shown by the round air bubbles in one or two of them. (Rock crystal may have flaws, but not visible, perfectly round bubbles.)

Coral 6 decades

Besides being an example of beads with six decades, I made this project as an example of the sorts of miscellaneous charms and accessories that might have been hung on a medieval rosary. The cross is Ethiopian, which is admittedly rather an improbable stretch for what a medieval European might have had available. I rummaged through my charm box and found a hand with "palm reading" lines on it, which I thought made a plausible "good luck charm," as does the crescent moon. The little silver pendant with a stone in the center is a carnelian, which actually was a good-luck charm in the Middle Ages. The round medal is a very worn Sacred Heart medal -- somewhat post-medieval in form, but as I said in an earlier post in this series, the devotion itself was known in the Middle Ages.

I liked the little square charm from India, because if I try to look at it through the eyes of a medieval European, my immediate identification is that it's Saint George... or perhaps Saint Martin of Tours, except that he seems to be wearing some sort of helmet and no cloak. He's clearly on horseback, and there is a diagonal line starting in the upper left corner that could be a spear or a lance, although if you look closely you see that he's not actually holding it.


People who have studied the religious thought of the Middle Ages more deeply than I have may certainly correct me here, but my own guess is that a medieval person, seeing such a thing, would try to fit it into a conceptual framework that he or she knew, and that means it would be identified as a saint, or perhaps a knight -- some sort of familiar image.

The pendant I still had sitting in my box was more problematic. With my modern eyes, I can see that it's possibly intended to be one of the round-breasted women characters from Indian legend, but it's much harder for me to fit that image into a plausible medieval-Christian context.


It's a bit of a stretch, but I wonder whether a medieval person might see this as one of the virgin martyrs who was stripped and tortured -- Saint Agatha, perhaps?

On the other hand, as a "goddess" image, it's now found an appreciative home.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


string theory, part 3

I've been writing about string, since during the period of history I'm most interested in, the vast majority of all rosaries were made from beads threaded on some sort of string -- often silk, sometimes linen or other materials. But starting in the late 16th century (I think), we begin to see the occasional set of beads with the wire-linked construction we're used to seeing in modern rosaries.


Dating this innovation is challenging, since -- as I keep saying about other paternoster history questions -- we just don't have a lot of surviving rosaries from that time period to provide us with data. And unlike some of the other questions I've researched, period paintings and illustrations are no help here, since they don't usually show this level of detail -- we're lucky, in fact, if they even show anything of the string, as they do in a few cases such as the Hoccleve portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer, where you can just about see that the thread is red. Nor do inventories and documentary evidence usually shed much light on how a rosary is constructed: usually the only details are what material the beads are made of, and sometimes their number.

As I've mentioned earlier in this series of posts, wire-linked construction has some advantages over string: the chain of beads is less breakable and doesn't need re-stringing as often. On the other hand, a wire chain is less flexible than beads strung on thread, and it's still prone to kinks and tangles. Since the beads are fixed in place and not movable, the different construction also changes the way the beads are handled while praying. Rather than beads sliding along a thread one by one, the entire chain of beads moves through the hands, one bead after the next being held between the fingers.

As a method of construction, wire linking is very simple, but somewhat labor-intensive, since until recently each loop on a wire-linked rosary had to be made by hand. Instructions for this are fairly easy to find, but most people find that it takes a bit of practice to be able to make even, consistent links that look nice and hold their shape well.

The first essential is the choice of wire. It needs to be strong, even in thickness, and thin enough to pass through a bead easily. It also has to be the right hardness. The same metal can behave quite differently depending on whether it is "hard" or "soft," and wire for making chains has to have just the right balance between the two. When metal is heated and cooled, it becomes "soft," which means it is more malleable, but easily pulled out of shape. As it is bent, twisted, hammered or worked in other ways, it becomes "harder," which means it will hold its shape better, but it also becomes more brittle and prone to break. For making chains of beads, the wire must be bendable so you can make loops, stiff enough that the loops will hold their shape under stress, but not so hard that it will break.


We take abundant supplies of fine metal wire for granted today, but for a long time all wire was hand made and somewhat expensive. Comparing a beautiful woman's hair to fine metal wires was a compliment to its shine and liveliness! Wire-drawing only became a major industry in Western Europe in the late 1500s. It's probably no coincidence that a number of crafts requiring consistent supplies of even, strong wire blossomed around that same time -- not only wire-linked bead work, but for instance also silk knitting, which requires fine wire needles.

Anyway, to make a long story short -- I haven't yet seen any examples of wire-linked paternoster beads that I am convinced are original and date to much before 1600. I've been shown a few groups of rosaries that have some wire linking and a photo caption saying "XV Jh." (German "Jahrhundert" meaning "century") but none of them convince me. In one case, the style of the metal parts looks very much like 18th-century filigree. Another seems to be something constructed from part of a broken rosary, and I don't see any clear indications of date on that one either.

The wire-linked beads that do look more convincing are a few tenners. Considering Bishop Fugger's beads are wire linked and date from somewhere between about 1604 and 1626, this isn't too surprising. The added labor of forming wire loops might make a bit more sense when there are just a few beads to link.

The earliest long rosary that I know of with wire links is this Portuguese rosary of aloe wood, with a somewhat vague date of "early 17th century" according to the book I got it from. You'll note, by the way, that this is a six-decade rosary, with 63 beads, sometimes called a "Birgittine" rosary.


Rosaries and paternosters are notoriously difficult to date precisely, and like any other jewelry, they were also subject to re-making and repairing as they became damaged or tastes changed. I'm certainly open to the possibility of earlier wire-linked beads, but so far both the evidence I've seen, and what I know of the social and technological background, lead me to think that late 16th to early 17th century is still the most likely date for this innovation.

Posts in this series:

String or Nothing
The thread thread
String Theory
Threads of silk and gold
Of flexwire and time machines


Monday, August 18, 2008

Still more pretty pictures

part 3

This next batch of medieval-style rosaries were made for friends as special gifts. Among the people I hang out with, many are medieval re-enactors, so a medieval rosary is an appreciated gift, whether the recipient actually uses such a thing for religious purposes or not.

Since "decoding" the instructions given by Alanus de Rupe for a special rosary for a penitent knight, I've made several sets of these beads with special markers.

It took me quite a while when I made the first set to find a "multi-colored" bead I liked for the first marker. Most of the multicolored beads I could find in catalogs were either very cheap and badly made, or they were covered with little pink rosebuds. I didn't think that was very suitable for a bead supposed to symbolize our "multitude of sins." Eventually I found a millefiori bead, as you can see in this example.


The light-colored marker bead is mother of pearl here, the red is carnelian, the black is jet, and the gold is a foiled-glass Venetian bead from Venetian Bead Shop. Once I found sources, I bought several of each of these types in the 10-millimeter size, so I can now put together a set of "Beads of Death" without having to run out and shop for the parts.

The small beads for this rosary are green glass, the cross is another one from Rosary Workshop, and the little silvery-looking pendant is a hollow sterling-silver bead, with the ends plugged, and a few grains of earth from the Holy Land inside. One can fairly easily buy little "souvenir" containers of "Terra Sancta" and water from the River Jordan, but I happened to acquire little vials of both a few years ago that were about to be thrown out, and I've made good use of them.

This next set of beads is a "tenner." I have a couple of strings of 14-millimeter jasper beads, which seem to be about the right size for this common men's accessory, so that part was easy.


The hardest part of shopping for "tenners" is finding a good thumb-ring for the top. It's not at all difficult to find nice-looking plain silver rings in "finger" sizes, but finding a sturdy, closed ring about an inch in diameter and without egregiously non-period decoration isn't easy. I hoard them when I find them, and I had this one in my stash, so I used it.

The brass "gold" ring suggested using small brass "gold" beads between the larger jaspers, but what to do for the end? The friend I made this for said he wouldn't mind having a cross, but I didn't see anything affordable in the right size that I liked. Then I thought about the dark jasper cross that I'd picked up at the craft store, without any project in mind. I've never seen anything quite like it in a medieval context, but there are certainly coral and rock-crystal crosses (though not this shape) and the occasional wide-armed cross (though I usually can't tell what material they are -- I suspect wood). I decided this was good enough, and after wrestling with it a bit to get the flimsy silver-colored bail off, added it to the string.

The little gold pelican is definitely not medieval in style, but the pelican on a nest is a well-known medieval symbol of self-sacrifice, since the pelican was thought by classical authors to feed its young by stabbing its own breast so the offspring could feed on its blood.

The recipient has, he tells me, already to put this string to good use. He used it to amuse himself during a very long meeting by keeping count of the rounds of applause every time someone received yet another award.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Threads of silk and gold

String theory, part 2

In my previous post, I focused mostly on plain silk, which seems to have been the thread of choice for medieval rosaries, and discussed some of the reasons it breaks. Here I'm going to discuss other types of silk thread, including silk with gold.

Since the biggest problem with silk thread is weakening by abrasion from the beads sliding along it, you'd think that people would choose threads that wouldn't be harmed by abrasion. Not so, apparently. I have seen a number of references to beads threaded on, for instance, "crimson silk and gold." And -- if I had any doubt that the gold was actually part of the stringing and not just decorative -- King Rene d'Anjou had a rosary "strung on a cord of silk and gold thread."

Before the days of plastic coatings it wasn't easy to make gold thread, or even imitation gold thread. Gold is a soft metal, and while it's possible to make a very thin gold wire that can be woven like thread, it is rather fragile and breaks when repeatedly bent back and forth. In embroidery it was mostly laid on the surface of the cloth and held down with stitches, rather than being threaded into a needle and passed in and out of the fabric.

Gold wire is also very heavy and expensive, so ways to make a thread that was lighter and more affordable were invented early. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, most gold thread was made by beating gold very thin, cutting it into strips, and wrapping the strip in a spiral around a "core" thread, usually yellow silk. The silk core made the thread much more flexible and less breakable.

On the other hand, the actual gold coating on the thread was quite thin. This meant that while the thread would bend readily and you could, with care, actually pass the thread through fabric, its tolerance for abrasion was still very limited. In embroidery this thread was still mostly laid on the surface of the cloth and stitched down (called "couching"). I have difficulty imagining why anyone would thread beads on something this easy to damage -- yet clearly it was done.

A fragile thread might be made somewhat sturdier if it is not simply twisted, but actually braided or woven. I started out using ordinary silk twist to string paternoster beads with, and I think that is one reason I've experienced so much thread breakage -- especially because I haven't plied my own from reeled silk, but used commercial twist from machine-spun silk. (The Japanese Embroidery Center has been recommended to me as a source of reeled or "flat" untwisted silk.)

As with any fiber, the first step is to make a single thread out of collected fibers. Silk twist is the next step in processing, where two threads -- each composed of many fibers -- are twisted around each other. I suspect that this results in relatively long stretches of fibers being exposed to wear between the places where the threads twist around each other. The twist also does not exert a great deal of pressure on the individual fibers or prevent them from moving. My guess is that this means that when a few fibers are abraded and break, the breakage has a good deal of freedom to spread to other nearby fibers as they take up the load released by the broken fibers.


A compound thread that is braided or woven, on the other hand, has much shorter exposures of fiber, and the intersections where groups of fibers go over or under each other are generally tighter and exert some pressure to keep the fibers from moving. So we might expect slighly better survival of threaded paternoster beads strung on braided or woven thread. I'd be very cautious about generalizing from the very few examples that exist, but indeed I'm aware of at least two surviving strings where fragments remain of a braided or woven cord. (Of course there are also surviving bits of twisted cord, so I wouldn't call the question settled.)

One is this set of 15th- or 16th-century jasper beads from Salzburg, which -- if I remember correctly -- were found on a length of pink silk cord that had been tablet-woven.


Tablet weaving, or card weaving, is a technique usually used to make narrow flat strips by a technique that combines twisting and weaving threads together. It's an ancient technique and quite common in the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. A slight modification of the technique produces a round woven cord with a hollow center.

Simple braiding is of course another very common techique for producing cord. I was particularly charmed to discover "whipcord braiding," which uses two people and four hanging bobbins to produce a round four-strand plait very quickly and easily. (There's a YouTube video here.) I think we tend to under-estimate how many period techniques were done with two or more people cooperating, since as modern people we are more likely to produce our crafts alone.

A third technique, which was common in the Middle Ages and Renaissance but largely forgotten in modern times (until its recent revival), is called "fingerloop braiding," and uses (as you'd probably guess) loops of thread carried on the fingers rather than straight cords with loose ends. It can be very fast, and produces fascinating, intricate patterns. It's pretty much limited to making short lengths of cord -- a yard or two at most -- but for the length you need for a paternoster, that's no problem.


Just last weekend a friend for whom I've made a paternoster commented that hers needed re-doing and she was planning to make a fingerloop braid for them. I've also made a copy of my "Magdalen" beads for another friend (seen above), also with a fingerlooped cord. I'll be interested to see whether these wear better and last longer, but I suspect they will.

Posts in this series:

String or Nothing
The thread thread
String Theory
Threads of silk and gold
Of flexwire and time machines


Sunday, August 10, 2008

More pretty pictures

part 2

Here are more of my recent projects.

(By the way, I've had a couple of comments and e-mails about these beads, asking if they are for sale. No, I don't make paternosters for sale, although I'm sure there is a market out there for them. I'd much rather teach people to make their own! There are full instructions in Bedes Byddyng, and the materials are neither hard to find nor expensive. A while back I also posted a "shopping list" and instructions.)

I posted some, but not all of the sets of medieval-style rosary beads that I made to take with me to Leiden in March. Here are a couple that didn't make it into the first batch I posted.

These are actually two of a color combination I've made several of, and will undoubtedly make more. I bought something like 20 strings of these opaque red glass beads for a special occasion, and I still have a number left over. The clear marker beads are rock crystal -- though not especially good quality rock crystal -- and at the particular moment I bought them, were actually less expensive than glass beads the same size.


Based largely on what I see in paintings, I tend to make most of my "ordinary" medieval-style rosaries from 8-millimeter beads with 10-millimeter markers. Those seem to be the approximate dimensions of the smaller medieval rosaries I see (there are some much bigger). These particular ones have 12-millimeter markers because that was the size that was on sale at the time.

Red coral was -- again, judging by paintings -- a very popular choice for rosary beads in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, for those wealthy few who could afford them. I don't know whether red coral in that period was widely faked, but I would be surprised if it wasn't. These glass beads certainly look to me like the sort of thing someone might choose in the Middle Ages who wanted a cheaper imitation of coral. A knowledgeable eye, seeing these close up, would know they weren't real coral, if only because of the absence of flaws and scratches -- glass is significantly harder than coral. It's also noticeably heavier, but you'd have to pick the beads up to know that. From a few feet away, these would probably have looked quite splendid.

I commented once that red coral beads with rock-crystal gauds seems to be a combination one sees a lot in medieval rosary paintings -- but when challenged, I couldn't come up with a lot of examples. I've collected more examples since, but it's gradually become apparent that it is indeed a common combination, but specifically in the rosaries shown in paintings of the Virgin Mary and saints. That means we don't know whether it was actually a popular combination in real life, or whether it represents some sort of ideal "type" of the rosary, thought suitable for particularly holy contexts.


Since I was trying to assemble some representative types of rosaries, I also made this string, which is the full fifteen decades recommended by Alanus de Rupe, rather than the more common sort abbreviated to five decades.


I've seen several 15th- and 16th-century rosaries with a heart as a pendant rather than a cross, so I looked for something that seemed suitable and came up with this pendant from Rosary Workshop. It's not quite ideal for a rosary, since it has a hollow back rather than being cast in the round, but I liked it.

A heart encircled by a crown of thorns today is usually thought of as representing devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In its present form, this is a post-medieval devotion, having become popular as a result of visions experienced by Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, who died in 1690. But it can readily be demonstrated that a number of medieval saints and lay people also cherished a special devotion to the heart of Jesus, though it wasn't necessarily represented in the same way. Rosary Workshop doesn't know the exact source or date of this particular heart, but it reminds me most strongly of Mexican and Central American "milagros", so that would be my guess.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

String theory

It's been awhile since we discussed threads. Up until about 1600, most paternosters and rosaries were strung on a thread of some sort. Having had some interesting discussions on thread with the folks in the Paternosters Yahoo group, I thought it might be a good time to revisit the subject.

The original threads of old paternosters and rosaries seldom survive. Having now owned and worn a number of medieval rosaries, I have a better appreciation of why that might be. Even silk thread -- which was probably the strongest available fine thread in the Middle Ages -- is neither unbreakable nor immortal. I don't wear my medieval-style reproductions all that often, and some of them are on their second or third stringing within ten years. Friends to whom I've given such beads have brought them back for re-stringing after as little as eighteen months, and discussions on some of the mailing lists I subscribe to include comments from people who wear necklaces of Anglo-Saxon or Viking-style beads, who also report that these need to be re-strung every couple of years (which provides an opportunity to re-arrange them, so it's not all bad).

(By the way, the photos in this post are just here as decoration. They are paternosters I've made at various times, mostly as gifts.)


Threaded rosaries are inherently more prone to breakage than the wire-chain construction so common in modern rosaries. My guess is that wire-chain construction began to gain in popularity at the end of the 16th century for precisely this reason. Wire chain has some disadvantages -- it does tangle and kink, sometimes quite badly, as the wire loops at the end of each link catch on each other. Putting each bead on a separate wire link also means you cannot slide the beads along the thread as you count them; instead, the entire rosary is passed through the hands, one bead at a time, which gives a different "feel" to the counting process.

Thread breakage in period must have been very common. I no longer wonder why so many of the threaded paternosters and rosaries mentioned in 15th- and 16th-century wills and inventories have strange numbers of beads, such as 114, 32 or 83 ;)

Why and how threads break depends on what kind of stresses the thread is subjected to. Tensile strength is one factor -- how hard it is to break a thread by pulling on the ends. Another factor is resistance to abrasion -- how much the thread is weakened by the friction of beads sliding back and forth. A third factor is "fatigue" -- how much something is weakened by being repeatedly bent in different directions. Silk thread is pretty good on the first, not good on the second, and the third is (as far as I know) no problem at all. Metal wire is very good on the first two, not so good on the third.

One thing to consider is that medieval silk thread may well have had more tensile strength than modern silk thread, so perhaps modern experience is not quite comparable. Most silk thread today is machine-spun, which requires that the very long silk fibers be chopped into short pieces. "Reeled" silk, which preserves the original fiber length, is likely to be stronger, and in fact a lot of modern synthetic fibers like nylon make strong thread at least partly for the same reason. Much of the silk thread available in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (if you could afford silk at all) was reeled, so this may have made a difference. It would be interesting to test the two types and see how different they are.

Another thing to consider is how much care is taken by the wearer of the beads to keep them out of situations where they might break. Modern rosaries are often rather carelessly knocked around, carried loose in the bottom of a pocket or purse, or perhaps hung from a car's rear-view mirror (however much this is frowned on by safety experts!). In the Middle Ages, rosaries seem to have been more often worn out in the open like jewelry, often pinned to clothing, wound around an arm or hanging from a belt. This puts them in situations where they are very likely to catch on something, and I've had several sets of beads do exactly that while I was wearing them -- a dangling loop catching on a doorknob, for instance, or the most recent instance where the cross at the end of my Saint Hedwig beads got caught in the crack of a wooden bench, and the string snapped when I stood up quickly.


I would guess, however, that silk thread's major weakness is from abrasion due to friction. It seems to have been the custom to slide each bead along the thread as it is counted while praying. The beads can also slide back and forth as they are picked up or put down, worn or carried. As far as I can tell, medieval rosaries did not have knots between each bead (as, for instance, pearl necklaces often do). That would have interfered with sliding them, and incidentally it also means that if the thread does break you are likely to lose several beads rather than just one or two. (So far I've mostly been lucky enough to find all the beads when mine have broken, though there are still three little red glass beads in my car somewhere.)

Friction between beads and thread also depends on craftsmanship. Virtually all modern beads are machine-made, and the holes are likewise drilled by machine. This guarantees a smooth hole inside, but it can leave fairly sharp edges where the hole enters or leaves the bead. I would guess that when beads were made by hand, the openings of the holes could have been smoothed with a file, and if so, abrasion would have been lessened.

Other threads available at the time probably shared some of these weaknesses. The most plausible thread for rosaries for those who could not afford silk is probably linen or hemp. Both of these are fairly strong in terms of tensile strength -- especially if the linen is "line" spun using the full length of the fibers -- but they are also not as smooth as silk, which would have increased the friction between thread and beads. Wool thread is not very likely as a stringing material because it also has a rough surface, and compared to the others, it is relatively short-fibered and has much less tensile strength. A single reeled silk fiber may be dozens of feet long in the uncut state. Linen and hemp fibers are often as long as the plant is tall, as much as three or four feet. The longest wool fibers I know of are six to eight inches, and they are far more commonly found in the one- to three-inch range.

Posts in this series:

String or Nothing
The thread thread
String Theory
Threads of silk and gold
Of flexwire and time machines


Monday, August 04, 2008

Pretty pictures

Since the early days of this blog, I've made comments from time to time about the attempts people make to create new, medieval-style rosaries based on what we know about beads in the Middle Ages. Trying to make replicas and re-creations is always interesting, and can sometimes teach us a lot about what the historical artifacts were like and how they were made.

Such attempts are, of course, ultimately imperfect, because we aren't in the Middle Ages and don't have a lot of complete, detailed evidence about exactly what medieval paternosters and rosaries were like. Nor are we medieval people, so we are sure to guess wrong at times about how they would have done things. Nor (as I mentioned in Creative Shopping and More Creative Shopping) do we have exactly the same materials available that they did. So all such attempts will involve compromises. But that's part of the challenge, part of the (dare I say) fun. ;)

I fairly often make such medieval-style rosaries as gifts, and since I just finished a batch of them, I thought I'd share some photos, and talk a bit about the decisions I made in making them and why I made them as I did.

I should point out that these are not "data", and I don't think anyone else should necessarily use them as models. They are not medieval, though I think they are reasonable approximations in some ways, with some additional compromises made for the sake of the particular people I'm giving them to.

This one, for instance, I made for someone as a thank-you. She's a professional artist, and since I've seen her work I know she likes these colors. And someone had given me a strand of the dyed, somewhat irregular freshwater pearls that are so common in the bead catalogs these days. The marker beads, by the way, are leftover jasper from my green jasper paternoster.


But.... dyed pearls in the Middle Ages? No, the technology for creating intense, permanent color on pearls was only developed within the last few decades. Pearls can be dyed with fabric dyes, but the color tends to be pale and to fade fairly quickly. And dyeing pearls doesn't seem to have been in fashion in the Middle Ages, perhaps because pearls were so astronomically expensive in the first place (more valuable than diamonds, at least some of the time).

This next one was made for someone who likes (as I do) the combination of fairly dark and saturated blue, red and green. The marker beads are lampworked ovals with gold foil, which does seem to be a style of bead that was made in the later Middle Ages and Renaissance, though I have no evidence one way or the other about their use in rosaries.


I'm not very satisfied with the tassel on this one. Tassel-making is my least favorite part of making medieval-style rosaries, and also the most fiddly, expensive and time-consuming, but the ready-made tassels I can find for sale are even more expensive and tend to be made of rayon, which doesn't stand up well to wear. I also haven't studied medieval tassels in enough detail to know much about whether multicolored tassels were in fashion, or if so when or where, or how they were constructed, whether the colors were randomly mixed throughout the strands or in sections, or for that matter what stitches were used to secure them.

It's clear from surviving beads and from paintings that the charms and accessories that were hung from medieval rosaries were not necessarily religious. But the dragonfly charm on this string is quite modern, both in concept and in style. (The recipient likes dragonflies.) The charm is made from cast base metal, colored with a modern resin rather than a true enamel. Also, for some reason dragonflies don't seem to be very frequent as an artistic motif in the Middle Ages. I don't know why, but they don't seem to have attracted much symbolism, either positive (like lions or eagles) or negative (like snakes or foxes).

I'm much happier with this next rosary, which also contains swirled and foiled beads. This is for someone who likes red, gold, and all things Italian. I chose amber-colored glass beads because I made it to go with a particular dress that I hadn't seen yet, and while different amber and yellow hues often look all right together, reds are much more difficult to match.


I'm a bit concerned about this string, because the thread seemed to snag once or twice as I was pulling it through the beads. I felt them with my fingers, and slid the beads back and forth a few times, and didn't find any rough spots, but lampworked beads are made by winding hot glass onto a "mandrel" or rod, and since their holes are not drilled, but formed as the bead is formed, there may be rough spots inside where I can't see them.

By wearing, using and giving medieval-style paternosters, I've become very aware that, as I tell the recipients, silk thread is neither immortal nor unbreakable. Beads threaded on silk will have to be re-threaded, at least once every few years, and perhaps more often if they are worn a lot. The average lifespan seems to be about two years, which is less than I would have thought. I do have some theories about string, which I plan to write about at some point.

More pretty pictures another time ;)