Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

January 20, 2013

Tahoma Beadworks: The Early Years

In need of vintage jewelry for some projects, I went spelunking in my many jewelry boxes to see what I had available.  Stuff I'll never wear again but don't want to get rid of, yet can also be recycled into something new.  I have nothing at all of value; most everything is stuff I made or bought at Dead shows and pow wows, or catalogs.

When I moved to California in 1989, I was a total newbie to beading.  The only thing I'd done to that point was a simple 3' black & red strip of woven beads, a half inch wide, on a cheap craft loom.  It was January of 1990, and I found an ad for bead classes being offered by a hippie woman only 5 blocks from my apartment!  I called and signed up and I took classes with her for about 8 months.  She ended up moving to the next street over, so I would hang out with her over and above my classes.  Her seed bead work was beautiful and so detailed with the longest fringe I'd ever seen....her earring fringe would hang down past her shoulders.  

When I first started out, I called my little business 'Lobo Productions', Lobo meaning wolf in Spanish, which was my last name at that time.   The below pic is from my first year of learning.  Those 'triangle' earrings on the middle and right side, use the Bedouin stitch.  I was making multi-strand fringe on the first few I did, but changed to the loops because it was more unusual and faster than fringe.  I loved making the kind in the bottom left.  There was a huge renewed interest in Native American rights after 'Dances with Wolves' so that style was very popular, and also used porcupine quills in the fringe.  The bottom center is the only pair I ever made in this style because peyote stitching around that light blue cabochon was a ball buster.  It's the kind of beadwork that makes you wish you had 3 or 4 hands, but you don't so you have to keep stitching around and around, without a break, till that cab is locked in.  Used quills on the fringe for these as well.  A word on quills:  They create a fantastic effect and I love them, but they are a pain to deal with, especially if you buy them somewhat freshly picked with the sharp ends.  They have to be snipped at both ends and washed.  Those barbs are razor sharp and stick to everything.  I don't know if they can now be purchased with just the cleaned center sections, but back when I was using them it was pre-internet and they had to be ordered from catalogs specializing in Native American pow wow regalia supplies.  So you got freshly picked quills.

This is the first pair of earrings I ever made in my very first class.  I took to beading like a duck to water.  This was back in the days when all my craft supplies fit into one little plastic tackle box.  I had never seen crystal beads prior to bead class and I was hooked on them.  I remember the first time I went in General Bead in San Francisco. Up to that point the only beads you could buy were in plastic tubes in hobby or craft stores.  So a whole store devoted to beads was like nirvana!  

I couldn't wait to make a beaded ankle bracelet with bells to wear to Dead shows!!!  Back in those days I was completely addicted to those clapper bells.  I still have some sewn onto a pair of fringe moccasins.

This is a yin yang which uses the same technique as the small Native American themed earrings, and also using quills for the fringe.

I also learned how to do peyote stitch in bead class, which make up the rows around the amethyst crystal and while I practiced the technique quite a bit back in the early 90s, I can't truly say that I ever mastered it.  And I've never been able to do flat peyote.  I wore this necklace to every Dead & Garcia Band show from spring 1990 through my last shows in 1994, including the Blue Moon New Years Eve show of 1991.

I started to reeeeeally dislike the tedium of working with seed beads.  I have some friends who excel at their use, but it just takes too long to get instant gratification.  I found that I would make one Bedouin stitch earring and not feel like doing it's mate.  I was bored after one.  So I started working with larger beads.

This is a stone I found on the beach at Bolinas in Marin County in 93 or 94.  There are a lot of stones with holes on that beach for some reason.

By the time the mid-90s rolled around, I was living in Fairfax. and had changed the company name to Ross Valley Beadworks, because of the region in which we lived.  The Y necklace was taking the country by storm in 1996, thanks to the popularity of them on "Friends", so I bought some chain and made a bunch, which I peddled with some fairly decent success that summer, to a small store in San Anselmo.  This is my stash.

The left and center ones are Christmas themed, and I remember making them the first autumn we lived in Washington (1999).  One of the bennies of making your own jewelry is that you can make stuff for the holidays or to match your wardrobe.

This is a 'treasure necklace'.  I love how it came out, but I have difficulty wearing chain-type necklaces because the hair on the back of my neck gets wrapped around the chain and it's quite painful to get it untangled.  So this hasn't gotten much wear over the years, nor have the Y necklaces.  It's sadly ironic that I love & crave jewelry, but a lot of it gives me nothing but trouble, between chain in my hair and my metal allergy.

In 1999 and 2000 after moving to Washington, memory wire had just hit the craft stores, so I made some chokers, returning to seed bead work.  Living in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, it was at this point that the Tahoma Beadworks name came to be.  After I made these, I realized how much I hate chokers.

But they make great bracelets since I have a small wrist and I don't like dangling or loose bracelets.

I made these bracelets within the last 4 or 5 years of living in WA.  I totally forgot I'd made silver ones with the pups' names and silver paw charms!  I'd have to guess the furkid bracelets would have been made in 2006 or 2007.

It's interesting to see how my work's evolved over the last 23 years.

Browsing through all this old jewelry, I realize that I probably will never wear 95% of it again, yet I hate to part with it too.  Some of the items that I purchased (not shown here) have special memories attached.  Like the time I realized I left for a Dead show without having put my earrings in.  I shrugged it off and figured I could just buy a pair in the parking lot, once I got to the Oakland Coliseum.  Sure enough, I got off the BART train and there was a Deadhead chick sitting on the pedestrian footbridge, selling her beaded jewelry.  I bought a pair from her and I still think of that moment when I see them.  I wonder who she is and whatever happened to her.  A lifetime ago.  There are beautiful Huichol style earrings I bought at the pow wows in Oakland and Santa Rosa, and Dead shows.  There is a set of four Masai bracelets my bosses brought back from Africa in 1995.

Not sure what to do with all this has no monetary value, but priceless with sentimental value.  There's a lot of it yet each piece - either handmade or bought/gifted - has a memory attached. Memories of my mid-20s, which are long gone yet sometimes feel like yesterday.  Memories of Dead shows, living & working in San Francisco.  I'm glad I kept it.


  1. Cool stuff! Is the crystal point in that one as big as it looks or is that a macro shot? Seems as though you've had years of fun making all of this. :)

  2. Man, I wish I had your jewelry making skills, JoJo. I loved that found stone, the "holey" one. I dig your y-necklaces, bracelets, the yin/yang piece and the ones you hate: the chokers! (I heart, heart, heart chokers!) What's happening with getting your online shop up? (or is it already up and I totally missed it?)

  3. I think it's a great way to store memories. Maybe you could put the stuff in albums with a little paragraph next to each one recording its - and your - history.

  4. Awesome stuff! Why don't you still wear it? I would! You really need to open an Etsy store to sell some of your creations. I love that you are an old hippie like me :)

  5. What a treat to go down memory lane with you. Your jewelry is beautiful and you should keep it, pull it out every now and then and go down memory lane again and again.
    Everyday Inspired

  6. hi, Jojo! I'm in love with your bead work!loved those earrings which you made while taking classes. they are ethnic, yet with a touch of fashion..I'd wear such nowadays.i like more artificial and hand made jewelry, because it's more earthy and also looks nice.
    thanks for taking us back in time. we don't need to throw out everything, let's keep something for memories, right.
    have a great day!

  7. Anonymous7:16 AM

    As ever, I marvel at your craftsmanship - and your patience!

  8. You do amazing work. I admire your patience and dedication.


  9. You've taken my breathe away with your talent JoJo. When I was at schoolwe all loved beeaded necklaces and I remember have a beaded Red Indian necklave. I love your treasure necklace,gorgeous. They are all so lovely,you're very artistic.