Rose Beads

Thomas Tanner of Ely

 I am unable to document this process, but rose beads are popular in the SCA. They are the origin of the name “rosary”, and go back to Roman times.

 Basically, rose petals are formed into a paste, shaped and dried. There are many ways of doing this. One may use fresh or dried roses, the mixture can be cooked, or not, additives may be added, and the beads may be shaped complete with a hole or a hole may be drilled when dry.

 In Victorian times (the oldest time we have recipes for), the paste of fresh flowers was moderately heated, in a cast iron pot, for an hour a day, over three days, then formed over a large needle to create the hole. The cast iron pot has the effect of producing black beads.

 I used a quicker, modern variant of the cooked recipe, as produced by Lady Margritte of Ravenscroft. This calls for dried rose petals, orris root, gum arabic, rose essence, and a double boiler. The orris root, gum arabic and rose essence are optional. Orris (or iris) root powder is a fixative, allowing the beads to retain their scent for longer. It is obtainable from health food stores. Gum arabic is an adhesive to make the paste more cohesive, and may be found at art supply stores. Powdered is recommended, but I could only find the liquid kind, and used it to no ill effect. Rose essence/essential oil may be found at health food stores and pharmacies. It serves to increase the overall scent of the beads. My double-boiler used an enamel inner, meaning the beads come out natural (brown), rather than blackened. For blackened beads, either use cast iron or add iron nails to the mixture while it cooks.

 I started by taking two handfuls of dried rose petals (I should mention at this point that there are always cut roses in my demesne, so the supply of dried petals is steady, and should persons in the South desire to get beading forthwith, I would be able to supply the material for a goodly attempt). These I ground as finely as I could. I then added two teaspoons of the orris root, a tablespoon of the gum arabic, and a teaspoon of the rose oil. Since this mixture was still a little dry, I added water to form a fairly lumpy paste, and put this into the double-boiler. As the mixture heated up, it dried out. This was helped by mashing it against the side of the pot, being careful not to let it dry out completely. If it showed signs of drying out, I dripped some more water in, and remixed the lot. This continued for two hours, whereupon I had a nice doughy (if sticky) paste, ready to be worked into beads. I can’t emphasise enough how sticky the paste is – be careful, because if it gets onto anything, it will turn as hard as wood once it dries.

 I turned the dough out onto a surface, then spread rose oil onto my hands. This serves to prevent the dough sticking to fingers, and the oil works into the paste, increasing the scent. I then proceeded to roll it into a sausage and break lengths off to form beads with. Please be aware that the beads do shrink as they dry (by up to half), and they will be sanded smooth as well, so form them at least twice as large as you’d like them to end up being. I formed mine around wire lengths in order to have a hole, stuck the wire into sand, and left them to dry for three days. During those three days it was necessary to move the beads on the wire, otherwise they’d stick to it. After they dried, they looked like balls of fragrant woodchips, or the dried-up fewmets of some fussy flower-eater. But a bit of work with sanding paper smoothed them down to produce passable beads. One or two did break, but on the whole, the first attempt was a success. They are fragrant, and seem to release more scent if warmed by body heat first. I shall definitely be making more. I hope some of the populace will be joining me?

 References (Internet)

 Lady Margritte’s article: www.mindspring.com/~maclain/southdowns/phoenix/Articles/rosebeads.html

 A general article, with several links: www.suite101.com/article.cfm/rose_gardening/9334