capturing summer

May 20, 2015

I always loved to sing and when I was 8 or 9 my mother signed me up for a summer school choir.  It was just one hour in the morning, I could walk to the class and be home well before lunchtime.  I only managed a few classes before I announced that I couldn't go anymore, I simply didn't have the time.  We had an active neighborhood filled with kids and we had the neighborhood's only in-ground pool.  Our backyard was busy with swimmers all hours of the day.  But we also roller skated, played hide and seek, and rode our bikes for hours, only returning home when we felt hungry or noticed that it was getting dark.  My summer days were also filled with self-imposed monumental projects, all crafty, and so time-consuming that I needed every spare hour of my entire three months vacation to get everything accomplished. 

I wasn't satisfied with making macaroni necklaces and dried bean mosaics, I turned my nose up at anything as prosaic as that.  Instead I dove right into the messiest and most challenging projects.  One year I made perfume.  I picked rosebuds and somehow, I don't exactly remember how, extracted their rose juices.  I had enough brown, cloudy, liquid to fill half of a tiny bottle.  I spent hours designing a gorgeous, Frenchy-looking label.  My mother's best friend was over for coffee and I proudly offered it up for her to whiff.  She smiled brightly and said, "It smells!"  I took that as a compliment and beamed with pride, although I was aware that it had an unpleasant, grassy smell.  One year I made paper; a smelly, gooey mess that when dry, became brittle and shattered.  I don't remember being disappointed with that either.  I rarely remember having directions for anything.  I learned how to knit, crochet and embroider from a handbook, but I know I didn't have any other craft books.  Were there any?  I suppose yes, but if I had an idea to make something, I also had to come up with the how-to.

At the beginning of summer I would write down my list of must-dos that would have looked something like this:

     make jewelry
     make candles
     make soap
     wash all doll clothes with this soap
     figure out to make some Barbie furniture
     learn how to do book-binding and while I'm at it, write a book too, why not?

One of my favorite projects was when I made gold doubloons.  I rolled a length of clay and sliced thin coins with fishing line.  Using my mother's and my charm bracelets, I imprinted tiny ships, guns, anchors and other Spanish looking things onto the coins.  I baked them, then painted them metallic gold with paint I borrowed from my brother's airplane model kit.  My homemade doubloons were gorgeous, truly gorgeous and I kept them for years.  Perhaps in a move in my twenties and feeling very grown up, I must have tossed them.  I'm sorry for that now, as I'd love to see them; I remember how pretty I thought they were at the time.

When I was 9 or so, my Great-Aunt Cytha told me she had made rose beads when she was young.  It sounded like a wonderfully old-fashioned craft and I knew when summer came, I would have to add that to my list. I still have them and come across them every few years or so, and marvel that they still smell faintly of roses, even after some 50 plus years. Last week my husband was on a golf trip, and my red roses were in full bloom, and I don't know, but out of the blue it just came to me that I should make rose beads.  Here's how:  

Gather ye rose petals, mostly red ones, and make sure they are fragrant of course.  The next step is to grind them.  Long ago, before food processors, I used my mother's meat grinder and it took forever.  These days use a processor or blender and whirl until smooth.  Put the mash in a pot and add a cup or so of water.  Let it simmer, not boil, stirring constantly for 10 minutes or so.  Whirl it through the processor again to get a finer mash.  Spread the pulp on a baking sheet and set in a warm place for a few days until the moisture is mostly evaporated, but still moist enough to roll into a bead shape.  Make the beads twice as big as you want them as they will shrink quite a bit.  If you plan to string them later on, let them dry a few days more,  poke them through with a t-pin and let them sit until fully dried.  This drying part could be made shorter by setting them in the sun.  I've also heard you can add rose oil or rose water to the mash to aid the fragrance, but I've never tried that.  It's a fun summer project; something that will keep kids busy for hours.  Old ladies too. 

My husband came home when they were drying, took one look and asked, "What on earth?"  I explained what they were, and how I remembered making them as a girl.  He squinted his eyes and said, "So admit it, you were that weird kid on the block, right?"  Oh, he's said that to me before and it doesn't faze me a bit as I know he is teasing. But I will admit to being that kid who needed alone time.  Back then I didn't realize why it was so important for me to make things, I just knew I simply had to.  Who can explain that sort of thing?  My parents always supported my endeavers and never once gave me the impression that I couldn't design my own city or graft an apple branch onto a rose bush.   When I think of my childhood, one of the gifts I credit my parents with most, is their encouragement.  Any idea of mine was worthy of time and attention.  I was allowed free reign of the garden, the kitchen, my tiny world, to do whatever I wanted.  My fails were often, and mostly epic, but I never remember being chided or embarrassed and rarely remember being disappointed.  I think some of my best qualities come from those early hours of being left alone to make, create, and to occasionally fail.

Grind or whril the petals in a processor, simmer with water for 10 minutes, then grind again.

It will have a mashed potato consistency and will need to dry for a day or two.
Roll into ball, lets dry another day or so.  When they are firm, pierce them with a toothpick or t-pin and let them completely dry.

I ended up stringing two strands and hardly knew what to do with them.  That's the way it is sometimes with crafts.  Still, I love them, and can't help but think they are a sweet, old fashioned craft.

5/24 Edited to add: A reader, Nancy, sent this picture to me.  This strand of rose beads was made by her great grandmother and have little gold beads between each hand made rose bead.  The beads now are quite black but still have fragrance.  Nancy says she will wear them, in fact, she could only inherit them if she promised to wear them and not hide them away!  A good lesson to us all!  The beads here are so shiny and smooth.  Mine are dull and rough.  I think that after time, and after wearing them and touching them, they become more beautiful!  Thank you Nancy, for sending me this picture.


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  1. Thank you … for reminding me ….I have a rose petal neckless that my great grandmother made. Its very long and the beads are very black after many decades. I keep the neckless in a ziplock bag to help keep the lovely smell and It still smells wonderful after all these years. Each rose bead has a small gold color bead in-between. Thanks for posting this … what fun.

  2. Oh Nancy! How wonderful! What an absolute treasure! I hope you can post a picture here, but if not, maybe send it to my email address? You can find it on the side of my blog...there's a little button with an envelope on it. Click it and an email addressed to me will appear. xo

  3. Kristen, you are just amazing. Thank you for the fun story of your childhood and for the tutorial on rose bead making - I have always wondered how they are made! I have a rosary with beads made from rose petals - my husband bought it for me in Rome almost 15 years ago and it still smells so lovely! I keep it in a special case and always assumed that was the reason for the scent lingering so long. Loved this post. :)

    1. Thank you for sharing your sweet story. It is amazing how long rose beads will retain their fragrance!

  4. I love this post! I was a kiddie maker too, although probably not as prolific as you! I remember cross-stitching onto those iron-on transfers when I was 5 or 6, and was always pulling off rose and pansy petals to roll into evening gowns for imaginary dolls.

    When my daughter was in 2nd grade, we had a "Crafting"-themed birthday party for her. I could not believe how many little girls just sat there and complained, "I don't know how to do crafts!!!" Serious, they were stumped by glitter glue. I thought that was rather sad. :(

    1. Cross-stitching! I loved that as a little girl. When I was in Blue Birds, we had to cross stitch a layette for a needy mother and I finished mine the first week. Thus began my lifelong love of stitching!

      When you say the little ones were stumped by glitter glue, that truly makes me sad. I think many toys are too sophisticated and childhood hours too structured and doesn't allow the child to naturally develop spontaneity, flexible thinking, and of course creativity. All that needs to be nurtured.

  5. I must say you were always busy doing something creative. You amazed then and still do...,,,

  6. Hope you got the rose bead photos. :-)


  7. You are welcome … thank you for sharing them on your blog so others can see how lovely rose beads can be.

  8. This is so neat! And I love hearing your childhood crafty stories. Fantastic stuff.

  9. What a clever and cool summer craft Kristen! Thank you for sharing how you go about making them. I like the idea of them scenting your linens so now I must learn to grow roses :)


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