Krobo beads from Ghana

From bottles to beads

The beadmaking industry of Ghana is very much alive. Not only do they produce wonderful beads, they are also an example of sustainability and recycling.

In the Dutch Afrikamuseum, I was fortunate enough to join a workshop by beadmaker and entrepeneur Florence Asare from Ghana. She went from selling trade beads in the market, to a beadmaking business with dozens of bead workers. In this post I will show the different steps involved n the making of Krobo beads.

There are three types of beads made from recycled glass. The first are powderglass beads, which are made from bottles that are smashed and ground until they are a very fine powder. They can be mixed with pigments for a whole array of colours. A reusable mold from clay is soaked in kaolin that leaves a powdery finish which serves as a releasing agent. Little sticks of cassave stem are placed in the mold to form the hole in he finished bead. The powdered glass is poured into the mold, and any excess gets wiped off with a feather. The molds go into the oven, and are left there for some time between half an hour and an hour, depending on size and heat. When they are removed form the oven, and cooled, they can be decorated. They are punt on a stick made from a bycicle spoke, wood, and kept in place with a rubber stopper made from old sandals.The decoration is done with a paste of powdered glass with pigment and water. A specific example Florence mentioned: bottles of malibu liquor are used for white powder glass. The decoration is placed on the bead with a pointy wooden stick. It takes a lot of practice to make the pretty designs. Some designs are made to resemble antique trade beads, like millefiori. The stick of beads are dried by the oven, after which they are placed in a bigger mold to be baked in the oven to bake the glass paste. Once finished, they are ground slightly on a rough stone with water, to remove any edges and the kaolin. Finally they are polished with some unscented baby oil.

The second type of beads are made with rough little pieces of glass. Again, it uses crushed bottles, but it is not made as fine as the powderglass. The result is a more transparant bead, they are most often green, brown and blue. The glass is placed in a mold, but without a stick. After the mold has been in the oven for some time, and the glass is red hot, the blob of glass is shaped in the mold by poking a hole in it, turning it over, and trying to make it round. We found this requires quite a bit of skill, and working quickly. Most of the students’ beads of this type were only half round or broken.

The last type of beads are quite similar to the second type, but only one piece of glass is used, They are made with small pieces of glass, that are all cut to the same size. They can be cut from window glass for example. A little square piece is put in a mold, and after baking, a hole is quickly pierced into it with a skewer.
All beads are finished by grinding and washing it on a stone and polished with the oil.

The ovens used are made of mud, on a base of old metal truck parts. They are generally powered by firewood, but Florence is working with a new method of using (part) natural gas, to reduce the effects on the environment.


It is a fascinating process to watch, and even more fascinating to take part in it and make your own beads. It is not something you can easily do at home, but when you are ever in Ghana….visit Florence Asare from TK Beads.

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About Floor Kaspers
My home looks like a bead museum. This blog is intented to share the bead-filled contents of my home and head with the world.

2 Responses to Krobo beads from Ghana

  1. Martine Vincent says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience on the subject. It is full of practical information which I could pass on to an artstudent who enthousiastically started making beads using these techniques. It started off her new fascination for African beads. Always happy to encounter new African bead adepts. Thank you again. martine

  2. Helen Hales says:

    Hi, wonderful, informative post. There are Ghanaian bead moulds almost identical to these in the PItt Rivers Museum in Oxford, UK that are nearly a century old (see here: http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/LGweb/beads/1934_40_12.htm). It is good to know these traditional methods are still alive. Thank you.

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