Seek Process: The Talismans of One Of A Kind Beaded Shirts

I've believed in the power clothing can hold since I was young. Items have been imbued with meaning throughout history. The practice of adding beads to garments is an ancient practice across all continents.  The beads were used as curative agents, good luck charms and talismans in religious rituals.  The use of beadwork embroidery can be traced prior to the Ice Age. During this time, beads were made from egg shells, sea shells and seeds.  When it comes to beading in African cultures, there is deep meaning according to colors and sizes, the significance of the materials chosen, the placement of beads (on the body, clothing or articles) among other uses, and of course the “subjectivity” of the person using beads denote perspective, experience, feelings, beliefs, desires, and/or power. Medieval knights wore charms for protection in battle!

I have always been fascinated by the spirituality and power an item can hold, especially when it comes to adornment throughout humankind. Below is an example of a West African Prestige Robe and a Dogon Hunter's Shirt from Mali. I wanted to channel an element of this type of beading when creating these beaded Seek shirts. I thought about the rituals involved when these type of pieces were created.

The beads I used hold a lot of meaning and the story of how I came to have them is very sentimental. My husband Chris and I have a dog named Briskit Biskit, who as of this year is eleven years old. Ten years ago my husband was at a dog park with his other dog Miles (Miles passed away in 2018, rip to that happy spirit) and they befriended a dog who was on his own. A homeless couple, Heather and Dancer, kept leaving then coming back to the park and after some time Chris learned the solo dog was theirs and they had been living on the street with him but now they had an opportunity for some housing yet dogs were not allowed. They were going  to leave him there but felt conflicted about it and Chris agreed to adopt him and take him home with Miles that day.  Heather missed Briskit so Chris agreed to meet her at a nearby park every week so Briskit and her could have some time together (see below picture!). At some point during the years Heather gave Chris two containers filled with various beads as she felt they weren't safe where she lived. These Heather and Briskit meetings continued until the pandemic hit and the lockdown began. We haven't seen Heather since and for the last two years she hasn't responded to any emails or texts. We didn't know what to do with all the beads we had from her and Chris told me she had said once we could use them. So a few months ago I began to dream of using them as an art project and this ultimately led to these six one-of-a-kind shirts. As an ode to Heather a portion of sales from these beaded shirts will be donated to Bay Area Community Services.

Each shirt took me 12-36 hours to do the beading. I surprised myself with how much I ended up loving the process. Once I started one it was difficult for me to concentrate on anything other than beading the shirt and seeing where it would take me with the design. 

As the beading went on, I was also given this beautiful time to think about life, art, and the future of Seek Collective. This felt very healing, especially as it brought me back to creating things with my hands. Suddenly it dawned on me one day that they way I was beading the shirts reminded me of my paintings. I've not had time to paint very much since starting Seek Collective as running a business without a team of people is rather consuming. My paintings have been focused on relationship between shapes and space related to cellular shapes and archipelagos. I began seeing each bead as a talisman and an energy between each bead placement. It feels full circle to bring my career in textiles and fashion together with my painting practice, that has been very out of practice for years.  

With all of that said, I hope these shirts are worn with love and they make you feel protected by these special beads. You can decide for yourself what they represent for you and ultimately I hope they bring joy as a wearable art object filled with history. 

x, Carol

You can find some more information on the history of beading here, here, and here.


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