• 2–3 quarts clean rose petals
• Large stainless-steel pot
• Blender or food processor
• Jelly bag or cheesecloth
• Iron pot or skillet
• Rubber gloves
• Paper towels
• Rose essence
• Plastic containers with tight-fitting lids
• 1/2-teaspoon measuring spoon
• Butter paddles (optional)
• 3/64-inch brass wire, cut into 12-inch lengths
• Empty small box or Styrofoam tray
• Glass jars with lids
• Fine sandpaper
• Unwaxed dental floss
• An assortment of other kinds of beads, if desired
1. Making the mash: Place the rose petals in the stainless-steel pot with water to cover, about 1 quart. Bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly for 2 to 6 hours, stirring occasionally. You can cook the petals all day or cook them for a while one day, turn off the heat, and finish up the next day. The longer you cook the petals, the more the cellulose breaks down and the easier the job of pureeing the mash.
2. In the blender or food processor, puree the cooled mash in batches. Add just enough extra water to each batch to enable the machine to puree it thoroughly at the highest speed. The finer the mash, the smoother and more uniform the bead. Drain the mash through the jelly bag or cheesecloth to remove any excess water.
Slow cooking: Place the drained, pureed mash into the iron pot or skillet. When the mash is cooked in iron, a chemical reaction of the acid in the petals with the iron turns it black. (Once the mash turns black, it badly stains whatever it touches, so wear rubber gloves and old clothes when working with it.) Because the mash will remove the patina from an iron pot, you may want to use an old one and reserve it for bead making. Cook the mash, covered, over the lowest heat possible, stirring occasionally, for 2 or 3 days, or until it is black and about the consistency of soft cream cheese. You can cook it for a few hours, turn it off, and finish cooking it later. Keep it covered to prevent a crust from forming. The mash can also be baked, covered, at 250°F for 1 to 2 days.
Cooling, draining: Layer the tray thickly with newspapers and cover with a layer of paper towels. (The mash will stick to newspaper, but not to paper towels.) Turn the mash out to cool on the prepared tray, and cover it with another layer of paper towels. Let it drain. Change the newspaper padding when the mash has soaked through; this can take a few hours or overnight and may need to be done two or three times. Add a few drops of rose essence to the mash—6 or 7 drops to 1 cup of mash—and knead it in.
You can make beads now or store the mash. To store, pack the mash into plastic containers with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate for as long as a week or freeze for a few months. The mash can be thawed and refrozen as necessary.
Rolling: For each bead, measure out a slightly rounded 1/2 teaspoon of mash: the bead will shrink to about one-third its original size as it dries. Wearing gloves, knead each piece of mash in the palm of your hand to make sure it is smooth (remove any thorns or debris). With firm, even pressure, roll each bead between your palms until it is round. If the beads show any cracks while you’re rolling, dip the beads in a little water or rubbing alcohol and smooth them out, as the cracks will become bigger as the beads dry. Our group adds a textured pattern to the beads by gently but firmly rolling them between two textured butter paddles.
Drying: Carefully slide the beads onto wires to dry. The wire should pierce the center of each bead. We use brass wires because brass doesn’t rust. We place about ten beads on each 12-inch wire, making sure that the beads don’t touch each other. Lay the wires across the empty box or Styrofoam tray so that the beads are suspended and do not touch the bottom of the container.
Keep the beads at room temperature and away from any drafts. If the beads dry too fast, they will crack; if it is cold or damp, they may mold. During the first week, turn the beads daily, sliding them back and forth a little on the wire to keep them from sticking. Leave the beads on the wires for another week or two, or until they are completely dry. Remove the dry beads from the wires and store them in tightly covered glass jars, which help retain their perfume until you’re ready to string them. After removing a batch of rose beads, we sand the wires with fine sandpaper to smooth them in preparation for the next workshop.
Finishing: We string our beads on double strands of unwaxed dental floss. Our necklaces are about 28 inches long, but they can be any length that suits you, with or without a fastener (available at bead and jewelry stores). We usually add other beads to the strands in regular patterns. We make some of our rose beads into earrings; findings for both screw-on and pierced styles are available at bead and jewelry stores. Pendants, bracelets, and pins are other possibilities.
Each finished necklace is packed in a small glass jar that has a small piece of cotton glued to the lid. A drop of rose essence placed on the cotton keeps the rose beads fragrant and can be renewed as needed.
Susan Belsinger is an herb gardener, an author of cookbooks, a chef, a longtime contributor to The Herb Companion, and an enthusiastic bead roller.
For more information about the Potomac Unit or to purchase one of its rose-bead necklaces, contact the Herb Society of America-Potomac Unit, PO Box 1055, Springfield, VA 22151. The HSA currently has thirty-six units; to find out about a group near you, contact the national headquarters: Herb Society of America, 9019 Kirtland-Chardon Rd., Kirtland, OH 44094.
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Making Rose Beads