Well the overwhelming consensus (all three of you) was that I should try the chinaberry bead making process. So, today I did the first step. The process is both easy and tricky. Even the tricky parts are easy, but tricky is tricky regardless of ease. I started to take pictures of the process and thought, “Do people REALLY want to see a pan full of boiling china berries? Do they REALLY wanna see that mushy stuff all over my hands? I didn’t think so. BUT, if you do, I actually found a website that has pictures. You can see it HERE, HERE, or HERE.
But I do want to describe the process. I’ll admit, I had rosy ideas about the process. I thought I’d feel quite Willow-like in my industry and creativeness. And I did. But as I always tell people, “The simple life is not an EASY life.” I always forget that. My head knows it, but my heart doesn’t want it to be so. So, it was with great eagerness that I pulled out the berries I’d had the kids pick for me a couple of years ago (and never did anything with).
Step 1: Boil the berries. To do this, many people recommend a pot that you’ll never use again. So, with that in mind, I opted to spend five bucks on a cheap pan at Walmart. Just in case. The berries are toxic to humans but enticing to birds. When birds overindulge, they actually act intoxicated. I guess that means that our two trees are contributing to the delinquency of feathered friends. Please forgive us.
So, I boiled the berries. Didn’t take long. They didn’t look all that interesting and the smell isn’t pleasant. There are worse smells (Burned beans are a close second to this), but this was pretty bad. It’s a sickly sweet scent that while not strong, is definitely there.
Step 2: Remove the outer shell. I did. The instructions said to do it while the berries are still hot–just out of the boiling water. I melted my fingerprints. I’m sure of it. Thankfully, I don’t plan to take up a life of crime, so I don’t think I’m a danger to humanity. Before I describe this part, I have to interject that I didn’t like how they were looking, so I sent Ethan (number two son–number eight child) out to the tree for “fresh” ones. Those boiled even faster.
Let’s just say that you want fresh ones, okay? Good. Glad you’re with me on that. By “fresh” I mean not dried out for the past two years, not just grown on the tree. The ones on my tree are definitely “dried”. Okay. Here’s what you do. You take about six berries from the pan. After much trial and error, I discovered that this is the optimal number. As FAST as you can, you squirt the “pit” of the berry out of one end with one hand and into the other. If you squirt out the end that once held the stem, it comes out fast, easy and in one movement–usually. This is not guaranteed. Also, by the time you get to the last one, it becomes much harder already. It took me around fifteen seconds to do all six usually, and the last one took twice as long or longer than the first. Why? Because it seems like the minute you take them out of the pan, they begin to cling back to the pit! It’s bizarre.
Furthermore, once you start squeezing the cooling berry, the insides turn to mush and stick to your fingers like glue. It’s truly a mess. Just sayin’. So six is about all you can do at once.
Step 3: Wash. This is another reason for doing only six at a time. It’s easiest to wash if you put the water on cool and very low. Rub both hands together under the water, keeping the beads between your palms and fingers as they roll. You’ll lose one now and then. Willow would say, “Deal with it.” I say, “Don’t let it bother you. Life is too short.” The goal with this wash is to get all that sticky stuff off.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. i.e. “Do this until you have a bunch of berries pitted, washed, and drying.”
Step 4: Dye if desired. I cheated. Most instructions say to let them dry first, but I didn’t. One, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t. Two, I didn’t want to wait. Three, I had this weird idea that maybe the dye would seep in further if I got it in there while it was all saturated. I think it was a good choice.
Now there are two kinds of dyes that people mention purchasing. You can buy food dyes (like I did–I bought those shown at the right) or you can use Rit Fabric Dye. There are other dye ideas such as beets or saffron or whatever. I wanted to do something that I could control a little easier. I’m lazy that way. Willow would have totally done the beets. Don’t you think?
I decided to go with red and black. I loved the beautiful red ones on the one blog post I shared, and I had already planned to do black with tiny pewter beads between each one. I thought it sounded cool. So, I started with red. One small jar that we’ll never use again became my “dying jar.” I put about 1/2 tsp of the red dye in about 3/4 cup of super hot water. It was cool. Looked good, actually. I let them sit and used the plastic container that once held all the other ones that I dumped today to do the black ones. Same quantities. I let both batches sit for well over an hour or two. When I rinsed them, I rinsed until the water ran clear. They’ve been drying ever since. Don’t they look pretty? I’m kind of excited now. The little beads sitting there all nice and sweet almost make up for the smell and the headache I got (I am HIGHLY sensitive to smells–not allergic to them, but the slightest anything leaves an impression for a bit. No one else in the family felt anything (although they all commented that it didn’t smell nice).
So, that’s how you START to make the beads. Next time… drilling. I get to pretend to be a dentist or something equally terrifying. Stay tuned. Prayerfully I’ll only get blood on the red beads, eh?
Oh, and with all the goop I had under my fingernails and everything, I highly recommend a shower later. Scrub your hair well so that they REALLY get clean under there. I don’t think the beads themselves are toxic. I think the mash that you squeeze them out of is. And that ends up under your fingernails where they COULD then contaminate your food. So even if you think you’ve got ‘em clean… wash again. Just in case. And the final beads…
Stay tuned for part two. I just realized that I didn’t take pictures of the “beads” before dying. If you want to see them, this is what they look like, check HERE at the website shown above (this is a direct link to one of her pictures).