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Beads (and Components) In All the Wrong Places!

March 15, 2015 , In: Beadwork, Inspiration
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Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had kind of a radar for finding beads and components in unusual places. When people ask me “Where do you buy your beads/rocks/ribbon/closure/etc?” sometimes I just giggle, remembering where I actually found a particular item. Sometimes when I talk to other beaders, I’m amazed that their only shopping experiences have been at bead stores or shows! Perhaps it’s my penchant for the unusual, or my obsession with old things, but most of the real treasures in my hoard have come from the most unexpected places.

Thrift Stores, Antique Stores, Garage Sales and Flea Markets

Far and away, most of my finds come from thrift stores, antique stores and flea markets. I’m constantly amazed by the things that people are just trying to get rid of! You just need to develop a few habits – being able to quickly visually browse jewelry and trinket cases, not being afraid to rummage through boxes of junk, and being able to make a snap judgement on material / quality / usability.

 

Rock Shops and Other Trade Shows

 

I love fossils and large stone focals, so rock shops and shows are always a fun time – and very fruitful for adding to my bead stash. Sometimes I go in with an idea of a stone or fossil that I want…and sometimes I just let the stones find me! 

Specialty Shops

 

I love specialty shops! They’re just like bead stores…but for non beaders. And you just never know what you’ll stumble upon. Take these laser cut wood pieces for example. I was up in a very touristy town with a friend, when we walked into a store that made all kinds of laser cut wood bowls and signs. Then I walked around a corner…and stood in awe in front of an entire wall of packages of different jewelry/craft size cut outs! We both loaded up (she makes gorgeous art with gourds), and couldn’t stop fondling our finds the whole way home.

Quality fabric and yarn shops always have interesting fibers, closures and buttons to play with. Leather shops often have scraps, even of exotic things like alligator or lizard leather. Don’t forget about hardware and home stores…that porcelain stag beetle above is a drawer pull from Anthropologie. I had a friend with a tile saw cut the shank off the back for me – and now it’s a cabochon! With a little bit of creativity and tweaking you never know what you can find!

Local Non-Bead Artisans

 

Etsy and other online marketplaces are phenomenal places to find interesting artisan products to use and inspire…but don’t forget the artists in your community either! Art and craft shows, trunk shows, and open studios can be great ways to not only meet people and acquire their work…but also to develop working collaborative relationships with fellow creatives! The marbled paper, shards of broken and tumbled art glass, and enameled/etched metal are all from people I just stumbled across in out of the way places. You never know who you’ll meet if you take the time to appreciate someone else’s work!

Tips for successful hunting:

  • Set a budget limit…this is a hard one, I know! There isn’t really a limit to what I’ll spend when I know I’ve found something really special. But when it comes to the more regular items, like old or broken necklaces or keys, I have fixed dollar amounts in my head that I will NOT exceed…unless the item is super unusual, under priced for what it is or in pristine condition. Above all, I’m frugal and always looking for a deal, so this really is Rule Numero Uno. 
  • If you can’t stop looking at or fondling something, buy it. When it comes to things out of the ordinary, I know that if I don’t go ahead and get it (even if it means breaking out the emergency credit card), I will think about that item for weeks, months, or even years to come. There is nothing worse than having an amazing design idea…for an item that you passed up and will never find again. 
  • Don’t disregard small towns or shanty’s in the middle of nowhere – you are more likely to stumble across shops that don’t know what they have. Every time I travel, especially in small towns, I am on the lookout for thrift and antique shops (and on the weekends garage sales, flea markets, and charity sales). I drive slow and make quick detours, just to check out a new place. 
  • Don’t compromise your standards! You need to have enough working knowledge of materials, quality, and composition, that you can glance at an item from 5 feet away in a case and know if you will be able to work with it. Then ask to see the item, and if it still doesn’t disappoint, snag it! Case in point – my friend and I were at the local thrift store this weekend, and I was doing my normal brisk pass by the jewelry cases. Something caught my eye, and I swooped down to look at it closer through the glass. I just KNEW that the beads were glass…and vintage glass at that. So I immediately flagged down the cashier so that I could hold the necklace – and a split second after she handed it to me, I was asking her to hold it behind the counter for me while I shopped. My friend was mind-boggled by how quickly it all happened – but that’s what happens when my bead radar starts clanging!

 

Hours later, after a marathon day of shopping, we finally examined the necklace closer. Not only are all the beads vintage glass, but the necklace is strung on fine bead chain…and it plus the clasp are 14k gold. Definitely worth the $9.00 I shelled out!

I hope this gives you a bunch of ideas of new places to find unusual beads and components! The more practice you have a honing your bead radar, the more successful your excursions will be. What is your best find so far? Are there places in your hometown that you need to explore? Are there places you visit semi-regularly that are untapped? Turn that bead radar on and start hunting! We would love to know what you find!

 

 

Lindsay Star

Lindsay Starr is a beadwork and mixed media artist currently based in Nashville, TN. She spent her early childhood in Alaska, and her school age and college years in Oregon. Lindsay has a great appreciation for history, science, and nature and is consistently inspired by insects, sea life, color, and the significance of beads and beadwork throughout human history. She spends her days beading, walking at the zoo, and practicing yoga. Lindsay loves to share her knowledge and passion for beads and beadwork to hobbyists of all skill levels.
  1. Reply

    I'm with you girl. It is hard to pass up a garage sale or flea market. I too find interesting stuff in unusual places and I am always on the lookout. I got a bracelet that I think is a Miriam Haskell at a thrift store for $2.00.

  2. Reply

    I've found some pretty cool things in architectural salvage shops antique shops, junk shops, flea markets, etc. But I have yet to find a piece of vintage jewelry that appeals to me enough to pay money and break it apart. I usually only find (what I consider to be) junk or way overpriced stuff. But I still look. Thanks for letting us see your treasures and the tips for finding our own treasures.

  3. Reply

    Splendid post, Lindsay! We are kindred spirits.

    I wholeheartedly endorse what you said about if you can't stop looking at a thing or fondling it, BUY IT.

    And I have noticed that really good items do call to us from five feet away. "Over here!", they seem to whisper. I notice this not only with junking, but with photography and haiku.

    I saw once on a blog where an artist was using links of antique belly dancing chain!!! I so want to find one of those! There is a super wonky antique store in Dallas called Dolly Python where all of the sellers in the co-op are covered in tattoos. If I am going to find my belly dancing chain it will be there!

  4. Reply

    wow!…great post!…

  5. Reply

    Good post! One question……..what, exactly IS a budget?

    • Reply

      Lol, I totally know what you mean! I definitely have the same issue. But to make sure that I have enough cash left over for the things I actually NEED, I set rules like – no more than $10 for an old/broken necklace (if the beads are worth more than that to me), or no more than $4 for an old key. It helps me from going overboard…unless I find the motherload, lol!!!

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