Rose Beads – not to eat, but to wear

What you will need to make rose beads:

Article and recipe by Elyn MacInnis at

For the dough:
Petals from at least 8-12 roses
Distilled water
Frying pan – non-stick or cast iron
Blender (critical for smooth, good-looking beads)

Self-hardening clay – I use either “Standard Clay Mines Claystone” Brand  which comes in two colors, grey and red, or  Jo-Ann Fabrics shops have a white one called Stonex, and it works well too.  (The plastic based clays that need to be baked do not work well, and other, various self-hardening clays without actual clay in them do not work well either.)

When you add white clay to red roses the color is very bright.  Deep purple carnations with white clay – depending on the brand – make an amazing purple or blueberry colored bead, and hot pink roses with white clay turn into Very Pink beads.

Rose oil or Rose Otto essential oil to add to the dough for fragrance

For after the beads are formed you will need:
Stainless steel nails work best to make the hole, especially if you are trying to use a thicker elastic to make a bracelet.
Styrofoam to stick the nails into so the beads dry properly.

For the finished beads you will need:
A bead stringing kit from a Crafts shop including:  hooks and rings, tiger-tail bead wire, and crimping beads
Swarovski bi-cone beads are a nice addition and come in several purple shades, but any beads, including ones from necklaces that you don’t wear anymore, are just fine.
A Crimping Tool is handy
Stretch Magic Bead and Jewelry Cord or beading elastic if you want to make a bracelet.  This has to be pulled quite tightly to keep the finished bracelet from getting too big.  The cord stretches a bit in the beginning, so don’t cut all the cord off until you are sure it won’t stretch further. Rose beads stain if they touch water, so be careful to keep them dry!  If you like you can coat  them with a coat of low lustre Tung Oil, a natural finish often used for wood.  The trouble with all finishes is that they cover the fragrance of the roses.

How to proceed: Cooking first
In a no-stick or cast iron frying pan, put petals from 8-12 roses, which you can snip into strips for easier cooking.  Do not include the ball inside the flower that becomes the rose hip later, and try to knock out all the little round seed-like things from inside the bud before putting them in the pot.  Add about 1/2 cup water (using distilled water guarantees a purer fragrance) and cook just under the boiling point until the petals get soft.

Be careful not to let all the water evaporate.  Keep watching the pot carefully and add water if necessary.  When the petals are very soft, turn the mixture off and let it cool.  They should look a bit translucent, like a cooked vegetable.  This might take 20-30 minutes.

Take the rose petal mix and put it in a blender, adding enough water for the mixture to get thoroughly blended, like a smoothie.  It would be hard to blend it too much – but easy not to blend it enough.

Make you’re your final “glop” looks glossy and a bit like pudding, and you do not see separate pieces of rose petal in it.  Put it back in the skillet, and bring to just under a boil, stirring constantly.  Repeat this procedure until much of the water has evaporated off and the mixture is drier than applesauce.

You can add rose oil at this point if your original roses had no smell.  This is an art – you will need to try several times until you get the feeling.  If your rose petal sauce is as wet as apple sauce, you will not be able to add much to the clay.  It is better to have it dry, like a dry jam, or even like a clay.  I like to put the sauce/clay on parchment paper and let it sit in my over overnight.  Since it is a gas oven, the pilot lights keep it ever so slightly warm, and the clay dries out.  You can peel it off the parchment paper in the morning.

Note: About pans —  If you are looking for ebony black beads, use a cast iron pan and cook it over several days.  A non-stick pan will make beads of different colors depending on the color of the rose.  Yellow roses do not make yellow beads, but yield a brownish color in the end.   White and pale colored roses make a pale pink-brown color bead.  Any color of rose will make a beautiful rich black color if you use cast-iron because the iron will oxidize the mixture and turn it black.  Other flowers will work too, and blue hydrangeas or blue clematis will make an interesting grey color, although not blue.  Depending on which color of self-hardening clay you add to the beads, you can vary your results.  Stonex clay tends to turn purple dyes into a blueberry blue color.

Making the final dough:
Self-hardening clay (they have white, red and dark grey) is critical to make a hard and long lasting bead.  It serves to make the beads stronger, and they shrink less, maintaining their shape better.  I use one part rose petal dough to up to one part white self-hardening clay and knead it in well.  If the mix is very wet, you can let it sit out a bit to dry, but be careful not to let it dry completely, because then it will get hard and you can’t use it.   You can keep the rose petal dough or the combination rose petal dough/clay mix in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a few weeks.  I haven’t pushed it past that – after all, it is an organic mixture, and anything like that will eventually mold.

You can carefully shape bits of the rose clay into beads – round or oval work well.  Depending on the amount of water in your “rose clay,” the beads will shrink accordingly.  The less water the better the bead will be.  Put a nail (or big quilting pin) through the center of each and push into a piece of Styrofoam.  Start with the beads at the top of the nail, and then a few hours later push the bead to the bottom of the pin.  Keep pushing the beads up and down on the pins or nails so that they don’t stick.  If you want to make a bracelet, you should use a stainless steel nail, wire brads do well, and that makes the hole larger to take elastic beading thread.  Take the bead off the nail after 24 hours unless the clay was very wet.

Let the beads dry for a few days.  Longer never hurts.  If it is summer, you can put them out in the sun to dry and they will lost their water faster.  If you wear the beads, they will continue to darken and polish, and release their fragrance.  Do not store in a plastic bag, but leave out in a dry place for several months until they have thoroughly lost all their water. You can also store them in a box with rose petals.

Please make sure your beads don’t get wet.  They are organic – not made of glass or stone.  Some rain falling on them will not hurt them if you dry them afterwards, but if you leave them outside in the rain, or spend time in a swimming pool with them on, they will disintegrate.

For beads that are more waterproof, you can use a paper towel to give them two coats of low gloss Tung Oil, which you can get in the hardware store.   This way they are more water repellant, but you still can’t go swimming with them!  I am doing this now to all the beads I make.  You can rub in a little rose oil after the smell of the tung oil is gone if you want to.

Stringing the beads
To string the beads you can get bead-stringing kits at Crafts shops or at Bead stores.  I found everything I needed at a chain called Michaels, and Joann Fabrics has supplies too.   I used a strong bead wire called “tiger-tail” which came in a kit along with the hooks and rings, as well as crimping beads to secure the wire.  If you go to a shop you can look in some of their instructional books and see how to do it.  If you would make more than one, a “crimping tool” is a nice tool to have.

Michaels had a cheap bead-layout board so you could see how the final necklace would look.  Make sure to take some of the final beads with you to check the colors.  I was surprised to discover that purple looked very good with all the rose bead colors, and that the reds that Michaels shop had were not as appealing in my opinion.  So don’t forget to take the rose beads when you go!

You can make the rose beads go farther by adding glass beads, seed beads, or crystal beads in-between the rose beads, and it adds some color to the necklace.  The smell is dreamy, and even if you don’t wear them, you could put them in your clothes drawer and enjoy the lovely fragrance.

Ancient Romans loved roses!  (An excerpt  from a wonderful book you might enjoy reading:    A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman)

Few people have been as obsessed with roses as the ancient Romans.  Roses were strewn at public ceremonies and banquets; rose water bubbled through the emperor’s fountains and public baths surged with it; in the public amphitheaters, crowds sat under sun awnings steeped in rose perfume; rose petals were used as pillow stuffings; people wore garlands of roses in their hair; they ate rose pudding; their medicines, love potions, and aphrodisiacs all contained roses.  No bacchanalia, the Roman’s official orgy, was complete without an excess of roses.  They created a holiday, Rosalia, to formally consummate their passion for the flower.  At one banquet, Nero had silver pipes installed under each plate, so that guests could be spritzed with scent between courses.  They could admire a ceiling painted to resemble the celestial heavens, which would open up and shower them in a continuous rain of perfume and flowers.  At another, he spent the equivalent of $160,000 just on roses — and one of his guests was smothered to death under a shower of rose petals!

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