Arts and Culture // 03.11.2011

Waist Beads by Sewra

Article by Abena A-T

Her name is pronounced “Sau-ra” like Laura. It’s Tigray-a language Spoken in Eritiea and northern Ethiopia and means ‘Revolution’. Her ethnic background is Black American and Eritrean.  And like her, her waist beads have a melange of history and culture.

“Waist beads are an ancient form of adornment for women.” Sewra explains, “They have a lot of different meanings depending on where you are in the sense of time.”  One of the main reasons was for women to delight their husbands- something like the function of today’s lingerie.  Women feel good wearing it and men love to see it.  As is still the case for many cultures with waist beads, a woman’s waist beads were not meant to be shown in the open.  With a knack for analogies Sewra drops the first one: “It’s like if you’re walking down the street in your La Perla bra. That’s a no-no.”  But like a bra for the grown and sexy, Sewra tells me that in the past, waist beads were scented and smoked and even had bells, for added appeal.

Other uses for waist beads include to shape your waist as a woman, as a rite of passage into womanhood for young girls, and to monitor the weight of children. “If they’re losing weight, the beads will fall [then the mothers know] its something they have to pay attention to” Sewra says with a New York cadence in her speech.   She adds that when certain semi-precious stones are added, the waist beads can take on a spiritual, metaphysical nature.  I ask her to tell me more about this.  “When you activate the crystals, those beads take on another type of energy.” The beads are activated by cleaning them in sand or underwater and by saying by saying an affirmation over them.  “The mind comes in and plays a role in that also” she says.

Sewra has been making waist beads for about ten years now.  Her knowledge comes from research and she says with a laugh, trial and error.  “I was blessed in that, because I do a festival in Brooklyn every year, women came back following year and showed me their beads.  I would repair them, take them in… I got an idea of how the beads started to wear.”  Sewra has been able to learn about her product from seeing returning clients and also from wearing them herself.  “Now when I buy supplies, it’s easy for me to pick quality beads.”   Quality is important to the young artisan: “I respect my clients and the money that they pay for my work.”

As dedicated as Sewra is to her product, beading is a second hustle for the artist. She is also a film editor for commercials and music videos.  She says the two bounce off one another:  “if one is suffering, I depend on the other to keep the other going.”  She adds that while there’s no right or wrong way to bead, there is a right or wrong way to edit and so beading helps her go outside a box of a doing things in a strictly structured way.  She maintains a good time balance between the two careers. Since she’s been beading for over ten years, she can get a lot done in a short amount of time.  “It’s second nature. If our job is hemming pants, you can do it in no time.” If she could squeeze any more hours out of her day, Sewra would like to pursue her interests of gardening and making homemade beauty products such as shampoos and lotions.

So far the only negative feedback Sewra has received about the idea of waist beads has been from women who  feel that because they’re a certain size, they can’t possibly wear them. “That’s so far from the truth” Sewra exclaims. “You don’t have to have a flat stomach to wear them.  We both agree (and are grateful) that in some cultures a little tummy is still loved, and is even a sign of sexiness! “I have grandmothers who wear them, it’s for all women.”

I ask Sewra about the seeming shift from waist beads being a private thing to a public thing. She responds “It’s up to the women. It’s so personal and so intimate that you would only want to share them with someone who you have a close relation to.” She lends another analogy: “ I think it’s the difference between a  bikini and your lingerie; When you’re  wearing waist beads with your bathing suits,  it takes on that form- its playful its fun. But when you’re in your day to day, I don’t think you should show them.”  For advertising purposes, Sewra’s images and models expose the stomach. But contrary to this she still feels that “they’re not meant to be put on display all the time.”

So what makes Waist Beads by Sewra “the real thing” as her tagline states? “I pretty much started contemporary waist beads, taking this ancient tradition and updating it to a time where women of African descent throughout North and South America , the Caribbean and the UK can relate to this item. It still has a cultural feel but it’s very modern.”


One Response to “Waist Beads by Sewra”

  1. Paradise says:

    how can i get in touch with Sau-ra? i am interested in what she is doing and i would like to be in touch with her.

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