What are Chaquira Beads?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chaquira beads are very small, brightly colored beads which are used in traditional Latin American crafts, especially in Mexico. They can vary in size, but they are generally around the size of seed beads, allowing artisans to use them in incredibly detailed, complex patterns. Chaquira beads are often for sale in Latin America, along with traditionally beaded products like bracelets, embroidered blouses, and housewares.

Crafters in Mexico use brightly colored Chaquira beads.
Crafters in Mexico use brightly colored Chaquira beads.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans have been beading for centuries, developing several schools of unique and often very colorful beadwork. In Latin America, beads are often used to create the very bold, distinctive designs associated with Mexican folk art. A hand beaded piece can take weeks to complete, requiring a great deal of focus and a steady hand on the part of the artisan. Chaquira beads are also used in machine-beaded pieces including replicas of archaeological finds.

Beeswax may be used to attach chaquira beads.
Beeswax may be used to attach chaquira beads.

There are a number of ways to use chaquira beads. In things like housewares, the beads are attached with an adhesive such as beeswax or glue. Chaquira beads are often used to make colorful sculptures or plaques, for example. To use the beads in this way, the artisan coats the base surface with adhesive and uses a needle to delicately place the beads, creating a pattern. When beeswax is used, it is important to keep the resulting product out of the heat, or the adhesive may melt, causing the pattern to be distorted.

These beads can also be used in woven beaded products, which are made by stringing thread to create a warp, and then stringing beads across it on weft thread. Woven chaquira beads may decorate jewelry, belts, and so forth, and the patterns tend to be relatively simple, repetitive, and often geometric in nature. These beads are also used in decorative beaded embroidery, such as that found around the neck opening of blouses.

The cost of traditionally beaded products varies, but it is often quite low, making these products popular with visitors to Latin America. You can also see some very fine examples of chaquira beading in museums and art galleries which focus on Latin American folk art.

Chaquira beads are extremely small and available in a variety of colors.
Chaquira beads are extremely small and available in a variety of colors.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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