Learn how to turn arbutus berries into beads for a necklace or a garland. This simple project uses foraged berries from the Pacific madrone.
Arbutus trees (also called Pacific madrone or madrona) are an important part of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem. They are a beautiful red-barked tree that usually grows on rocky cliffs close to the ocean. They are drought-tolerant and like lots of sunshine, so they don’t tend to compete with coniferous trees.
Unsurprisingly, we have a bunch of arbutus trees on our very rocky piece of property. We love them, not only for their beauty but also because they are the perfect tree for hanging a swing or a hammock. They are strong and tend to grow in whichever direction will give them the most sun. Which on our property, means they grow on an angle, perfect for hanging a swing.
In the fall, the arbutus sets bright red berries. Unlike some berries, they are quite firm and are perfect for turning into beads!
Foraging for arbutus berries
I came up with the idea of making arbutus berry beads after complimenting someone on their necklace. They told me that it was easy to make. All you had to do was dry arbutus berries!
I loved the idea for this project.
- Not only are arbutus berries readily available, but they are also emblematic of our region.
- Unlike plastic or glass beads, arbutus berries are compostable! So they are a zero-waste option.
On the islands, there are arbutus trees everywhere. Foraging for the berries is easy.
–> Look for the bright red berries from early October until mid-winter.
–> If you have easy access to arbutus trees, you can gather several different times to get different shades of berries (green orange to bright red).
Options for arbutus berry beads
I’ll admit this isn’t my first time making beads out of nature. In my twenties, I owned a pinto bean necklace. And I made a three-stranded bead necklace out of mung beans for my wedding. (Yes… I’m that kind of earthy.)
When making beads out of something natural, you have two options:
- Fully dry the arbutus berries (in a dehydrator or oven). Then drill holes to turn them into beads.
- I’m a bit too lazy for that sort of project. An easier option is to thread the berries onto your string, then dry them out afterward.
The lazier method is really, really easy. It’s a perfect craft for kids or anyone who doesn’t care too much about perfection.
However, the lazier method also has a few potential issues:
- The berries may not dry evenly or end up looking the way you want when they are finished.
- If you dry them slowly over a period of a few weeks, they may rot or attract bugs while drying.
- Drying the berries after threading them causes them to stick to the string. So you can’t easily remove a berry that doesn’t look like you want it to.
If you want to make arbutus berry necklaces to sell at a craft fair, I recommend drying and then drilling holes. But for the average DIYer, stringing first is a fine option.
- See the section above for details on how to forage for arbutus berries. This project requires freshly gathered berries before they start to dry and harden.
- Thread the berries onto your cord or thread. I used a double strand of cotton sewing thread, but beading thread is probably stronger. Feel free to make the strands of berries as long as you want. I am using my strand as a necklace. If you managed to gather a lot of berries, you could make a garland.
- Avoid any berries that are less than perfect. You don't want any bad spots or bugs, because these may not dry as nicely. Tie the ends of the strand of berries together with an overhand knot. With fresh berries, it isn't possible to knot one end and expect the berries to stay on the string. The berries will seize to the thread as they dry, so you can unknot the ends after the berries have dried.
- Place the threaded beads in a dark, dry location. It will take 1 to 2 months for the berries to harden into beads. The exact amount of time will depend on how warm it is. If your hot water tank isn't in your bathroom (too much humidity), then near the hot water tank is ideal.