Increasingly striving to make their place in society as something more than a tasty dish (see “The Brownie Recipes” for details on this disgusting practice), Brownies all over Santharia have found success with the production of tiny, perfectly formed beads. In Milkengrad beautifully crafted toggles and buttons provide an extension of this work too. The Brownies' basic advantage over other races is their tiny hands which give them their ability to work in eye-wateringly fine detail, limited only by the sophistication of their tools.
Picture description. A rich lady's treasure-trove, including a necklace of wooden Brownie-made beads (probably Llaoihrr) and gold earings with tiny blue glass beads (Milken-made). Image drawn by Bard Judith.
Description. It is quite important at this point to distinguish between the two main areas of production, namely the Llaoihrr or Vale Brownies, and their Milken cousins. The former stick almost exclusively to beads – small, perfectly formed and traded in large quantities to any towns within their trading grasp. They are relatively cheap to buy considering the amount of work gone into them, but with the number needed to decorate an item of clothing, a full outfit is still out of the average worker’s price range. Purses and other small, decorated items, or even a shirt collar with beads around the edge are not uncommon.
(Vale Brownie) Beads
Llaoihrr beads are always circular and plain, the measurement across the middle ranging from ¾ to five grains. Branches which have dropped from trees are collected or pretty pieces of stone, mainly ones that are easily found within the Vale. Beads can be painted, dyed or stained, often in the brightest colours available. They are normally single-coloured for ease of sale (tailors will often be looking for a certain colour to fit with their particular creation and it is more likely that one colour will work with this than two.). The price is often based on the cost of the dye used too, as there is little else to distinguish one from another. They are sold per uruyant, a Ghomish weight measure, which is equal to exactly 11/39th of an od – around ¼. Due to the large variety in bead size, it is impossible to give an estimation of price, as this measurement can contain anything from 150-500 of the tiny objects. However, the more common, plain-painted types are easily cheap enough to be used for trims for even the lowest end of festival wear. Some of the larger beads may also be patterned with dots or stripes, usually only two-toned, and these fetch the same sort of prices as the rarer colours, even though one gets far fewer for one’s money.
One particularly bright blue dye is a speciality of the Vale. With the intensity of the famous blue Uderza pottery, and yet a shimmering sheen which seems closer to Baveras' Eye, the exact preparation of the thick and sticky paint is a highly guarded secret. It is made deep in the bowels of the Council Tree, and only members of the Bubbler Clan who have earned the right are allowed to learn how to make it. However, it is known that the most important ingredient is the membrane which sits between the wings and wing-case of a male blackbeetle. These beetles are hunted by the Brownies for their rather delicious meat, and in true Brownie custom the other bits are not allowed to go to waste. The only problem with this theory is that this membrane is so tiny; if this was the only ingredient then the paint would be far scarcer and a lot more expensive. Rumours point to the addition of boiled-up bones and other waste products, suggesting the result is more of a shimmering, coloured glue than a paint.
Other finishes include wood stains and thinner dyes. The texture of the wood's surface stays the same, the colouring process only changing the hue itself. White is not possible, but beads in a pale, creamy shade of the wood's original shade are common, along with dark reds and greens. One particularly special way of finishing them is to dip them in the sticky sap of a cinnabark tree. Although the strange, dark and not-particularly attractive veneer does not sell well on the non-Brownie trade market, they have a special meaning for the Llaoihrr and even a sentimental one for the Milken too. (See Lore and Legend for more details).
Beads and Associated Products
In the large, throbbing market city of Milkengrad, the "Bead" Industry now extends to just about anything which is small enough to be sewn onto clothing. Beads are still the main requirement, small and large, painted and carved, and in almost any variation of wood, rock, or even sometimes small or badly-shaped pearls. As Brownies can be hired to stitch the finished products to the garment, they are not limited by the thickness of human thread and can be made far smaller, down to around ¼ of a grain. Coloured glass is a cheap and pretty alternative for precious stones, although the production of these beads is a rather different and specialist job which is normally done by a separate Craftsperson. More discerning customers with far larger pockets have even been known to import gopag turtle shell from the Coór'hém elves in Nybelmar to form both beads and decorative discs. One shell will easily decorate an entire garment, and the tiny dark green jewels can be mistaken for the far rarer emerald by an untrained eye.
The shells of certain animals are made into small discs and pierced for stitching too. Pieces of tryster shell are particularly popular due to their pretty shimmering sheen and their reasonable price tag. The whistling beetle's bright orange outer casing is also common, especially as they only have to be brought from the nearby Silvermarshes. Another beetle whose jaunty colours are appreciated too is the seeán or luck bug. In this case it is not the shell which is used but the slightly flimsy wing case. This needs to be strengthened so that a hole can be drilled, and is often simply coated in several layers of clear glue. The spotted pattern is highly prized, especially on children's clothing, and although the seeán who live near Milkengrad are mainly scarlet with black spots, green and gold varieties can be shipped in fairly cheaply.
Buttons and toggles can also be made to order in any good Brownie Bead shop. These are carved out of wood, normally a hard, fine-grained type as this will take the best level of detail. A normal-sized toggle is so large to a Brownie Carver that they can carve right inside the shape itself, so that the scene required is perfectly sculpted rather than being simply a relief on the toggle's surface. The form of the fastener is retained with interlocking threads of wood which circle the inner carving, usually made to look like vines. Of course these rather elaborate toggles are not known for their practicality, and the Brownies will produce plain painted ones too. Buttons are the same; painted or not painted, carved or plain.
Method of Production.
Again, there are certain differences between bead production in the Vale and
Milkengrad. Whilst the
aim of the Llaoihrr
industry is to make as many as-identical-as-possible beads as they can at once,
Milken Beads are far more
individual, carefully crafted, and often expensive. They have also adapted the
basic bead-making process to carving beautiful buttons and toggles. However, the
two methods both at least start out in the same place.
The first stage is choosing the material. In Milkengrad this is often the choice of the customer, made to fit a certain look or colour-scheme. Pretty much anything which is within the patron’s price budget can be made into beads, though various semi-precious stones are the most popular and most practical. As the Brownies only require tiny pieces to do their work, they can use small shards and other waste from cutting the rocks meant for other uses. Llaoihrr beads on the other hand are predominantly wooden, it being the medium they are most used to working with. They don’t have the sophisticated metal tools for harder substances, but may sometimes use softer, pretty coloured rock. In general the grain or pattern of wood is of little consequence, firstly because the beads are too small to really show off this decoration, and secondly because they will be painted later anyway.
Once the material is chosen the Craftsbrownie chops or chips it into rough blocks which are a couple of grains wider than the finished product will be. The edges and corners are slowly chipped away too, and the basic form of the bead is shaped. In the Vale this will always be a sphere, and so the maker usually starts with a cube and then rounds it as much as they can by hand. Although the rough shape and the choice of the wood itself have probably been done by a Hammerer, the beads are now passed over to a member of the Brightler Clan for further shaping and finishing. Milken beads can be absolutely any shape and size, and because of the competition between different teams, the first rough form can differ quite a bit. Some Brownies swear that a proper tear-drop shape can only be made from a pyramid, whilst others insist that a sphere gives a far more realistic drop.
Anyhow, once the basic shape of the bead is roughed out the sanding and smoothing begins. Shapes which are not symmetrical or need to retain their sharp corners must be completed by hand, an arduously repetitive process involving a long succession of gradually finer surfaces. Rough stones are used at first, then a coarse cloth with a sprinkling of sand, then finer and finer clothes without the sand until the bead has reached a satisfactory shine. The quality of the finish is often what sets the price of the product, so a Craftbrownie can spend anything from two to five hours sanding just one.
For symmetrical beads on the other hand, such as spheres or grain shapes, there is a far easier way to smooth them, a machine called “ihehihaheh” or “The Wood Smoothing Device”. This is basically a barrel set on an axel so that it can spin pretty easily, and either powered by turning a handle, or more often by a rat which has been specially trained to walk in a treadmill. The beads are put into the barrel along with a few handfuls of sand which rubs against the wooden pieces and smoothes them. One single bead will often be put into several different barrels, each with finer and finer grades of sand. The last stage, for the Llaoihrr beads at least, is a thick, bright coat of paint.
Areas of Production. In the Llaoihrr Vale most beads are produced in and around the Council Tree. They represent a cooperation between the Hammerer, Brightler and even the Bubbler Clans, and this is the most practical location for such large-scale teamwork. This is also the centre of inter-Brownie trade within the Vale, and the general rule of safety in numbers means that almost all trading trips with the outside world begin their journey here.
|Image description. A fine example of how Brownie Beads can be used to decorate almost any ornament. Picture drawn by Linda Tso.|
The Milken Bead industry, on
the other hand, is anything from centralised. In such a competitive market where
new ideas and innovations run alongside the ever-changing fashions, it is
natural to have several centres of excellence struggling for the customers'
attention. The Brownie's habit of living
under the house of their human family adds to
the scattering of workers too, especially as walking any more than five streets
is quite a way for little Brownie feet to
travel to work each morning. Hence three separate areas have built up, one in
the Forum: the central market district, one near the civilian harbour and the
other in the area of the dwarven Frata;
Nerter. Whilst each of these compete with the other two, they also each have
their speciality which sets them apart. The oldest and largest is the one
situated in the Forum, and this is home to the official
Milken Brownie Beadmaker’s
Guild. It produces the widest range of products by far, and they proudly claim
that a tailor can bring any colour of fabric to them and they will make the
decorations to match it perfectly. This is the best place to go for unusual,
unique ornaments, for a wide range of colours, materials and shapes.
The second largest centre is the one nearest the harbour. They specialise in carved wooden beads, toggles and buttons of any shape, size, design or wood, although they also work with whatever material the customer requires. The last group is far smaller, and can only really be seen as a major player in the industry because it is so specialised. Here is the only place to actually make tiny metal beads, cast almost exclusively from iron. The moulds are so detailed and perfected over the years that the tiny beads almost look as if they have been carved. Of course, the customer is free to choose their own design.
Usages. The beads and other accessories produced are used in decorating fabrics. Shirts, dresses, shoes, bags and purses are just some of the things which can be given a little extra sparkle. Toggles and buttons are more suited to coats or clocks, although the delicacy of the carving on these larger products makes them ideal for gifts to commemorate a particular event. The Milken Brownies will happily allow you to choose your design, so you can have a little carving of a couple on their wedding day, or a representation of a new-born child.
The beads are the Llaoihrr tribe’s biggest export, as they can be easily transported and there is always a steady demand for them so that they fetch a reasonable price. The Brownies trade for mainly luxury items like fine cloth (Shendar silk is particularly good for making Lleeters), metal tools and edible delicacies such as kao-kao beans or the more long-lasting types of cheese (even though about a quarter of the tribe seem to suffer from a strange reaction to this product; anything from an uncomfortable constriction of the throat to nausea). It may seem strange that more essential items such as storable foods or better weapons are not sought after, but there is a certain amount of resistance against from within the tribe against becoming reliant on outside sources. The group enjoys its independence and relative solitude, and so the council members work hard to discourage trading for things which they can get themselves.
Another use among the Brownie community is as unofficial currency. As the large Santharian coins are far too heavy for day-to-day use they have always preferred to trade goods for goods, but beads have been increasingly used in these transactions. Plain glass beads are preferred for several reasons; there is a constant supply of them which helps retain a steady price, the value doesn’t really change with colour making it easier to remember, and they are found universally attractive by most Brownies. Llaoihrr beads or those of a higher value are sometimes accepted too, but their value tends to fluctuate between deliveries, so one needs to be on top of the market prices to be sure of a good deal.
History of the Industry. Although Brownies have been making beads for their own use since before the Birni era, the actual trade industry is relatively new. Milkengrad did not gain its official Bead-Maker’s Guild until well into the 15th Century: 1449 a.S. to be exact, and the Llaoihrr tribe only started to trade in large quantities with the fame this organisation brought to Brownie craftsmanship. Before that the decorations were normally made by the dress maker themselves and rarely as regular in size or finely carved as they are now.
The tale of the founding of the Milken Brownie Beadmaster Guild is a strange one, part myth and part history, with a slight fuzziness between the two.
The Founding of the Beadmasters. The story goes that there was once a family of Milken Brownies who lived under a poor tailor’s shop. One day the tailor was lucky enough to get a very important order – a noble lady’s maid was passing down his tiny run-down shop and took pity on him, asking him to make a special dress for an upcoming event, instead of one of the more well-known tailors. This was the tailor’s big chance, promising him enough money to feed himself and his Brownies for the entire winter. However, it had been so long since he had made such a smart item of clothing, that he hadn’t realised how much his eyesight had dimmed over the last few years. Try as he might he just couldn’t get the little decorations for the dress right, and he despaired at being able to finish it to the high quality he wished. His Brownies wanted nothing more than to help him, as they loved the old man whose house they kept so clean, but he refused their aid, thinking that only he had the skill to make the beads exactly how he wanted. However, they had watched him at his craft for so many years that they had a pretty good idea what to do, and one night when the poor man had gone to bed late, worrying about the state of the outfit, they began. The whole night long they smoothed and rounded, painted and carved and in the morning there lay the tiny decorations, neatly arranged in piles on the tailor’s workbench. Well, the tailor thanked his Brownies profusely and quickly stitched all the items onto the dress. When the lady’s maid wore the dress out in public, everyone complimented her on it and asked her for the address of her tailor. What a surprise when she told them! The old man was quickly moved into better quarters (for who wanted to wander into that area of the town) and became rich from the business. On his deathbed he left all his newfound wealth to the Brownies who helped him throughout his career, in the understanding that they would set up a school to teach their talent to others of their nimble-fingered kind.
itself agrees with this charming tale on only one, although arguably the most
important, point – the money to start the guild was indeed left to the founding
family of Brownies in an old tailor’s will.
The Guild was a big step for Milken Brownies – the first official working organisation specifically run by their race. It marked the beginning of a change from working solely for their Helcrani family – as housekeepers, ratcatchers, cleaners, cooks etc. – to having the chance of their own job outside of this and the status that brings with it. Of course this caused a certain amount of upset within the community, and there are still those (both Brownie and not) who believe that a Brownie who also works for a living can not be truly loyal to their family. On the other hand a large proportion argue that the industry brings prestige and money to the town, helping one of the things Milkengrad is most famous for – trade.
The industry saw a steady growth as word spread and tailors began to hear about the Brownies' fine craftsmanship. As demand grew stronger so the ideas for new beads and other decorations developed and blossomed too. For a few years or so the beads were the height of fashion and every new design was snapped up. The industry in Milkengrad grew, and the Llaoihrr caught onto the idea too, the beads being light enough for them to trade in large quantities over a wider area. At one point Milkengrad boasted six different trading centres for the ornaments, each buzzing with its own ideas and inventions. However, that size of market could never last long term and gradually the competing factions died or joined forces until there were only two left; one centred around the Guild and on around the equally buzzing harbour district. These became two of the three main centres still in existence today, the third one growing up far later (around the turn of the 17th century) under the care of a group of six forward-thinking Brownies who decided it was time for the biggest Brownie industry to branch out into metalwork. They were right, and - despite its small size - their works are considered the best place for a Brownie to learn about working with anything metal.
Lore and Legend. Traditionally beads were thought to take on some of the properties of what they were dipped into or stained with. There are still some remnants in Llaoihrr legends of hunters who dipped a spherical bead into the blood of their prey and attached the decoration to their weapon before going out to hunt. This was thought to draw the spirit of that particular type of animal to the weapon, making the weapon lucky and more likely to make a successful kill. Although this is no longer common custom, a vestige of it does remain in another habit. Beads dipped into the sticky resin of the council tree and then left to dry are considered powerful tokens given to travellers which will help guide them back home. Of course not that many of these can be made, as chopping into the most famous and important tree in the current Brownie world is somewhat frowned upon. Instead, whenever building work is carried out the sap is collected and as many of the precious keepsakes as possible are produced. The idea of these has also penetrated the Milken Brownie culture. As the lore behind the idea is not present, they are thought to keep the wearer safe whilst they travel, rather than ensure they return home.
The other dozens of bead and decoration varieties can take on different significance depending on the wearer’s beliefs. Different tribes and societies attribute certain colours and stones with meanings, and often hold that using beads of that material will give garment or piece of jewellery the same qualities. Santharian gemstones in particular are often thought to have certain properties, or help the wearer in some way; the peridot, for example, is thought to increase stealth, speed and sharp sight, and almost all are dedicated to a particular deity. Beads of certain woods can be worn for the same purpose as well; oak for longevity or wisdom, birch to attract women in a less than gentlemanlike manner, Ahrhillicia for a bright outlook on the world, although a lot of these beliefs are specific to a certain area or group of people. Ornaments made from the seeán or luck bug's wing cases are naturally thought to ensure good fortune. A combination of certain colours can also signify a certain family, or religion, or even just a liking for a particular hue of green. In short – the decorations mean whatever the wearer chooses to make them mean, a system far too complicated for this humble scribe to notate.