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.

A rich lady's treasure-trove

View picture in full size  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.

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.
Return to the top

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.

Example of Brownie Beads
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. 
Return to the top

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.
Return to the top

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.

History 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. Return to the top

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.
Return to the top

 Date of last edit 28th Awakening Earth 1668 a.S.

Information provided by Rookie Brownbark View Profile