Not just any old seeds. These are carefully curated heirloom seeds, mostly beans and corn. Many of the pieces are so striking and the seeds used selected for their perfection of shape that you don’t realize that those aren’t glass or stone beads – but seeds. A labor of love not a good match for the average crafter, Debra Groat of Saverine Creek Heirlooms chooses only the choicest seed from her organic heirloom garden. The rest get eaten over the winter, or are sown in spring to replenish her jewelry making supplies.
Long ago, seeds were used for adornment, but they were dyed to create bright colors. Even hundreds of years ago there were tiny glass beads that are still known as ‘seed beads’ today. Native Americans used certain sacred seeds in jewelry making, such as the seed from Job’s Tears, known as Corn Beads to the Indians. They discovered this plant on the Trail of Tears, and the seed became a symbol of remembrance. You can buy Corn Bead necklaces from at least one Native American shop online.
None of this has anything to do with what led Debra to turn seed jewelry fashions into a hobby and then a business. She comes from a long line of farmers in lower Northen Michigan, and her oldest brother had an annual summer tradition of growing the most exotic heirlooms he could find on a half acre of land on the family farm near Pinconning. Some of his harvest was so bizarre to the Midwest farm family, no one would eat it. Folks tend to stick to meat, potatoes, and standard veggies in that region, especially 20-30 years ago… this is a long way from the big city. Still, some of the beans he grew really grabbed her attention, and well she isn’t the only one captivated by the beautiful colors and markings on some of the oldest cultivars of beans.
It struck her that they would make lovely necklaces and earrings. So she set about figuring out just how one takes a hill of beans and turns it into couture. That was over 11 years ago. If you spend any time browsing the currently available offerings on the Saverine Creek Heirlooms website you’ll see that she has this inspiration down to a science. Her work is gorgeous. It makes one wonder why no one has thought of this before, well at least not since the invention of glass. No doubt we have at our disposal today a host of colorful seed that ancestoral jewelry crafters would find out of this world. In those days only the elite would have had access to seeds from all corners of the globe, not to mention how many new heirloom varieties have been developed over the last 600 years or more. No wonder the Europeans easily dazzled Native Americans with simple glass beads.
Groat tried getting seed from commercial seed houses, but while in great shape for growing your garden, the seeds are too beat up from mechanical processing to turn them into fashion statements. No one wants a string of cracked, chipped beans to polish off their look. So she resorted to growing her own. No, you cannot buy seeds from her, she only grows what she needs. She isn’t very accepting to those who want to copy her accomplishment, and you can’t blame her, her creativity is truly unique. But if you want to try your hand at making your own bean and corn ensemble, you’ll have to manufacture your own edible gems.
She spends the winter shelling and sorting – gems, stockpot, and growing seeds. She also features Corn Beads a.k.a. Job’s Tears in some of her pieces, along with some glass and stone beads, and metals to fill out the designs. Still they are far more environmentally conscious and sustainably made than any commercially produced jewelry, not to mention being far more interesting. There’s a story behind every heirloom seed, not to mention them being well-traveled.
You won’t find her gorgeous handmade jewelry just anywhere. Debra doesn’t do craft shows, as they are too time consuming as the initiated shoppers have way too many questions. Her wares are popular at master gardener shows though, and a few gift stores have her wares in stock, such as the one at DOW Botanical Gardens in Midland, Michigan. Don’t ask her how she makes a hole in the dried organic beans, she’ll just reply, “That’s a secret.”
Ready to shop?
Check out her online store: Saverine Creek Heirlooms.
Mandin Bride Corn earrings pic: Saverine Creek Heirlooms. All other images courtesy of RYOT.