It all started when I was a teenager. We used to hang out at a friend’s place, making “love beads” necklaces and friendship bracelets (secured with a safety pin hooked on our jeans), and then we gave them to each other.

Me as a young hippie, back in the 90s

Years later, while working as a graphic designer, I met the cool artist and friend Gaci. She really inspired me, when she gave me her whole stash of beads. She said she brought them from Thailand where she used to live, then she kept them for years but never used them.

I was thrilled, and I started making necklaces right away. My first one was really long – about 4 meters (over 13 feet), so I had to wear it in several layers.

Me with the epic necklace

It was really heavy; the cord could not hold its weight and it broke more than once. I tried to collect the precious beads every time, even when it happened on a busy street with cars rushing by.

I have the cutest memory from Steppenwolf, our favorite (then) bar with live music. A friend was dancing recklessly, which included lifting his partner from the floor and spinning her around. When he tried this with me, my epic necklace broke, and suddenly beads went flying everywhere! The guy was very embarrassed, and he offered to collect them. But that time I just laughed and said – let’s not bother.

Our dancing friend Kotse (The Animal), with the necklace that I made for him. He wore it everywhere he went, he never wanted to take it off!

I’ve always had this sudden impulse – to give my necklace to someone who needs it, just to make them happy, and I’ve done it multiple times.

Several years ago I read this story in a Facebook hippie group. The lady wrote that she was a friend of Janis Joplin when she lived in San Francisco in 1967. She said that Janis made necklaces, and then she asked her friend to go out on the street and give them to strangers. She didn’t want them to know that she made them – just to make people happy.

How cool Is that? I’ve always loved Janis, and I identified with her a lot when I was younger… And I’ve done the same thing that she used to do for years, without even knowing!

Janis with her signature love beads necklaces

Love beads were a big thing back then, a symbol of love and unity. They are often mentioned in books and movies about this era. There is even this video from a Doors concert, where someone from the audience throws a necklace in Jim Morison’s direction, and he catches it miraculously in flight, putting his head through the opening.

When we were at a Seasick Steve concert in Amsterdam in 2017, I imagined doing a similar thing with Steve. I made a special necklace for him, and I thought that may be I could give it to him at the end of the show. But I was too shy, and I was not sure I’d have the chance to get close enough to the stage. I decided to ask a girl at the reception desk if I could send the necklace to him through her. She agreed and she told me I should include a note, so I wrote one saying it was from me, “The Squirrel”.

In the next weeks I eagerly followed all photos from Seasick Steve’s Facebook page, but I saw no sign of the necklace. And then finally one day, while watching a YouTube video from one of his gigs, Nick noticed that the drummer was wearing it!

I was thrilled, even though Steve was not wearing it himself. Both of these guys are epic!

Another cool artist who has my love beads: Terry Gilliam.

My friend Koma Zaeka was his guide and translator, while the famous movie director was attending Sofia Film Fest in 2016. She thought he would enjoy my necklaces, so of course I made him one.

Photo by Boryana (Burya) Pandova
Koma Zaeka at Sofia Film Fest with her own Squirrel’s love Beads necklace
(the leopard beads were remnants from my original stash from Gatsi, collected somewhere along the way)

When I met Nick and he saw me giving necklaces to my friends (and often to strangers if I felt like it), he said it was a great thing to do, and he started supplying me with beads. At first he just ordered them, but then he was inspired to make some himself.

He started exploring and testing various bead making techniques – polymer clay, wood, glass.

We called the various beads that he made with funny names – superbeads, cosmic beads, mermaid eggs, etc. And of course, they inspired me to make even more necklaces.

“Mermaid eggs”
‘Cosmic beads’

A baby’s toy that I made from “superbeads”

Our dear friends Mincho and Zhenya with one of my “superbead” necklaces
A keyring that I made, using some of Nick’s “superbeads” and tassels
Our friend Sasho, the rockstar (Squirrel’s Love Beads style)
at Burg Herzberg festival in Germany

Then I came across the macramé knot technique, and I started using it instead of just stringing the beads. I think they look much better this way, and it makes them much more resistant. If the cord breaks, it does not make all the beads spill instantly – just one or two might drop, but the knots prevent the whole thing from falling apart.

We visited a handmade art fair in Barcelona in 2014. I was impressed when I saw this “yarn” made of multicolor recycled sari silk, and I decided to start using it in my necklaces. At this point I started making each piece in a certain color scheme, highlighted by the color of the sari silk stripe and the cotton cord that I used, and I selected all beads according to this scheme. Before this, my necklaces were usually chaotic, which I liked. But making each one in a certain colour has a point – they they could be mixed and matched, or layered.

Me in Park Guell, Barcelona

I usually take my beads with me while travelling – on vacation, or at music festivals. Then I find a place where I can sit and make some necklaces, which feels really great. We sit, talk, listen to the music – and in the meantime I make my strings of love beads and give them to someone who I think would enjoy them.

At our favourite hippie festival in Panichishte
In a pub before a concert in Plovdiv
During a photography workshop in Thassos island, Greece
In front of our tent at Burg Herzberg festival, Germany

My friends like to joke that there is some hidden magic in my necklaces, and after you get one, a dream of yours comes true. I am not sure I believe this – but this is such a nice notion! I guess it could be some kind of a symbol: If you think “when I wear my necklace, something good will happen”, it could change your attitude – and then it might help the good things really happen!

Yana, one of the believers in my “colorful magic”, with her Tree Of Life necklace,
at Mindya Rock Fest

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