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  • Writer's pictureSusanne Verallo

Creating A Filipino Garden: The Making of Diwata

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

Many of us who grew up here in the Philippines have fond memories of our native flowers. Perhaps you played with them when you were a kid, or maybe these grew in your grandmother's garden. Diwata Pt. 1 is a celebration of our Filipino blooms, and an ode to childhood memories.

Here's how I created the collection, from early beaded examples, to clay experiments, to the final flowers – a journey over two years in the making. This is my love letter to the Philippines.

The sampaguita was the first beaded flower I ever made. This was back in February 2021, so I was still pretty new to bead weaving. At that point I was still getting the hang of the basic stitches but being the ambitious gal that I am, I thought I'd start dabbling with creating 3D shapes. Here's what that first sampaguita looked like:

Not very jasmine-like at all, huh?

I hadn't quite gotten the hang of creating three dimensional structures, and I was having a lot of trouble with the petals. Eventually I shelved the idea and focused on creating the native fruits instead, which are also 3D but slightly less complex than the flowers.

These are my very first prototypes of the fruits.

Around July of that year I injured my right hand and arm from overuse. Now I want to take a little detour to talk about beadwork. It is not an easy craft. Creating a pair of beaded earrings can take anywhere between two to twelve hours per pair, depending on the complexity of the design. I've even tried spending 3 days working on just one design. Now imagine sitting at your desk for hours at a time constructing jewelry bead by tiny bead. It takes its toll on your body. Since beginning my bead weaving journey I've gotten injured multiple times, from pulling a ligament in my left hand to overworking the CMC joint in my right hand. Beadwork is not easy. It takes skill, technical knowledge, hard work, and patience, and I hope more people will understand and appreciate its intricacies.

Ok, now let's get back on track!

My doctor instructed me to take a few weeks off beading to rest my hands, and instead try other activities that would encourage different movement. That's when I started dabbling with clay.

The idea of creating a collection inspired by the legend of Maria Makiling never left me, so I took the time off as an opportunity to explore that theme, this time with clay. To cut a long story short, I loved the process, and eventually I developed these experiments into another collection that launched mid-2022. (We'll dive into that in a future post.)

These are my early sculpted flower experiments from 2021.

However once I was allowed to bead again, I shelved that project for the time being to focus on beadwork. Your orders and support in 2021 (thank you 🙏🏼) enabled me to continue to develop and improve my beading skills, and by 2022 I felt confident enough to attempt my original idea of a collection of beaded native flowers.

I first started with smaller flowers that I could create with bead weaving, like the santan and everlasting flowers. While I was very happy with how they turned out, I knew I'd have to think of something else for the larger, more structurally complex flowers like the sampaguita.

Above: The original santan design. It looked a little too stiff and heavy, so I redid the design to the one you see today.

Enter: French beading.

While looking for inspiration on how to construct beaded flowers, I chanced upon the craft of French beaded flowers. French beading is an old technique developed in past centuries to create everlasting blooms. It became popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, though the technique itself is likely even older. Here, glass beads are strung onto fine wire and twisted into different shapes to create the parts of a flower. It was perfect for what I had in mind!

The first flower I attempted with this new technique was, of course, the sampaguita. The new rigidity of the wire provided the much-needed structure for the petals, enabling me to create the layered arrangement of the flower itself. Here's a look at those early experiments, and the final sampaguita from last year:

I also created beaded kalachuchis with the technique. It was a similar process to the sampaguita, but with the added challenge of incorporating a second color to each petal.

Here's last year's spread:

It's been a year since I first launched Diwata Pt. 1, and a whole year since I first started French beading, so I decided it was time to level up! I've gotten a lot more confident in my beading skills overall and decided to add new flowers to the collection, and update the sampaguita.

While I loved the original sampaguita design, I knew it could be improved upon. For one thing, the original design didn't quite capture how "fluffy" the actual flower looks, so I gave it an overhaul adding more petals and varying their sizes to emphasize its fullness. For comparison, here's the updated design on the left compared to the original on the right:

Another addition to my French beaded flowers is the ylang-ylang. I've wanted to make this flower since last year, but back then I wasn't experienced enough to work with the different techniques needed for each part of the flower.

Now French beaded flowers are typically made up of multiple parts. That's a separate wire each for the petals, stamen, sepals, stem, leaves, etc, because each one is made with a different French beading technique. For example, the technique used for petals is different from that used for leaves. You cannot do the same with jewelry because all those wires will result in a heavy, bulky design. So the challenge with turning French beaded flowers into jewelry is figuring out how to use the least amount of wires and components possible.

To create the ylang-ylang I had to figure out how to combine three different techniques onto a single wire, one each for the petals, calyx, and leaves. It was one heck of a challenge, not helped by the fact that I had to use a thicker gauge wire to keep the long petals from getting deformed, but I did it! Here are the finished ylang-ylang earrings:

All in all Diwata Pt. 1 was an incredible challenge. While of course these jewelry pieces aren't meant to be botanical replicas, I did my best to capture the characteristics of their real-life counterparts. From the creeping vines of the morning glory, to the lush blossoms of the balayong, to the elegance of the ylang-ylang – I crafted each piece to be a reminder of fond childhood memories, and a celebration of our home, the Philippines.

You can learn more about Diwata Pt. 1 here.


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