The Bead Braider

 

Group bead making machine, 2019

A machine that celebrates and encourages the ritualistic qualities of hair braiding in the Black community.

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Braiding and hair ornamentation is a longstanding tradition in the Black community. It can often be a long, tedious, and physically draining process, and it is not uncommon for multiple people to simultaneously braid one person's hair. These circumstances turn the act of hair braiding into a social ritual and a powerful source of shared Black identity.

 

Braiding practices in the Black community frequently make use of hair extensions. Once completed, braids are often decorated with objects like beads, cuffs, shells, rings, and twine. The Bead Braider combines these two practices by using worn hair extensions —which are typically discarded after use in one's braids — to create ornaments that can then be used to decorate finished braids. The repurposing of hair extensions minimizes plastic waste and highlights the social significance of Black hair, as braiders create ornaments to adorn braids that protect one's natural hair from the elements.

 

The Bead Braider utilizes a pulley system and requires four people to operate. The machine can produce beads of four different diameters and is compatible with different hair extension textures & additives like ribbon or shells. It is portable, lightweight, and easy to assemble, capable of adapting to different environments so as to not limit the possibilities of social interaction. The wooden surface also allows stains from oils and other hair products to accumulate with each use as means of preserving memory.