Baubles, bangles and beads – many, many beads

Taipei’s do-it-yourself district is a one-stop treasure trove for jewelry makers and beaders

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wed, Apr 29, 2009 - Page 13

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Just behind Taipei Main Station, shops filled with glittery crystals, brightly colored beads and shiny silver chains stand side-by-side with dry cleaners, shoe stores and motorcycle repair shops. The area is known as Taipei’s DIY (do-it-yourself) district and two blocks on Yanping North (延平北) and Changan West (長安西) roads cater to jewelry makers and beaders in particular, with more than a dozen stores selling beads, charms, tools and findings.

Bead-working supply shops started clustering in the area 10 years ago, says Wu Cheng-hsiung (吳正雄), the owner of Yi Ping (億品服裝飾品材料) on Yanping North Road. Before that, there were DIY stores in the vicinity, but most focused on traditional Chinese crafts such as knotting. Many of the stores now carry Swarovski crystals and beading kits, which are popular among women who make accessories for themselves.

“Jewelry-making with crystals really started taking off a couple years ago. People start with things like bracelets and then move on to more complicated designs. They like it because it is creative and buying your own crystals is more economical than buying ready-made jewelry,” says Wu.

ALADDIN’S CAVE

Start browsing the DIY district with a stop at Shuijing Chaoshi (水晶超市) at 87 Zhengzhou St (鄭州路87號) on the corner of Yanping North and Zhengzhou roads. The store’s name means “crystal supermarket,” and they aren’t kidding. The large space is lined with rows of semi-precious beads and the entire floor is covered with crystal bric-a-brac, as well as pendants, Chinese macrame, silky nylon cord, elastic, beaded figures and (somewhat incongruously) cheap children’s toys. Signs that read, “please handle the beads gently” are taped all over the racks and just in case you somehow manage to forget, the store’s staff, who hover near shoppers with an eagle eye, rush up to remind you.

The constant surveillance, however, is worth it for the low prices. Most beads, including strands of pastel-hued tourmaline, soft green aventurine, glittery sandstone, minty jade, wine-colored garnet, brilliant purple amethyst and clear quartz, sell for just NT$150. Freshwater pearls are NT$200 or less per strand, while slightly more expensive beads include butterflies carved out of quartz for NT$300.

Swarovski crystals and plastic beads are plentiful in the DIY district, but natural stones are harder to find. Besides Shuijing Chaoshi, there is Easy (Easy半寶石公司) at 2, Ln 69, Yanping N Rd Sec 1 (延平北路一段69巷2號), tel: (02) 2559-5376. Hidden away in an alley off of Yanping North Road, Easy also specializes in beads made out of semi-precious stones. The selection is smaller than Shuijing Chaoshi’s, but the atmosphere in the attractive store is more congenial.

Wu’s store, Yi Ping (億品服裝飾品材料) at 31, Yanping N Rd Sec 1 (延平北路一段31號), tel: (02) 2550-7395, specializes in kits for beading small figurines, including miniature Schnauzers and pandas, out of Swarovski crystals for NT$170 to NT$910 per pack, depending on the amount of beads. Larger Swarovski crystals for jewelry include pendants in the shape of hearts and arrowheads for about NT$250 each. Findings including earring hooks and headpins, made out of inexpensive base metal are also plentiful.

Neighboring store Tsenghua (增樺企業有限公司) at 43, Yanping N Rd Sec 1 (延平北路一段43), tel: (02) 2556-7966 X7, contains a motley assortment of odds and ends. The small, jumbled shop has a large selection of ribbon in the front, sterling silver chain and findings (sold in packs of 10 pieces for NT$300), base metal charms like large, brass skeleton keys for NT$50 and cloisonne beads for NT$10 each. Other items include carved wooden buttons for NT$10 to NT$20 each and more kinds of miniature angel wings than you ever knew existed (NT$20 per pair).

THE MOTHER LODE

The next stop is Mama Bear (小熊媽媽) at 51, Yanping N Rd Sec 1 (延平北路一段51), tel: (02) 2550-8899. No article about DIY stores in the city is complete without a reference to this behemoth, which caters to almost every craft that does not require a blowtorch. Mama Bear’s jewelry-making section is large, but mainly targets fans of trendy jewelry made from chunky metal chains and whimsical plastic beads. More unique items include a large selection of die-cut metal charms, which come in the shape of medallions, hearts and leaves and look like airy lace doilies (NT$50 per pair), round bells in different sizes and sorbet colors (NT$30 per pack) and huge spools of plastic beads to make beaded curtains from (NT$600 to NT$700 each).

The shop stocks a large selection of yarn in both natural and synthetic fibers and knitting needles. Like many knitting stores in Taiwan, Mama Bear’s yarn is stowed away in cellophane bags to protect against over-handling and humidity, and you have to ask staff members to unwrap them if you want to feel yarn and purchase skeins. The store is crowded on weekends, so come on weekdays to avoid a lengthy wait for service.

Located between Mama Bear and Changan West Road, Lien I (連儀飾品有限公司) at 77, Yanping N Rd Sec 1 (延平北路一段77號), tel: (02) 2558-7831, was depressingly empty on a recent Saturday, perhaps because the store does not carry any beads. Instead, Lien I is stuffed with a stunning assortment of base metal and sterling silver charms, which line the shop’s walls and are stacked in glass-fronted cabinets. Ever wondered where you could pick up filigree clasps and buckles, or charms in the shape of snails, giraffes, keys, gardening supplies, flowers or different zodiac signs? Lien I has all of these, and much, much more.

CHARMS AND CHAINS

The first DIY shop on the corner of Yanping North and Changan West roads, East Beauty (東美飾品材料行) at 235 Changan W Rd (長安西路235號), tel: (02) 2558-8437, carries many of the same plastic and glass beads, crystals and tools as other shops in the neighborhood, but is better organized and more spacious. The two-story shop also has a larger selection of sterling silver findings, charms and chains (NT$320 or less for 46cm) than most of its neighboring competitors.

Two stores on Changan West Road specialize in crystal iron-on transfers. The first, Pomp Accessories (阿嚕咪轉燙DIY) at 247 Changan W Rd (長安西路247號), tel: (02) 2559-2257, specializes in colorful, ready-to-buy designs, many of which have a rock influence, including a large, tattoo-style skull for NT$1,800. The second, Ching Hua (晶鏵流行服飾材料) at 257 Changan W Rd (長安西路257號), tel: (02) 2552-7922, makes very chic grayscale designs. You can put in a custom order and turn your favorite black-and-white portrait into a blingy T-shirt transfer. A ready-to-use portrait of Charlie Chaplin was available for NT$460.

Miss Beads (珠兒小姐服飾材料有限公司) at 271 Changan W Rd (長安西路271號), tel: (02) 2559-6970, is probably the prettiest store in the DIY district. Two large walls of ribbon spools, which hang against the store’s plate glass windows and lure in pedestrians, dominate its warmly lit interior. Almost every kind of ribbon is represented: ombre, grosgrain, polka-dotted, lace, embroidered, appliqued. The store also sells colorful Fimo clay beads, plastic beads that are made to resemble ceramic beads, Venetian glass pendants and silk flowers.

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