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Crisis turns 76-year-old beadmaker into a webmaster

AnnaBella bead

As older folk around the world join younger generations mastering technology so that they can shop and communicate with friends and family during lockdown, Barbara Magrath, a 76-year-old beadmaker in Howick is going a bit further, learning web design and e-marketing to keep her business going.

At Dragonfire Beads at Tweedie Junction (near the Nelson Mandela capture site), Barbara and her two fellow beadmakers, Rudo and Happiness, produce exquisite handmade glass beads. They sell them individually or make them up into jewellery and cutlery, some of it off the rack, a lot of custom-made to order.

To fill in the gaps when they are not making beads to order, they rely on custom from visitors at their small shop and studio on the Midlands Meander. Unfortunately, all that has come to a sudden halt with the lockdown over the Covid-19 crisis.

Protea and rose bracelet

Now Barbara is following tutorials every day so that she can redesign and reformat her website and market her e-shop to keep her business going. She is studying through the Insaka eCommerce Academy, which offers many courses free of charge to help South African online entrepreneurs improve their skills and build their businesses.

A former high school teacher, Barbara is used to being on the other side of the teacher-student relationship. In fact, her classes in glass bead making at Dragonfire Beads are very popular.

She had a basic website built a few years ago to showcase her beautiful jewellery and cutlery, but she didn’t ever have the time to work out how to really put it to good use. She receives a steady stream of orders online from customers in other parts of South Africa and from collectors in North America and Europe, but wants to expands her footprint on the internet now while her shop is closed to the public. She says that delivery of small, lightweight items is cheap and convenient, even in South Africa with its notoriously poor postal service.

To see Barbara at work at her torch manipulating tiny slivers of different coloured glass with a pair of tweezers in the flame you would never think that such precision and delicate detail was possible. If you are impressed with the precision and exact proportions of a protea that looks exactly like the real thing at half a centimetre in diameter, the tiny, perfect little leopards will blow your mind.

Safari necklace

Dragonfire’s signature range of beads, the Annabella Beads, are named after two of Barbara’s six grandchildren. Customers can buy single beads to add to their bracelets, or they can buy bracelets, necklaces or earrings that are made up. The beads can be added to European-style charm bracelets, such as Pandora bracelets, and vice versa.

Barbara and her team are often busy with a commission, such as 2,500 beads to decorate the bottle for a new locally manufactured perfume, or a full set of jewellery for a bride plus a matching bead for each guest to take away as a memento.

In between commissions they each apply their own creativity to making various off-the-rack products, including small items, such as a bookmarks made of a leather thong with beads on either side, which make perfect gifts.

Dragonfire Beads at Tweedie Junction will be open for business as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can order online at

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