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Beads, Books and Bijoux

Novelist Isabel Allende finds serenity in jewelry making

Isabel Allende

Cody Pickens

Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American writer. Allende's works sometimes contain aspects of the 'magic realist' tradition.

En español | One of my oldest friends is Tabra Tunoa, a famous jeweler whose stunning ethnic silver pieces have become collectibles around the world. Watching her work got me into beading. Tabra can spend hours placing one bead here and another there, studying the design, contrasting color with texture and form, making sure that every part is perfect and that the final piece looks rich and heavy but weighs so little that it is comfortable to wear. I realized that making jewelry is similar to writing: In both cases, one needs to have an eye for detail and a vision of the whole.

My necklaces are a humble craft. Often I am embarrassed to give one as a present. What if the recipient doesn't like it? But I keep making them because beading is a way of telling someone I care for her. I make jewelry for friends and acquaintances, planning each piece for that particular woman, after finding out her favorite color and whether she prefers large or small beads, long or short necklaces.

Isabel Allende

Cody Pickens

'Choosing beads is like choosing words,' Allende says.

In my studio, I have a desk for my computer and a long table for my beads. Writing is a patient and slow process that requires total concentration but also a relaxed state of mind so ideas and images can flow with an almost organic energy. If I am trying too hard, the muse of inspiration backs off. When I feel that the writing is not coming easily, that the characters are not talking to me or the story is not unfolding gracefully, I start playing with my beads, which takes my mind off the book. By the time I finish the piece I'm working on, I am usually refreshed and ready to go back to my writing.

Isabel Allende jewelry detail

Cody Pickens

Allende's jewelry is often delicate and personal.

When I'm making a piece of jewelry, any mistake — a skipped or misplaced bead — means I have to start again. It's the same with writing: The wrong word can change the mood of a whole paragraph. It's all about harmony and balance. With words I can tell a story; with beads I can express a feeling.

Isabel Allende, 73, has written more than 20 books. Her most recent, The Japanese Lover, was published in November.