As far back as I can remember I’ve been piecing together tiny beads and shiny things to make pretty jewelry. At seven years old, I delighted in discovering the button tins that my Great Aunts kept. They were my joy, well… in addition to my Aunt Mame’s Boudoir doll. That doll sat on her bed pillow with her beaded skirt and crinoline billowed out around her and just the tip of one painted high heel shoe showing beneath. I sat quietly for hours next to that doll, sorting through buttons, beads, sequins and safety pins in the tin. I pincked the tiny beads when the beads chose me, I strung them and a few sequins on the safety pins and my aunts praised me and served me ginger snaps and hot tea for creating brooches for them. I didn't know what a brooch was, but I was thrilled that my aunts were so happy with their pretty safety pins.
In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, I strung love beads to wear around my neck and I embroidered beaded flowers on the cuffs of my bell bottoms. It was around that time that became fascinated by vintage and antique jewelry. I scoured antique shops for Victorian necklaces and brooches featuring garnets and marcasite, bracelets of Bakelite and Miriam Haskell designs.
So inspired was I with the "treasures" I found, it was inevitable that I would next begin to develop and create my own designs. I studied silver fabrication and lost wax casting in college and beading at William Holland School of Lapidary Arts in Young Harris, GA.
A spry young 80-ish woman plucked my bags from my car trunk and carried them into the school for me before I could protest. I didn't know then that this woman who loved to cut and polish cabochons would become my mother-in-law; the bubbly man who taught chain making would become my father-in-law; or that their son, who happened to open the door to my room for me, when I couldn't, would become my husband.
In 2003, my husband and I moved to France and lived there for nearly four years. I did not work outside our home, so my days were filled with studying French and exploring the culture and people of a country so different from my own. I studied French with a tutor and I studied beading techniques from French books. I was intrigued by the French approach to beading and sought out beads and everything beady wherever I could. I frequented the local jewelry galleries, lace-making and crazy quilt schools and the two bead stores in town.
The Paris Art District has many bead shops that I would get lost in for hours and museums there showcased fine examples of bead weaving and stitchery in collections of period clothing.
Over the cold, damp winters, I taught basic bead stitches and techniques and simple bracelet patterns to students from a broad range of nationalities, though the majority were Americans and French. I held several expos of my jewelry that were well received and I became known to many as “the bead lady.”
When springtime sweeps color and life through France, the flea markets open in Paris, and in Auvergne, where I lived, weekends would find me at my favorite Brocantes rummaging through button tins again, sometimes finding vintage or even turn-of-the-century beads and buttons. one day, a bonanza of antique beads lay buried under lace remnants in a rose floral fabric covered box. I was lucky! The woman who sold them to me told me that they had been in her family for years and that they were made in Italy from Murano glass. After another day of walking the aisles at an outdoor flea market, I was overjoyed to find a cardboard box filled to the brim with clear plastic packets, weathered stiff with age, of vintage seed beads and bugle beads marked “Perles pour les robes” -- beads for dresses. I often incorporate these and other vintage and antique beads in my work.
Whole villages would turn out to sell their wares at weekend Vide Greniers (literally “empty the attic” sale). Many of these took place in small villages set in idyllic, sylvan settings, such as a farm or on the grounds of a chateau, the top of a mountain or under a volcano. It was at one of these sales that I found some of the beautiful beads featured in this blog, sold to me by Sophie, whose mother had been a couturiere in Paris in the late 1800s.
I'd like to share ideas, tips and my jewelry designs with fellow jewelry enthusiasts on any topic related to beadwoven jewelry. As I always say, it’s all about moving the beads around in such a manner as to delight the senses and soothe the savage beads.