The most obvious source of bead-craze for me is my mother’s seed bead collection. When I was very young, she practiced Native American style bead embroidery, and also made some amazing loomwork pieces. To this day, I swoon a little at the scent of suede and rabbit fur. I loved everything about the craft, from the materials to the finished projects, but the loose beads were my favorite.
Mother bought and stored Czech seed beads in clear film containers, and stored them in a big vintage sewing box. I spent hours upon hours just looking at all the little vials of color. My favorite was an enormous bottle of lustered transparent cranberry. Today I think that it might have something to do with my notion that seed beads are always more appealing in huge quantities.
Getting an actual taste of beadwork at an early age is a good start, but not everyone keeps going, or picks it up again at a later date and makes it a constant passion. For many beaders, there are other factors that make beads and beadwork irresistibly appealing. But do we love beads because of these experiences, or do these experiences stand out for us because we love beads?
To solve this mystery I went on a nostalgia trip, looking for all of the things in early life that may or may not link inner cartwheels and figurative drooling to beads, and the way that I feel about them today. At the risk of dating myself with some distinctly late 20th century fads, I’m going to share a few of the things I found on my search through photo albums and pin boards. Perhaps you’ll see a few familiar things here, too!
The first thing I found was an old photograph of a day at the beach - one of many. The lake that we used to visit every summer had a wonderful sandy beach, and in those first few years, it was always covered in beautiful little snail shells. Collecting these shells, using them in sandcastles, and taking them home for crafts was something that I always looked forward to.
Sadly, the number of shells that we found got smaller every year, and several summers went by without a single find. I didn’t know it at first, but this was my first experience with the idea that people can drastically change an environment in a very short period of time. Fast forward a few decades, and here I am, carefully choosing beads that are the least likely to have caused anyone harm.
The old photo album got me thinking about the days before the Internet, and some of the quaint things that we used to love ‘back in the day‘. Then I remembered how obsessed I was with a particular Contac-C commercial. In the ad, a model breaks open a cold medicine capsule, spilling out an abundance of brightly colored little ‘beads’. I was always glued to the set whenever this add came on, and this was long before I had discovered the wonder of glass seed beads. Coincidence? Or instinct? We may never know, but the fact that I remembered enough about the commercial to include the keyword ‘bus’ when looking for it must mean something.
Of course, cartoons and movies were also full of bead and gem goodness. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small town, and had the freedom to walk home everyday for lunch - even in first grade - to eat Alpha-getti and watch Teddy Ruxpin. My favorite episode? The one where Gimmick invents a machine that turns the rainbow waterfall into colored crystals, naturally. (By the way, if this show ever ends up on Netflix, you might not see or hear from me for awhile. I'll drop everything to watch every episode!)
Do you remember push pencils? If you don’t, just imagine a pencil that you never have to sharpen, and then throw away after only a few uses. I cringe when I think about how much plastic was wasted by this particular fad, but at the time, they were delightful! For my birthday one year, I received a package of push pencils with fruit designs on them. Each one had a reservoir in the lid that was filled with tiny little scent beads to match the fruity print. I loved these pencils above all others, and spent as much time examining the little translucent beads inside as I did writing with them.
While on the hunt for an image of push pencils, I stumbled across many forgotten things from my childhood that may have contributed to, or enhanced, my love of beads.
These wooden bead toys made visiting
the dentist a treat. Still do!
If you never woke up with stick-on earrings on
your face and/or pillow, you didn't grow up in the 80's.
Remember the worry doll fad?
The smaller the better, just like beads!
I'm not sure, but I think I wanted a bike
just so I could put Spokey Dokeys on it.
Small, colorful, transparent thingies that make pictures...
Beads, or Lite-Brite?
Of course, beads and jewelry themselves played a part. Just like most girls, I spent a fair amount of pocket change on vending machine jelly bracelets. I also had a marvelous collection of brightly colored, chunky plastic jewelry a la 1980’s SAAN and Woolworth stores.
Here I am with my aunt in 1988 or so, wearing a stretchy bracelet and rainbow plastic hearts. I loved junk jewelry, and treated it like gold. One piece that really stands out in my memory is a multi-strand stretch bracelet with white plastic pearls, and an enormous red ‘gemstone’. Even when the bracelet fell apart, I kept that plastic rock and treasured it for its size, color, and lovely transparence.
I’m still no closer to learning if bead-love is in my bones, or if I’m a product of a bead-friendly environment, but the journey was incredible! It didn’t even make me feel old, but I do have a craving for Kool-Aid and Pop-Tarts now.
Where did your bead obsession begin? Do you think it was fate or fortune that brought you together?
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