Anyone who has ever enjoyed working with beads can’t deny the simple fact that beads have some sort of healing power. There’s just something undeniably life-affirming and uplifting about the joy that you get when you sit down with your beads to create something. Seeing the smile on the faces of my students when they’ve finished a project or mastered a new stitch is an amazing experience and one of the reasons why I love teaching so much.
Recently, Interweave’s Jaime Guthals traveled to Joplin, Missouri, where the residents are trying to make sense of the recent devastation caused by violent storms and are slowly rebuilding their lives. Here’s her account of her weekend in Joplin:
"I had the opportunity to go to Joplin, Missouri this past weekend and volunteer in the clean-up efforts and teach beading at a special event for victims of the tornado. With kits donated from my friends at Beading to Beat Autism, I set up tables for moms, teens, and children as young as 5 and taught them how to make bracelets using basic seed beads and Stretch Magic® jewelry
"I had the opportunity to go to Joplin, Missouri this past weekend and volunteer in the clean-up efforts and teach beading at a special event for victims of the tornado. With kits donated from my friends at Beading to Beat Autism, I set up tables for moms, teens, and children as young as 5 and taught them how to make bracelets using basic seed beads and Stretch Magic® jewelrycord.
In the aftermath of the disaster, it was such a relaxing, fun experience for people to sit down and play with beads. Beading seems to have a special healing power, and I think there’s something meditative about the rhythm and ease of simple bead stringing, and the act of creating again when everything around you has been destroyed. And since so many people lost their possessions, it gave them a piece of jewelry to take away and something positive to remember about the experience.
This was the first time I’ve ever taught beading to little ones, and I learned a few key things to make it go smoothly:
Use felt mats as placemats on the table so that the beads and supplies don’t roll away.
Cut the string to about 9” before the kids arrive, and place a piece of tape at the end so their beads don’t fall of when stringing them.
Let the kids use beading needles with a big eye and a not-too-sharp point. I wouldn’t put them in the hands of a child under the age of 5, but the older kids were fine with them.
Allow the kids to pick out their own beads (I used basic size 11/0 seed beads), but pour the beads on the mat for them. So many children would pour too much then have to put them back in the containers, or they would bump them with their elbows and scatter beads across the table.
Have a piece of paper on the table with lines for different size bracelets (5 – 6” for children; 7-8” for women; 9” approx for men).
Appoint adult helpers to assist with tying the knots in the bracelets. We used clear fingernail polish to seal the knots and finish them.
Finally, encourage the children to experiment with their bead patterning and color combinations. So many kids started out trying to make perfect 1:1 bead patterns, but to bring out their inner artist I showed them how other combinations, or even beads swirled together on the mat and strung at random can be beautiful. Older children might benefit from having a color wheel on the table to see how to mix colors and create other interesting color combinations.
Beading is a great craft to teach in a group because it’s easily portable, the supplies are relatively inexpensive per person, and beading has that instant gratification since participants can make and complete a simple stretch cord bracelet in under 15 minutes. Kids especially love picking out their favorite colors and walking away with that “I made this!” expression on their faces."
If you’re inspired to spread a little beading joy, there are probably places right in your own community where you can start. The joy of beading is best felt when it’s shared with others!