Group bead quilts, made as memory pieces or fundraisers, are a fascinating development in current beading trends. This post takes a look at some of my favorites, including “A Bear of a Different Color” made as a fundraiser by the Mat-Su Valley Bead Society of Alaska.
The idea of combining quilt blocks and beadwork may have been the original brain child of Andrea Adams of Washington state.
Grieving our national tragedy of 9-11, 2001, Andrea needed to express her feelings with her beads. Reading various bead lists and forums, she noticed many others with the same need and posted her budding idea as follows: "I would like to do something with my beadwork, as that's how I process my emotions. Maybe a large beaded quilt, with "squares" from many different beadworkers? I don't know, I haven't really thought it through ... but the idea came to me, and I'm wondering if anyone else would have interest in some sort of project like this...? As I said before, I believe that creating beadwork can be a healing process, and I like to think that the results of that creative energy can have some healing effects as well."
Quickly beaders around the country (and in several foreign countries) took up their needles and beads to create 3 x 3 inch squares. As the squares started pouring in, so did the volunteer offers of help. A team of 27 women formed to coordinate this project, the first and largest of its kind, before or since. By email and telephone, they spread the invitation to make squares, gathered finished squares, organized work parties to assemble the quilt panels, photographed the squares, developed a website, and sought exhibition opportunities and permanent homes for the three finished quilts. I am so awed by what they accomplished and the enormity of the gift given to a grieving nation by so many compassionate beaders.
There are 573 squares pictured on the official Bead Quilt website. Some are bead embroidery; some are woven; all are amazing. It’s worth the time to go through all 24 pages of squares; click on any that especially appeal to you to see an enlarged image. The ages of the participants range from 8 - 80. Skill level ranges from "famous" teachers and authors to folks who chose this as their very 1st beading project. My square is the one with the missing towers, shown above. Also I volunteered with the Seattle group (below) to assemble the blocks from our region.
While our emotions were still very raw, in less than 7 months following the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the completed project was exhibited at the Bead Museum in Arizona. Here you can see pictures of the finished quilt panels on exhibition. The image below shows the incredible scope of the project. It is my hope that some day, Andrea and/or other members of the Quilt Team will write a book, or perhaps produce a documentary movie, about this project.
The next bead quilt that I’m aware of was created by the Mat-Su Valley Bead Society in Palmer, Alaska as a gift to the local college for permitting the group to meet there free-of-charge. The designer/finisher is Cheryl Lacy. See the finished quilt, called “Spirit Mask,” below:
Cheryl’s idea (inspired by an article she saw in a quilting magazine) was to create a line drawing, divide the design into blocks, each of which would have a small portion of the design on it, and pass them out to members of the group to bead. The only rule was that the lines must be beaded with black seed beads. None of the beaders knew what the final design would be. Below is a square by Jeanette Shanigan; can you find it on the finished quilt?
“Spirit Mask,” finished in 2004, was so much fun and so well received, that the group decided to make another quilt the next year as a fundraiser. So Cheryl set about to design a second group bead quilt. Using the same process as above, she designed a bear, which she divided into twelve blocks, each 3 inches square. Here it is again, “A Bear of a Different Color!”
This is the one that sucked me in, pulled at my heartstrings, and said, “You’ve GOT to write about this!” Apparently others felt the same way, because after it’s completion, Cheryl and Jeanette developed a power-point presentation about how to make a group quilt of this type. You can read about it here.
One group that found their tutorial helpful was the Great Lakes Beadworkers Guild (GLBG). Five years ago, they lost a long-time, much-loved member, Barb Davis, to breast cancer. They decided to honor Barb’s memory by making a group bead quilt using Cheryl’s process. Liz Thompson (initial idea), Pat Wiley (Program Committee Chair and overseer of the project) and Yvanne Ham (designer) energized the group, dividing Yvanne's image of a flying heart into 84 blocks! The resulting memory quilt, shown below, was completed and displayed this year.
If you go to the GLBG site, here, you can see individual pictures of 66 of the finished blocks. To tempt you, below are a couple of my favorites:
Can you imagine how wonderful it must feel to have the energy of a whole group united and directed toward connection and memory? What a powerful experience it must have been, one that lives on every time the quilt is viewed!
Along the lines of the "Barb Davis Memory Quilt", Jeanette Shanigan (who was also involved in the Bear and Spirit Mask quilts), has combined the ideas of memory, fund raising, and group energy directed toward a cause. Using 1.5 inch beaded squares, each with a butterfly theme, made by volunteers from everywhere (including foreign countries), Jeanette has sewn blocks together, making 5 (so far) quilts which will be auctioned at the Bead & Button Show this year. The money will go to breast cancer research in honor of Jeanette’s mother, who did not survive the disease. I’ve written about this project here. You can see all the individual squares so far here, and the finished quilts here. Below are three blocks made by me (center) and two of my quilting “sisters,” Christy (left) and Lunnette (right).
Sabine, who lives in Bremen, Germany and who frequently comments on my blog, also "got the bug." She sent "Spark" (her butterfly square, shown below) to me so I could see it before sending it to Jeanette along with the three above. It touches my heart that our butterflies will be together in the same bead quilt!
For the last example in this post, I’m returning to Palmer, Alaska, where once again, Cheryl Lacy took on yet another beaded quilt, which incidentally, she calls “Mystery Quilts.” That’s because the beaders don’t know what it will be. This time however, rather than making squares, each participant beaded an eye-shaped piece. Cheryl then designed and made a fabric quilt, and appliquéd each of the pieces on it. Voila! The eye or leaf shaped pieces became feathers. “Birds of a Feather,” shown below, won a ribbon at the Alaska State Fair this year!
I find this one particularly compelling because it is more of a “traditional” quilt, but still has a strong element of beadwork. Besides, it just makes me happy to look at it!
If you know any folks who participated in making these quilts, please pass along my compliments and total respect for their huge accomplishments. Please also give them the link to this post, so they can take a look at my brief story about bead quilts. If you know of one I’ve overlooked, please write to tell me about it. Also, if anyone knows how to reach Andrea Adams, please tell me.. the old email address I have for her doesn't work anymore.