Saturday, March 10, 2007

Have You Ever Seen a Bead Quilt?

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.

bead quilt, Bear of a Different Color, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
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.

bead embroidery, Missing Towers, by Robin Atkins for 9-11 Bead Quilt
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.

9-11 Bead Quilt, assembly group in Seattle
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.

9-11 Bead Quilt, first public display in San Diego
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:

bead quilt, Spirit Mask, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
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?

beaded block by Jeanette Shanigan, for Spirit Mask bead 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!”

bead quilt, Bear of a Different Color, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
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.

bead quilt by GLBS in memory of Barb Davis
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:

beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
beaded square for GLBS bead quilt in memory of Barb Davis
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).

three beaded squares for breast cancer bead quilt
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!

bead embroidery by Sabine Keichel, butterfly square for breast cancer 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!

bead quilt, Birds of a Feather, by Mat-Su Valley Bead Society
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.


  1. The bear and sun are both wonderful, but I have to admit, I favor the bear too! S/he has such presence! Someone got one heck of an art piece when they bid on him!

  2. Stunning! The bear is fantastic and one of my favorite symbols. I also like the brown/gold toned piece in your individual picture favorites. This kind of workmanship and collaboration is wonderful.

  3. Anonymous12:33 PM

    Nice post again, Robin!! Those are beautiful quilts. I love them all. The cool thing about the quilts is that they seem to pick up a collective consciousness with all the quilt pieces fitting together perfectly to tell a story, although most of them are made independently of each other.

    There was a wonderful bead quilt auctioned off recently by the Glass Sead Beaders Group (GSBG)with all proceeds going to the Hurricane Katerina Relief.

  4. Anonymous12:38 PM

    ooops. This link might work better

  5. What an inspiring read, Robin.
    And boy do I love that chicken!!!

  6. What awesome projects! I'd love to be able to see them in person.

  7. To All ~ Lori sums it up so well... "awesome projects!" Thanks for taking a look.

    To BeadBabe ~ Yup, $500 was a steal... I'd pay that in a heartbeat.

    To Karen ~ You're so right on about the "collective consciousness" ~ good way of explaining the visible unity of each piece. Also, thanks so much for the link! I didn't know about the Katrina Relief quilt. It's another really awesome piece! Do you know how much it sold for?

    To Allie ~ Me too!

  8. Thank you for such an enjoyable post. All these quilts are wonderful, but the birds of a feather is my favourite!


  9. Those are some heavy quilts!

  10. Anonymous10:13 AM

    Hi Robin,

    The Katrina Relief Quilt was auctioned off for $1,000 after several relistings due to technicalities and reserve price not being met. After auction fees, $950.000 went to Katrina's Habitat For Humanity.

  11. I had nearly forgotten about my 9-11 block in one of the quilts. I guess 9-11 just seems more real to me than the block. In fact I didn't recognize it and thought, "boy, some body did some neat color arrangement on that block and had to look up my name to find my block. What a great memory you've jogged. I also remember being totally moved and stunned by your block Robin and thinking, "mine will be a nothing block compare to hers," but I'm glad I made mine and thank you for the bringing all of it back for the good part of that tragedy for our nation.

    I can't say enough about the various bead quilts you've shown on your blog. They are so wonderful and I love that so many people in AK are doing them. I love the freshness and new frontier sense they have about their pieces. I'd seen the one on Bad Liz's blog and it took my breath away that first time too.

    Our weaving guild made a weaving quild quilt that was displayed at Convergence in Denver when we sponsered it that year. It was a great piece too. I really have to admire the people who do this and can say from personal experience what fun it is to participate. It's an action that is binding together and giving at the same time. Hurrah! for Bead Quilt people of all ilks!

  12. The Great Lakes Beadworkers Guild quilt will be on display at the Bead Bonanza in Southfield, MI on Sunday, March 18th from 10am to 5pm

    Come and check it out!

  13. Anonymous11:39 AM

    As a member of the Mat-Su Valley Bead Society I can tell you that it is so much fun to work on a little square and then be totally surprised at the completion of the mystery! Cheryl Lacy is a wonderful artist who does all sorts of work other than beading.

  14. Anonymous4:50 PM

    Robin - there's a magnificent quilt here in Canada that is not entirely beaded but one that you and your readers might like to see.
    The Quilt of Belonging is 263 blocks representing 71 Aboriginal groups and 192 immigrant nationalities in Canada. If you go to their web site
    you can read about the making of the quilt and view the individual blocks online. My son saw the entire quilt hanging when he was in Nova Scotia last year and he said " Mum, it will blow you away!" I am waiting for it to arrive at the Six Nations museum here in Ontario this coming Fall but in the meantime I have bought the book of the same name and it is a real treasure. The research and work that has gone into this project is absolutely astounding. Hope you all enjoy the site!!

    Warm regards,

  15. Sorry - need to leave a correction. The quilt won't be at the GLBG bead show on Sunday. My mistake

  16. Robin,
    I adored this post. I"m saving it so I can re-read it over and over again. What inspiration for us all. Makes me want to create a bead quilt or at least be part of one...Thanks for putting such a wonderful post together.

  17. Anonymous2:03 PM

    Robin, these are beautiful. I must learn to do some bead embroidery. I hope I get to see you at ASCH. Look me up, I will have a booth on the weekend. Before that I'm taking Sharon Costello's felted vessels class (she's amazing too!).

    I particularly love that bird quilt, "birds of a feather". Thanks for sharing these.

    I'm hosting a knitting cruise ending up in the mat-su valley. Perhaps I'll get to meet some of these amazing beaders while I am there.

  18. Robin,
    The colour that fills your blog page, the different elements that I see and the love that it is all put together with is stunning!

    You are right it is an eye-catching piece that brings together many elements of love, hope and history.

    The pink ribbon captured my thoughts of those who still fight the battle and for those who did not win.

    I am so pleased to have been given this opportunity to see such beauty like I have never seen before.

    ((hugs)) for the day and ((hugs)) for showing me this beutiful beadwork


  19. Anonymous12:43 PM

    Thank you, Robin, for including my butterfly in your wonderful blogpost, although it is so difficult to photograph. Spark and I feel very honoured.
    Hugs and blessings,

  20. The "bear" is breathtakingly beautiful. I've seen these projects in passing but never thought to participate. I take that back. I participated in one (a charity link necklace) but sadly it was miss managed and a lot of hardwork went nowhere in the end. I guess that soured me from trying any others. I shouldn't let one bad incident keep me from such worthy actions so... off I go to find projects to participate in. Thanks for showing that good deeds do mean something.

  21. Amazing projects, very moving, American spirit at it's best ! Loved also the "Quilt of Belonging" suggested in the comments.

  22. very unique and incredible. These quilts are beautiful to look at and take quilting to a new level.

  23. Anonymous8:45 PM

    What a lovely surprise!

    I did a google search to look at some of the other beaded quilt projects I've heard about, and stumbled upon your blog.

    Thank you so much for the well written/ well researched info about the 9/11 bead quilt (you captured our intent so nicely! :)

    I also really enjoyed the images, links & stories behind the other beautiful beaded quilts you've included in this entry.

    Best wishes,
    ~ Andrea

    PS. We haven't given up hope for a book. It's simply a matter of resources ... currently exploring self publishing options, will keep you posted ;)

    1. What a treat to come across this beautiful testament to the collaborative efforts so many have made to ease the pain and suffering in the world. I was honored to be a small part of the 9/11 Bead Quilt project with Andrea and so many others from the very beginning. My recollection is that Andrea put the message out there within twenty four hours of the horrific event. We had been discussing it on one of the more intimate bead forums from the go-get. Anyway, my heart is full...

  24. Anonymous8:22 AM


    I...Francien de Klerk from looking over and over again to those beautiful pictures, downloaded them to gaze some more..That chicken ( birds of a feather) is stunning!!!! Thank you for sharing. Greetings Francien.

  25. Anonymous11:49 PM

    Eleanor from England here... I only discovered beads 2 years ago but feel as if they've been a part of my life for ever. So much to see... so much to learn... I needle weave, mainly. I've only recently got web access and stumbled across this site but I'll be back. LOVE the butterflies and the blown up detail of that curve in browns


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!