Saturday, January 10, 2009

Teaching Bead Embroidery

You'll see more of this luscious bead embroidery further down in the post...

bead embroidery by Mary Tod
For twenty-one years I've been doing beads for a living, as my only income. Who would have thought back in 1990, when I taught my first Improvisational Bead Embroidery workshop, that I would still be teaching the same basic class and still loving it????

It seems that I've taught bead embroidery (directly, face-to-face) to more than 3,000 women and a hand full of men! The class has changed a little as I've experimented with different ways to get things across, learned or invented more stitches and made more samples. Yet the basics are the same and still really fun to teach.

For the first four years of teaching, I taught mostly small classes in my studio. Mostly the classes were two-days, at the end of which we all knew each other pretty well. Even after a year or so, I could remember each of my students and the work they did in class. By 1994 I began traveling to teach at national conferences and for various guilds, which often have 20-25 students in each class. Now, it's not so easy... only a few students stand out enough for me to recall their work, face and name as the months pass.

For many of my students, my primary method of working (improvisationally from the heart) is new and challenging. In my 2-day workshop, students learn techniques, make a sampler and get started on their own unique project. Only one student ever finished their project in class. Some barely get started. Thus one of the most gratifying things about teaching bead embroidery is receiving pictures of finished work!!!!

Most recently I taught the members of an embroidery guild in Baltimore (see here). It was a memorable class because all of the students were both eager and quick to learn! Plus they were experienced with thread embroidery, which requires the same coordination, attention to detail and patience. I've kept in touch with a few of them and learned that the art of bead embroidery is flourishing among them now!!!!

When I teach this class, I give students optional patterns for five different beaded pouches/bags. The pattern is just for the shape, not the beaded design. If I recall correctly, four students in Baltimore chose to use a cute, little, double-sided pouch pattern for their class piece. Two of them have finished and sent pictures to me, which I will share below.

bead embroidery pouch by Carolyn Everly, shown closed
This is Carolyn Everly's pouch. It's folded/closed here. If you open it, there's a little place inside to tuck special items.

bead embroidery pouch by Carolyn Everly, shown open
This is how the outside looks when the pouch is opened. Carolyn got hooked on size 15 beads... can you tell? I'm not surprised because she's very talented at fine, detailed Japanese thread embroidery. She writes that she's accumulating a stash... anybody familiar with that stage of learning to bead?

Mary Tod holding pear ornament
This is Mary Tod. Mary really took to beading quickly, although I think I remember her saying she had not worked with beads before taking the class. She was a diligent worker and had a good start on her pouch by the end of the second day of class.

bead embroidery pouch by Mary Tod, shown open
Here is how her pouch looks opened up.

Here are a couple of detail shots.

bead embroidery pouch by Mary Tod, detail
bead embroidery pouch by Mary Tod, detail
I always like it when I hear that a student likes beading well enough to make more than one piece. Mary obviously did, because she made this adorable pear-shaped Christmas ornament.

bead embroidery, pear ornament by Mary Tod, detail
Thank you Mary and Carolyn for sending me these pictures... you and your beautiful beading make my day!!! I bet my readers will agree that your work is exceptional for beginning beaders! I hope to see many more pieces of your bead embroidery in the future!

* * * * * * * *
As some of you know, I'm not teaching so many classes now, mostly because I want to be able to travel to MN at a moment's notice to be with my 92-year old (today!!!) Mom. It's been difficult to turn down the teaching invitations.

The only one I've accepted for 2009 is in Denver, CO. The Rocky Mt. Bead Society sponsors a Bazaar in the spring, which includes a comprehensive bead market and workshops. I will be teaching Techniques of Bead Embroidery on Saturday, April 25th and Woven Treasure Bracelet (or Tassel) on Sunday, April 26th. I believe the Bazaar is open to the public with advance registration available for the classes.


  1. I'll keep a lookout to see if you ever offer a class anywhere near South Bend Indiana. In the meantime, thank you for the books that you have written. Since beginning bead embroidery just about 9 months ago, it has taken over my beading life. I have begun to think "how can I express that in beads". I'm pretty sure that it will be a "forever" creative expression for me. I have progressed to dolls (thank you Camilla) and see purses in my future.

  2. These photos tell me a couple of things. One, that you're an excellent teacher and two, that your students do some exceptional work! Those pouches are gorgeous!!

    Even though I haven't been beading lately, thank you for your encouragement in all my creative endeavors.

  3. How wonderful to hear from your students and know how well you taught-not that I'm surprised. I took a fringe class from you in Portland when Bead and Button had the conference. Good teacher.

  4. What a wonderful tribute to you teaching skills. I loved looking at what your students have accomplished. I too have been inspired by your work & your books. Thank you so much, Robin, for making my obsession come real. Through you & my friend, Cynthia, I've had the backing to launch out on my own with bead figures, and learned that I too love teaching.


  5. Wow! I actually get to take some classes with you and meet you in person! That makes my day...Love your pictures in this post! Camilla

  6. What fine and happy students, Robin.
    Your "teaching from the heart"...that has to be key to their success...

  7. These pieces made by your students are stunning! I know you are a wonderful always shows in the student's work. Pat

  8. Beautiful work! And you know they've connected with you when they take the time and effort to share their class pieces with you...

  9. Imagine my delight this morning when I came here and found two old friends! We are, indeed, having a ball here in Baltimore since you've visited. There are bead projects everywhere. You may remember Bobbi Pohl? Well, she has made at least three additional purses/purse flaps since class. You have been the spark that has ignited many fires and our spirits are burning bright over here. Thank you from all of us -- we were honored to have you here. Bead on!

  10. Hi Robin,
    How nice that you heard from your students. Their work is exquisite. However, it doesn't surprise me. Your work and encouragement has given many of us the courage to do our own thing with our beadwork. You inspire far more people than you realize.

  11. To all ~ Your comments totally surprise me... Gadzooks! I didn't post these photos to get compliments for me... good grief, no... rather it is out of respect and admiration for my students.

    Susan ~ I'd love to see pictures of Bobbi's work... and will post them too if/when I get my hands on them ;>}

  12. I learned I was a poet in your class. Surprised the daylights right out of me. I can't thank you enough for the barnacles either!

  13. I check in all the time to see what you come up with next and can only dream that you will come to the Boston area some day - I'll be first in line to take a class. It's obvious that you are a wonderful teacher... look at all the beautiful work your students have created. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Robin, I wish I had known you were going to be in Baltimore -- it's only a 2.5 hour drive. I would have driven down to take the class.

    I remember when I taught myself how to do your buttons. At that time I never thought I would get to take a class from you. And then I came to Puget Sound and had the most marvelous time. AND found out that I was doing it differently (I still bead ON the button !!).
    You still inspire me !

  15. Anonymous6:59 AM

    Robin, This is great. I've been thinking we should have a display of all the Emese's pouches made by class participants to see the different expressions we produced. I will be glad to send you pictures of mine and the 2 other projects I have completed, but somehow I can't find your email address. They are posted at
    Let me add to your kudos. Your class was a wonderful, creative experience.

  16. Oooo! I'm in Denver and LOVE the bead bazaar! I'll be there!
    I can't wait to take a class from you!
    Lovely work by the students! Hooray!

  17. Ok Robin! It has taken me over an hour to get through this post!!! When I found that you had been in BALTIMORE of last year- only 1.5 hrs away- I was sobbing!!!!!! I had to follow the links to Angela and Susan's work and blogs and then send them emails!! I am so dissappointed that youw ere so recently so close, And I had no idea- Not meant to be..... SIGH>>>
    I have just posted my finished beaded cuff on my blog and I want to thank you for providing the encouragement and inspiration to jump into bead embroidery with no fear and with both feet!!! Big Big thanks and Hugs!!

  18. Dear Robin... What beautiful work! I also believe that this is a tribute to your teaching talents.

    I taught my first Introduction to Bead Embroidery class at a local beading retreat last month. By the end of the class, they were all hooked, and looking forward to another class at the next opportunity. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  19. Isn't wonderful how students enrich our lives? Their outstanding work is a tribute to your enthusiasm for the art and your teaching skills, you know.

    Wish I could be in Denver to take that class myself . . .

    Kathy V in NM

  20. To KV ~ I wish you could too... I'd love to meet you in person!

    To Elizabeth ~ Oh, I'm so sad at the lost opportunity. I'd like to be a little bird in your studio for about a week!

    To Mary Frances (Sharkeysday)~ Yay!!! I am so looking forward to Denver!

    Robin A.

  21. I doubt that I was a unique enough student of yours to be remembered... I was pretty quiet during your class. But that doesn't really matter that much.

    What really counts is that I remember you. You changed my life when you taught me how to bead.

  22. Dear Robin,

    A belated Happy Birthday to your Mom!

    And many thanks for showing us pictures of your students' stunning work. The pieces are mouthwateringly beautiful - meaning to say that they give one an appetite to try something on these lines. However, I have decided to be disciplined and finish my December Journal Darling Doll, and possibly her January sister, first - but after that ...


  23. Anonymous10:20 PM

    I love this blog post. It is always interesting to see how different creative minds convey their vision with bead embroidery. I have also found it really exciting as a teacher, that when given a set of techniques, each student always goes their own way with their project. I think from a student's standpoint, classes that teach freeform techniques are some of the inspirational and useful - you don't just learn how to make one specific thing. You learn methods that will take you on your own journey over and over again. Thanks for posting this, those are some exceptional student examples.

  24. Robin - I have to post here. To be honest, when I first took your bead embroidery button and spirit doll class in Michigan, I didn't think that I would ever use the techniques; I took the class because my buddies were going to be in it. I actually said to my friends something close to "I hate bead embroidery - why the **** would anyone ever use it."

    My goodness - who would have thought that all these years later most of my work would be bead embroidery? I still have the spirit doll with my Tylenol 3 tablet beaded into it (I was less than 2 weeks post gall bladder surgery and in pain most of the class) and it hangs proudly in my beadroom.

    Thank you for teaching me something that I didn't know that I would love.


  25. So, just as a follow up....when can we sign up for your class? I went over and there's no schedule up yet? (do you have a price at least?)

    (can you tell I'm really really excited?)

  26. Beautiful bead work.

  27. Wow! These pouches are amazing! Your students did beautiful work! Marva


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!