Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bead Embroidery and Treasure Box!

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, detail of scrimshaw piece
Do you recognize the scene on the scrimshaw piece above? If you're anywhere near my age (67), you may have read The Owl and the Pussycat as a child. It's a charming poem/story written in 1871 by Edward Lear:
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!'

Pussy said to the Owl,
'You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?
'They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

'Dear pig, are you willing
to sell for one shilling
Your ring?' Said the Piggy, 'I will.'
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

I've no memory of how or when I acquired this remarkable scrimshaw charm, but it seemed the perfect talisman to symbolize my marriage to Robert. We met April 11, 1997 at a photography workshop at the Coupeville Arts Center. What started as mutual interests and my appreciation for his wacky sense of humor, quickly developed into romance. By that Christmas, we had decided to make a life together and a few years later we married. In our mid and late 50s, it was the first marriage for both of us!

Although I've made several things for him in our years together, it took me until now to do a serious piece of bead embroidery for him. He loves boxes, tins, containers of any sort. So, one day when I found a small, wooden box in the craft department of JoAnn's Fabrics, I got the idea to create a bead embroidery and mount it on the lid of the box. You can see the work in progress and read about some of the symbolic elements here. Below is how it looks finished. (Click image if you'd like to see it enlarged!)

improvisational bead embroidery by Robin Atkins
As the work progressed, I began to think it needed a higher quality box. Plus I wondered about the wisdom of putting the beading on top of the box where it would soon be buried in dust. One day it occurred to me that I could look on Etsy and maybe find a wood-worker who might offer something more suitable.

Voila!!! There are several fabulous wooden box makers selling on Etsy, but the one whose work seemed most right is Maurice Sewelson. You can check his treasure boxes here. This is the one that called my name most loudly. So, I wrote to Maurice to ask if he might be willing to custom-make a box that would have a tray sized to fit my beadwork. He agreed!!!! I sent him a picture of my beading and he sent pictures of wood he thought might look good with it. We chose bloodwood for the exterior and mahogany for the interior. Below is the finished box and a detail pictue of Maurice's beautiful carving and inlay work on the front.

wooden box, handmade by Maurice Sewelson
wooden box, handmade by Maurice Sewelson, carving and inlay detail on box front
Below are pictures of the box with my bead embroidery in the tray. The tray may be lifted out to reveal the full contents of the box. By the way, I didn't glue my beadwork to the tray... (Is anyone surprised?) I stitched the beading to a piece of black Ultrasuede. Then I used acid-free, double-stick tape around the edges to attach the Ultrasuede to the inside of the tray.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins in wooden box by Maurice Sewelson
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins in wooden box by Maurice Sewelson
Robert now has a fine treasure box in which to keep some of his family heirlooms (his mother's watch and other items he's saved over the years). He says it's the nicest gift he's ever received!


  1. Incredible beading and the box is just perfect to show it off and protect it.

  2. Your beadwork, as always, is beautiful and to pair it with that incredible a marriage made in heaven!!

    Wishing you and Robert all the very best in 2010. Happy New Year!!

  3. Great idea to put the beadwork on a tray inside (it's a treasure, of course!). The Owl and the Pussycat is one of my mom's family favorites - they sing it at every reunion!

  4. Robin, the finished beaded panel is absolutely scrumptious! I love the interplay of colors, and all the little bits and pieces of memories you've stitched into it. And that treasure box is a perfect display for your work, as well as a lovely work of art on its own -- the front inlaid detail is wonderful. Happy New Year to you both.
    Kathy B

  5. That's just beautiful. What an extraordinary collaboration!

  6. marvelous beadwork, and the box is wonderful! Your hubby is a lucky guy...

  7. What an exquisite piece, robin...the combination of beadwork and wood works beautifully!

  8. An extraordinary piece of work and a delightful gift, Robin! I can see your husband beaming all the way down here.

    Happy New Year to you both!

    Kathy V in NM

  9. That is so beautiful, Robin, it makes my heart sing just to look at it. Have a very happy new year, both of you!

  10. Dear Robin, I cannot think of much else to say but that sometimes when loving is hardest, we must simply love some more....


  11. How blessed you and Robert are to have each other. May you have many more years together. The box is beautiful and your beading is sublime.

  12. A beautiful box, and what a wonderful surprise to open the box and find your stunning tray. it must have taken you hours!

  13. Robin..
    This is a wonderful,magical thing!

  14. Good morning Robin, I just wanted to say that I think your choice of gift was just perfect, and as for your beading, well. it's left me speechless. I do embroidery and CQ, and have just begun to explore beading. At the moment I feel very clumsy, but I am determined to learn. Thank you for your inspiration

  15. This sure is the sweetest gift ever, filled with love and compassion. Not just art, but the art of life!

  16. Anonymous5:10 AM

    I am exactly your age and remember the Owl and Pussycat poem, how lovely to see it in a new light!
    The box for your husband is incredible! I love what you've done with your beaded piece to keep it dust-free, plus it adds another treasure to the inside of the box when the lid is opened. The box is a work of art as well, the carving so perfect. I'm off to look at Maurice Sewelson's work now. The depth of your heart and soul that went into this entire piece is palpable -- more than that, it gives me chills. I suspect it's the best gift your husband will *ever* receive!

  17. what an amazing and extraordinary work of art!

  18. Anonymous7:57 AM

    I am just a little bit younger than you but my mother used to quote that poem to me as a young girl. Thanks so much for posting the poem!

    As for the magnificent piece, words don't do it justice. Such a work of art for someone so special. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    Here's to another BJP, I pray that I finish the whole year this time.

    Beadily yours
    Susan E Feldkamp
    Night Beader

  19. Absolute gorgeous! Your work is so inspirational for a beginner like me :)
    I can't think of a more beautiful present to give or to receive then one that has so much heart, thought, and love contained with it.

    Many more happy years to you and your husband, may 2010 bring you wonderful things!

  20. Oh, Robin, that's one of the few poems I know by heart. I was delighted at the beginning of the post to see the bead. Then, to follow into the wonderful story of the inspired gift! This is art at it's most exquisite. Thank you for it.

  21. I am not surprised Robin that he likes it. It is wonderful and very clever to have it inside to protect it and the sliding feature is really nice. Lucky man to have you and lucky you to have him. Hopefully like 2 peas in a pod.



  22. Absolutely exquisite!!! I am so glad that you went with a custom made box!! THe box is amazing and it frames your beautiful piece perfectly!!!
    What a treasure of a gift!!
    Happy New Year!

  23. It's a great gift. You not only did a fine piece of beadwork but went to the trouble of having a special box made for it and his other treasures. It's a very personal and special gift that tells him he's worth a lot to you.

  24. That is just amazingly beautiful! The beads fit so well with the treasure box, too. Gorgeous!

  25. What a beautiful gift!!! I have never made anything for my husband because I thought my art was more for women than men. Why? I don't know but NOW your beading has got me excited . I think a treasure box is a great project to make for next Christmas and will put it on my list. Thank you for sharing with us. Happy New Year ! The best of wishes to you and your family. Lise Pederson

  26. Absolutely beautiful beadwork & box. Thanks for sharing your personal story that goes with it also!

  27. I love the choice of the pebbles. Beautiful.

  28. Oh I love this. The idea to put the beadwork in the tray is perfect. Everytime Robert opens the lid he'll see your love and your heart!

  29. Holy cow. That box brought tears to my eyes. And what a brilliant solution to the issue of displaying your gorgeous beadwork. That is a treasure box of the first order.

  30. Treasure box is an UNDERSTATEMENT! Oh, I hope Robert was over the moon when he saw this one! The handmade box was a BRILLIANT idea and great solution for your gift...your witnessing and documentation of the love that you have for him.

    You have inspired me to make one for Jim one day. I actually thought about it when I was making a sailor's valentine since he loves to collect seashells.

    I love how you incorporated all the small treasures and made them look like a cohesive whole...the stones are still my fave though...I just love the thought of that path...those stepping stones...the whole put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other nature of those stones...urging you forward...and I imagine them continuing past the block...WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!!!

    xoxo Susan

    P.S. Just got home from being away for New Year's so I'm a little late showing up to the box party!

  31. Spectacular! I've never seen ANYTHING like this. (...arrived via Vicki W) Warmly and with much respect for you talent, *karendianne.

  32. Anonymous8:16 PM

    Stunning! Just stunning! You have gone to so much time and trouble on so many levels. A true gift of love. May you and Robert have a wonderful 2010.

  33. This is such a nice story, and the piece is absolutely beautiful! I love the owl and pussycat charm, too. And of course, the beading is perfect!

    I memorized the Owl and the Pussycat in gradeschool, (and I'm coming up on 40 this year!) It's a great little poem!

  34. Your beading is awesome! I am not a beader, so I am in awe of all of this tiny work. I get into a tangle with thread so have much respect for those that can work with it, much less to see the small holes in the beads. lol I will stick with painting and quilting while admirring all of your hard work.

  35. The beading inside the treasure box is so beautiful I just sat and stared at the screen going over every inch of the design. Truly stunning!

  36. What a beautiful thing to see when opening a box, it is a delightful surprise I bet. I loved the song that goes with the the owl and pussy cat, I had forgotten that until I saw it here. Seeing this made me want to bead an entire little box and have my own fancy top and surprise inside! Love it!


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!