Having had Leah's mother Joyce in more than one bead class over the years, I can tell you this story brought a tear to my eye. I remember her long white hair, her big jewelry and her tenacity with her beadwork. I also got to witness the tenderness with which Leah cared for her mom as she got older. It is such a wonderful gift when art brings families together. I've had a few mother and daughter bead 'teams' over the years and it's always memorable. These beaded fish vests are a wonderful expression of Joyce's art. Marcia
Born the only child of two artistic parents, I grew up without boredom. My parents exposed me to many different mediums at an early age. I threw pots on the wheel, made a ceramic mosaic coffee table that I still use today and I experimented with wirework. I made my fair share of woven potholders and embroidered felt Christmas ornaments. I glazed a bowl so uniquely (by accident) that the instructor was amazed and unable to figure out what I did. My dad, a silversmith, offered to teach me how to tufa cast and bezel silver; I looked at his rough hands and said, “No.” My mom offered embroidery and sewing, knitting and crocheting. The first two took; the second two did not.
After twenty years of cross stitch and crewel, I settled into making heavily embroidered soft sculpture nativities and ornaments, which I sold at craft shows. But after several years, I felt a desire for sparkle. I found beads, and it was the beginning of the end!
I began making jewelry. Nothing elaborate, just simple beaded bracelets and necklaces. But I couldn’t stop buying beads! I discovered that it was a simple crossover from embroidery to bead embroidery and I took that path. Mom was intrigued, but couldn’t understand why I liked beading more than embroidering, more than knitting and sewing. So I began to give her small bags and tubes of beads in her favorite colors (orange, red, purple) for her birthday, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Christmas. Every holiday was an occasion to spread bead love. She would frown and say, “What am I supposed to do with these?” I would say, “You’ll figure it out!”
When I began teaching beadwork in the mid-90’s, she insisted on going with me to bead shows as “my chaperone.” She also began taking classes. Her first was with Robin Berry, who was the perfect teacher for an older woman who had never seriously beaded before.
Soon Mom was taking classes with all the best teachers and enjoying my trips more. More often than not, she finished the pieces. They weren’t always perfect, but she enjoyed making them and many times gave them to her friends as gifts. She traveled with me to Tucson several times for the Gem and Mineral Show and bought beads and crystals and anything else that sparkled. She loved drusy, crystals and pearls.
By her early 80’s, she had arthritis, vertigo and macular degeneration; she later had a heart valve transplant, got a Pacemaker and fought off breast cancer. But through it all, she beaded. And then, one day I asked to see what she was doing. “No,” she said firmly. “You have to wait until I’m done.”
So I impatiently waited… and was rewarded by Mom combining two of her loves: sewing and beading. A Pisces, Mom loved fish. So she made an appliquéd vest, with semi-bead embroidered fish all over it… in her new favorite colors, purple and green! Beautifully constructed and lined with silk, it always drew attention when she wore it.
But Mom was not done. She wanted a vest where the fish were solidly embroidered, so the second vest was born. I need to tell you that I thought she was insane. She used primarily 15/0s! The smaller the bead, the better, was her mantra. I watched as this vest came to life and I was amazed. It was even more beautiful than the first! She used vintage nailheads for fish eyes, silky ribbon for kelp and vintage glass “bubbles”.
After the second vest, she went back to making bracelets and earrings and rings for friends, neighbors and me. I thought the “vest era” had ended. Mom died at the age of 91 in June of 2013, ten months after my Dad. She was never happy after he died, but that was natural. They had been married 74 years, and she missed him tremendously.
It took me a while to start cleaning their house. Memories made it difficult. But what a legacy Mom left me. I now have more beads than I know what to do with, especially orange! And pearls! Crystals! Charms! A ton of 15/0s! 3-cuts! I have Dad’s turquoise, coral, malachite! I could open a bead store. But in the midst of cleaning up, you’ll never guess what I found. Yes, Mom had started designing another vest… this one with flowers. It would have been as beautiful as she was. Miss you, Mom.
How Mom did it:
1. 1. Cut out three pieces of silk or cotton in the shape of a vest (2 fronts, 1 back).
2. 2. drew fish designs on ironable pellon
3. 3. cut out the designs and ironed them onto the vest
4. 4. using Nymo D, a beading needle and 15/0s, she bead-embroidered the fish. She used 4- bead backstitch and the stop stitch.
5. 5. When she was done, she sewed the three pieces together and lined the vest with silk.
6. 6. Be ready for compliments.