Beaded Flowers in America – An Improbable Story
In 1865, Godey’s Ladies Book published a flower pattern that suggests the flowers could be used as decorations for hair and clothing.
The Dritz Traum Company released the earliest U.S. pattern, in 1928. It was titled “Hiawatha New Imported Crystal Bead Models.” You may recognize the Dritz name, since they still produce needles and other items.
By 1957, Samuel Wallach of the Walbead company was packaging and selling kits, “Bead a Bouquet,” which included a wide variety of beaded flower instructions.
In 1965, Aleene, of Temple City, California, released what was possibly the first U.S. book of patterns, simply titled “Bead Flowers.”
The art of beaded flower making was popular in the U.S. in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. Years 1966 through 1983 brought us a flurry of publications. These books are now considered the “bibles” of the French beader. The noted authors of these books include the highly respected Virginia Nathanson, Bobbe Anderson, Samuel Wallach, Helen Leibman, Ruth Wasley/Edith Harris and Virginia Osterland. Although these books sometimes appear in garage sales, collectors are willing to pay well in excess of $100.00 each, when they can be found.
Virginia Nathanson was a Vaudeville performer in her youth. Later on, she saw a bead flower arrangement in a department store in New York City. She wanted to discover the secret of these everlasting flowers, so she bought the arrangement, took it home, and took each flower completely apart. By this rather drastic forensic method, she learned the four basic techniques of French bead flower making.
Mrs. Nathanson’s first book, “The Art of Making Bead Flowers and Bouquets,” is now in reprint in softcover. The instructions in this book are very clear, and this is an excellent book for the beginner.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, most of the seed beads sold in America were imported from Czechoslovakia. With the last phase of the Cold War, around the late 1980’s, Czech beads were difficult to find, and popularity for the craft diminished.
In 1991 Helen McCall produced a book dedicated entirely to miniatures, and in 1995, Leisure Arts produced a few patterns, in an ornament book. Still, the art seemed to be fading away in the United States.
Then, the late 1990’s saw a dramatic interest in beaded flowers around the world. Books were published in Japanese, French, Italian, Russian, German, and Dutch. Although some of the styles “cross over,” most of these books use the Victorian technique.
In the last several years, Mario Rivoli bought up many vintage bead flowers and spray-painted them to create astonishing effects on the flowers. These beads are often seen in shops in New York City, and in magazines and on the Internet.
With the start of the new millennium, the United States has shown a renewed interest in French beaded flowers. Magazines are describing the art as “what’s hot” and French-style pattern books are once again appearing.
Quality beads are now available from many sources. The Internet is making the books and materials available to all beaders, regardless of their location. Many of the books are available from Amazon, and wire, beads and other supplies can be found online at very reasonable prices.
The art of bead flower-making is very old, but is new all over again!