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French Bead Flower Making - A Vintage Craft Is New Again

Bead flowers can be used in every way you use silk or fresh flowers. The only difference is that it will be many, many years before bead flowers deteriorate. Therefore, they make ideal inserts in bridal bouquets, bridal headdresses, hair barrettes, pins, napkin rings, corsages, "potted" plants, 3D pictures and wall hangings.

A few notable people who owned and treasured examples of this fine art were Marie Antoinette, Madame Pompadour, Napoleon's Josephine, Princess Grace, Princess Caroline, Patricia Nixon and William Randolph Hearst.

Bead flowers can be made out of many kinds and styles of beads, and beads can have a wide variety of finishes. The most common type of bead used is a seed bead, gauge 10 or 11, and used on wire of 24 or 26 gauge. I have seen very tiny flowers made with gauge 15 seed beads. The edges of the beads can be squared off or rounded, depending on the artist's taste. Japanese beads are of very high quality and are very uniform. If you make bead jewelry, you may have used Toho or Miyuki beads in your jewelry and other projects. One-, two- or three-cut beads add sparkle, and trumpet beads and rhinestone centers can be used as an accent. Beads can be matte or pearly, colorlined or unlined, opaque or transparent, and the list goes on. Beads can be bought on hanks, or loose in bags and tubes.

As strange as it may seem, weather can have an effect on the availability of beads. Because of weather conditions in many parts of the world, certain colors of beads can be made only at certain times of the year. About six years ago, the fashion industry bought up all the available pink beads, and jewelrymakers and flower beaders had to use other colors until the climatic conditions changed again, production of pink beads could resume, and the supply could catch up with the demand.

History of Bead Flowers

The art of making flowers out of beads is many centuries old. Although there is very little documentation on the development of this art, research has shown that the first primitive bead flowers may have been made as early as the 1300's in Germany, when steel needles and wire were developed.

In the ensuing years as the craft spread across Europe, different methods were developed: the Victorian method, also known as the English or Russian method, and the French method. The main difference is that in the Victorian method, which is similar to modern bead jewelry-making techniques, the thread or wire passes through each bead twice or more, and the wire passes from row to row on the sides of the piece; in the French method, the wire passes through each bead only once, and passes from row to row in the center or on the bottom of the individual piece.

One of the reasons that flowers are associated with churches has to do with beads. In the thirteenth century a form of prayer using a string of beads was instituted by St. Dominic. The string, called a rosary, consisted at that time of 15 units of beads. Each unit contained 10 small beads, preceded by one larger one. A prayer was recited at every bead. The word "bede" (sp) is Middle English for "prayer." Because of the length of the original rosary, it became customary to pay someone, usually a resident of an almshouse, to recite the prayers. These people were referred to as bede women or men, and it was they who made the first bead flowers. The craft was handed down through the centuries and came to be associated with the church and its decorations.



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