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Dear Ann,

Hey, have you tried beading? Just kidding, I know you have, and in fact I believe it was you who warned me how very addictive it is to sew one bead . . . and then another bead, and then another bead . . . onto a piece of cloth, until the end of recorded history.

Ann! Help! I can’t stop beading!

I guess it’s lucky that I have ten feet of Alabama Chanin table runner to cover in beads. If you think that figure is an exaggeration, it is—by 3 inches. I have three panels to bead; each panel is 39 inches.

Questions that come to mind: What was I thinking? Have I taken leave of my senses?

Never let it be said that I lack ambition. I have three of these to bead. The orange thread is just basting to hold the layers steady.

Beading is wildly compelling. My will to keep doing it has overpowered all challenges: lack of light, work to do, meal prep, Very Exciting Knitting to do.

Beading is even more fun than using my O-Cedar EasyWring Microfiber Spin Mop & Bucket System—which is really, really fun.

I just sit there, be it sunshiny or gloomy, dinnertime or meeting time, threading the World’s Tiniest Needle (a Bohin Demi-Longue Betweens needle, which I believe may also be known as a millinery needle) with Button and Craft thread that can just barely be mashed through its eye, beading myself into a reverie.

Proof: tiny needle is tiny.


All you need is a Bonne Maman jar of beads and a dream. With the exception of the clear sequins and magenta scraps of Anna Maria Horner print jersey, all my supplies come from Alabama Chanin’s The School of Making. The table runner is a custom kit using the June’s Spring stencil.

I think part of what is driving me on my beading quest is the desire to have something of permanence to show for this time we are all going through. As I packed up the Ikea blue bags to leave the city eight weeks ago, I tossed in more craft projects than I did shirts. In addition to 10 feet of table runner in need of embroidery, appliqué, and armor beading, I also grabbed two other kits from The School of Making, and that Bloomsbury needlepoint I’ve been working on since 2009.  It seemed important not to leave them behind. It seemed possible I’d have time to complete them all.

I’ll be here for a while. Call if you need me.




  • Where’d you go? I have UFO’s if you run out of stuff to finish.

  • Kay. have you been looking in my cupboard? I am collecting those Bonne Maman jars too! Their raspberry is just the best. I used to do seed beading until the seeds got too small for my eyes. Enter knitting. Both hypnotic. Your runner is positively gorgeous. And Very Inspiring…

  • Have you tried the Bonne Maman Intense jam , less sugar more flavour.
    The jar lid has a purple top to allow sorting beads from buttons!!

  • Oh, I just got my very first ever Alabama Chanin kit in the mail this week! A poncho, very simple, stenciled only on one end. I’m so excited to start practicing on the swatch bits they provide. I may forego beads on this one though, until I get the actual sewing part down. I’m drooling over the long skirts, but baby steps….

  • Kay, you are doing an absolutely beautiful job on your table runner! I took a class from Natalie, probably about ten years ago at In the Making in Birmingham. I enjoyed it so much, I made shirts for my three girls, and a bunch of small kits they sold. You’ve inspired me to take a look at what they offer these days. Sara in Atlanta

  • I have so many of those Bonne Maman jars, years worth, and use them all over the house. My kids took them to use as drinking glasses when they left home. The beading is nice but my arthritis wouldn’t allow it.

  • Oh! Thanks for the reminder! I have a long Magdalena skirt languishing somewhere with some scattered beading around the bottom. I need to dig that out and finish it! Is beading ever actually finished?

    The runner is spectacular, and those pops of color are genius.

  • I am saving money during this confinement, but from reading your column have made my way through most of “A Year of Making” ordered from MDK. Is it possible to cry when reading the tales of other makers? Yes, it is. “THAT MOP” is on its way to my home and now off to cruise Alabama Chanin. Oh, and there is yarn and fabric making its way to me as well. Thank goodness for great recommendations and armchair shopping!
    That pop of fushia is exquisite!

  • This was fun to read. It made me smile as it stirred memories of the start of my own addiction to beads over 40 years ago. What I’ve learned is one jar is never enough until you realize that your collection is well on the way to rivalling a small bead store.

  • Bohin needles are the best. My daughter bought a package in Paris in ’06 and I’ve been hiding it in my sewing room ever since. Now I’m off to stitch, re-watch The Last Time I Saw Paris, and hope ’06 wasn’t because next time I’m beelining to Sajou.

    • I love the scene where sad Liz is locked out. I always yell, “Liz, try the BACK door,” but she never does.

  • I ardently request MORE about these table runners! This one, it is fantastic. Are you make three to…match? Give? Dress one table or many? It’s a truly excellent idea for use of Alabama Chanin stitching. I never wanted the clothes enough for myself, but now living in the universe of formal dining room…

    • Believe it or not, Amber, I am going to sew the three pieces together when The Beading Is Done. My thinking, which seemed sound at the time, was that this runner needs to cover a 5-foot-plus sideboard. I wanted there to be 2 feet of luxurious, sparkly overhang on each end. And that is how I came to be beading nearly 10 feet of table runner.

      • Impressed.

  • Love the beading….it adds a new dimension of texture to the fabric! Stay well and sane!

  • Olive, you may have to stage an intervention.

  • I have to ask: does a table runner have any purpose other than decoration? Certainly, you wouldn’t use this one in place of a trivet or a hotpad. And with all those beads and stitchery, it wouldn’t offer a steady base for a vase of flowers. You wouldn’t want anything that might stain it to touch it . . .

    • This is a runner for a sideboard in my entry way, so it will never have to be anything except be pretty to look at.

  • Well, THIS certainly brings back memories: I was taught traditional beading by a Cree woman back in the early 70s. She and her trapper husband (have you ever eaten muskrat?) lived close to the hippie enclave where I lived with a varying number of family and were our mentors in many ways. I gave gifts of my beading efforts to (mostly) indifferent friends and family. I still have a pair of moccasins she made for me, though.

    • If you ever write a book about your life, let me know! I’d love to read it!

  • Glad to see there other Bonne Maman fans here. We have lots of them around. The stuff is good but expensive!

    Beautiful panel!

  • Beautiful! And so smart to bring along lots and lots of crafting and artwork. My crafting mojo comes and goes more than I’d like it to during these times, but I hope in the end (if it will end??) I can show off a pretty thing or two. If one day a healthy way of life returns and I start to take that for granted, it would be nice to have some objects to remind me, even if prettily. We will need to remember.

  • Woooooow, beautiful! I am totes jelly beans… it’s breathtaking! I have all the Alabama Chanin books, but I have yet to attempt a project. The level of commitment is daunting…I knit fast, but sew sloooooow. Which I get is the point, but…jeez that’s a lot of work! It will definitely be around a lot longer than a ball band dishcloth, lololol! Just saying…

  • You’re no crazier than me with my beaded (and everything else under the sun) June’s Spring Car Jacket! The square inches are probably similar, but my construction will be a bit more fiddly. Heh. I love that printed jersey!! (Will be going to see what’s available online in just a sec…) I have some TINY jars of Bonne Maman (available at World Market) (you’re welcome) and they’re PERFECT for traveling!

    • The tiny jars are also fabulous for spices.

  • Um, I must be completely out of my league here, because those prices at Alabama Chanin for a KIT to make a shirt or dress seem very high. I’m not accustomed to buying anything already made for that much, either.

  • That runner is stunning. Ooh!

  • I combine beads and knitting. 0000 needles, seed beads, silk thread or pearl cotton, plus embellishments. Don’t see a way to include a pic here, but I’m on instagram as christina.york.37 if you’d like to see what that looks like.

  • I follow several beaders on twitter, and a person who collects/archives old beadwork that it just breathtaking. I’ll try to remember to tag you the next time I see something really amazing, Kay 🙂
    Do those super-thin needles come in longer lengths? I don’t think I could hold onto a short needle these days – who am I kidding, I know I cannot – but I’m accumulating a small collection of Needles For All Purposes and would love to add some that would actually go through something as small as a bead, but would be long enough for me to hang onto them. I have big plans to sew a summer top for myself, and a bead here and there might be a happymaking addition 🙂

    • Beading needles have long length and long narrow eyes. You will want. Size 10 for easiest threading. Size 12 is too difficult for many beaders to thread.
      Use size D Nymo nylon thread.

      • Thank you for this info, Virginia – sorry it took me so long to realize you had replied!!

  • I’ve been making bead jewellery for almost 30 years, its the most addictive hobby ever. I only started as I wanted a necklace to go with a pair of earrings. Now I have something I’m proud to wear and own. Its a very rewarding pastime and personal as well.

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