Beaded Flowers – How’d They Do That? I’ll Take Them Apart and See

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One of the “founding mothers” of French bead flowers in America, Virginia Nathanson, saw some potted bead flower arrangements in the gift shop of Bonwit Teller in Manhattan several decades ago. She wondered how they were made.

She used a rather drastic forensic method to get her answer.

She bought one of the large, lovely arrangements and took it home. Unlike other customers of that gift shop, she did not put the arrangement on a coffee table to admire it. She didn’t want visitors to gasp in delight, exclaim over the workmanship and ask where she had found such a treasure.


Instead, Virginia took it apart. Completely dismantled it. She disassembled the sprays and unwrapped all the silk stem wrapping and floral tape. She separated each leaf and sepal from its stem. She broke up each flower and unwound each petal’s wires, counting and measuring lengths and quantities of beads that had been used. She examined what materials were used for stemming, supporting and potting the flowers.

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By this straightforward method, Ms. Nathanson discovered the French bead flower construction techniques and learned them well. She taught them for many years and wrote several exhaustive books on the subject. These books comprised one of the first series of French bead flower pattern books to be published in the U.S.

The destruction of that arrangement from Bonwit was the beginning of the development of many, many new bead flower artists. From the information Virginia Nathanson provided came hundreds of bouquets, arrangements, headbands, corsages and countless other items. Artists in America, and now the world over, have been inspired to learn this art, to teach it to others, and to make lovely creations with improved and refined materials. In the last few years, many excellent new pattern books and other instructional materials have been produced by artists who learned the art from Ms. Nathanson’s books.

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New bead flower artists from around the world worked together to make a wreath for each crash site from the 9/11/01 disaster. One of these wreaths now hangs in the Pentagon, one is on permanent display in the Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the third is part of the permanent memorial in the Ground Zero museum.

Ms. Nathanson passed away in the Spring of 2008. Thank you, Ms. Nathanson, for destroying that beautiful Bonwit arrangement. You’ve been an inspiration, and you were one great lady.

Thanks for reading, and happy beading!


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