The phrase “Bead & Button” has been with me ever since I bought copy #2 of the magazine from the Bead Shop in Tower Street, in 1994. I was a serial dabbler in beadwork at that stage but had no idea what the stitches were called, I was just having fun playing with thread pathways. But the magazine presented a far away world of amazing bead varieties and techniques, which I craved. When I joined the Beadworkers Guild in 1999, at the Great British Bead Show (which I also heard about whilst shmoozling around that Bead Shop), I felt like I’d finally ‘come home’ in a creative sense, and my craving was well and truly satisfied. The GBBS was four days of intensive beading workshops, culminating with a fabulous bazaar on the final day, Sunday. It was, and still is, a beadworkers paradise.
As it was rare to find the B&B magazine anywhere other than a specialist bead shop in those days, I would grab a copy whenever I saw one, and it was really intriguing to read in the April 2000 issue, that there was going to be something similar in the US to our very own GBBS, only it was obviously going to be a whole lot bigger. Scratch that – it was going to be gargantuan! Ever since then the Bead & Button Show has been a topic of conversation that always crops up at every beadwork meeting I’ve attended, or table where I’ve sat with beadworkers; it usually goes something like, “Has anyone been to the Bead & Button Show?” and the response is generally a groan and “No, but I’d give anything to go!” I always felt that way, but with the children and our family business taking up all my time, it was only a pipe dream. Until 2011, that is, when I mustered the courage to submit some designs for the show – quite a nerve-wracking process. It was truly beyond my realm of comprehension that anything of mine might be chosen, but when they asked me to teach three designs, you could have knocked me down with a feather! So, last June I had the absolute privilege of, not only attending the B&B Show, but also teaching there. Truly it was a privilege, as I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from all walks of life and all areas of jewellery crafting; a real joy. The preparation for the show and build up towards it, was quite a different matter and the steep learning curve working out the logistics was one of my biggest nightmares; this included kits getting lost and found again in transit to Milwaukee, instructions being printed out over there to save carrying reams of paper in my luggage, having to have them printed on A4 which meant the printers making two cuts to their American Legal size sheets, collating the instructions for all the kits in my hotel room before classes started, carefully carrying all samples in my hand luggage in case I never saw them again (I’d heard terrible tales of samples being stolen from cases at customs, never to be seen again)! And……breathe……..
Somehow, last Autumn when I was asked to go back and teach at the Bead & Button Show 2013, I managed to stave off the nightmares and realised that I could actually get it all done in time, and this time I’d be able to enjoy it so much more. I also had some help and companionship in the form of my lovely man. Steve came along as, what we jokingly called, my entourage, complete with video camera. He was an extremely popular fixture, on hand for beady hugs as well as videoing and taking thousands of pictures, and, along with requests for links to my design patterns, there was also a request for a link to my husband!!!! Cheeky girl!
I can’t go any further without mentioning some VIPs – The Pittsburg Sissies. One of the things I enjoyed most about the B&B Show was that the entire mezzanine floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel was taken over by the show as a ‘Meet and Bead’ area. There were a lot of large round tables available, with sockets for lamps where beaders from all over the globe could sit and bead next to one another. It was a calm, well lit oasis, made even more perfect for beading by the presence of a couple of resident suppliers (this year it was Knot Just Beads and Eclectica). You couldn’t ask for more. Last year, my first two days of teaching there were actually in a conference room on the mezzanine floor, and just outside was one of those round tables. Two wonderful sisters, Leslee and L’Vonne, stationed themselves at that table and virtually adopted me (They’re the ones cuddling me in the picture)! They were so helpful, but above all, kind, warm and a real laugh. They became the B&B watchdogs, helping lost souls like me! These were just two of The Pittsburg Sissies, and this year when I dumped my case in my room and rushed down to the mezzanine floor I got a fantastic welcome from three of them – they’d brought a third sister, Lynda, along! Now I feel like I’ve known them all forever. I hope the Kalmbach people (the Show’s organisers) employ them as the official B&B ‘Beader Greeter Ambassadors’ because they’d do a fantastic job. It was so lovely to actually have them in one of my classes this year!
I absolutely love teaching and we had lots of fun in the classes. It was especially nice to see some of my students and friends from last year, back in the classroom as well as meeting all the new ones, with the added bonus of all three Pittsburg Sissies!
In the months leading up to the show, the organisers always put teachers in touch with students who sign up for their classes, so we can make contact and sort out any issues beforehand. One lady emailed me to say she was rather alarmed at having to use a size 15 needle and was worried she wouldn’t be able to thread it. I had the opportunity of pointing her in the direction of my “Best Way to Thread a Needle” video tutorial.
I must say that my second visit to the show was also made a lot smoother with the help of a lovely lady called Vicki who has been invaluable to me. Before the B&B 2012, I’d been warned about the Meet the Teachers evening; how everyone would queue up for at least two hours before doors open and that they would descend upon the teachers like locusts upon a crop (not a pleasant analogy but a remarkably accurate one), so, to say I was rather apprehensive is an understatement. Teachers are allocated an 8ft² table for the evening, on which to display their work. Vicki was fabulous in helping me through that first Meet the Teachers evening in so many ways. This year we were better prepared with display busts, jewellery rolls and velvet for the table. It can be rather daunting for a girl when the surrounding tables have pretty lights, landscaping under the velvet and even, in some cases, tree branches and antlers for displaying the wares! Still, whilst a little Heath Robinson, we did good. Vicki brought the velvet and boxes for ‘landscaping’ and organising, and it all worked.
The following day was far more relaxing as all the work was over and it was time to chill. The preview opening of the show was at 4pm and I beaded on the mezzanine until opening time.
One of the fascinating things for me about Milwaukee is the skywalks. I was told that during the colder months of the year it can be very unpleasant walking outside, because of the bitter, strong winds. So they have skywalks to avoid this, as well as to look modern and futuristic, which pass through banks, connect buildings and even cross the river. You can walk big distances without ever having to go outside, for example you can walk from the mezzanine floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, across to the vast Delta Centre (where the exhibition and many of the workshops are held) and out through the Hilton Hotel, at least half a mile – quite remarkable.
Walking in the skywalk over to the Delta Centre you meet lots of people going both ways, but on the afternoon of the show pre-view, everyone was going one way, and the air was crackling with anticipation. The show is truly spectacular so you need to have a plan when tackling it, otherwise it can be overwhelming – especially when you want everything you see. My advice would be as follows:
- Write down the stall numbers you want to visit (you can get those from the catalogue supplied in your welcome pack and at the doors).
- Re-mortgage the house. (Optional)
- Wear your STUFF! There’s simply no better place to wear it, celebrate it, enjoy it, be fabulous darling! (Compulsory)
- Know what the time is – it’s amazing how it flies and you’ve gossiped away valuable shopping time! You’ll always bump into so many fun people, and yes, everyone stares at everyone else’s chest as usual – someone called it the Beaders Greeting.
- Make a shopping list of everything you need, then when it falls apart from being gripped in your feverish palms, throw it away and buy things you truly covet.
- Once you’ve done all that, you could try to be methodical and work your way up and down the aisles. This is not helped when beady pals grab your arm and drag you off to a fabulous stall you haven’t seen, then you forget where you were before. At that point you can give up being methodical and just wander, in awe.
- Go outside to have a cuppa and re-group your thoughts from the purchasing daze, whilst enjoying looking at the fab exhibition pieces. Now you’ve got the fiendish combination of fresh inspiration plus a caffeine boost, so you can go back inside to buy more ingredients for that new project taking shape in your mind.
Throughout the show, apart from the hundreds of workshops, there are other wonderful treats happening, such as ‘Make and Take’ sessions, which give you lovely, little tasters of a range of jewellery-making methods. It’s just such a crackling, electric atmosphere at the show, energised by everyone sharing their excitement and anticipation for what’s to come and their delight with what they’ve learnt and made.
An exciting piece of news for me is that a good friend and student, Gail, from the show has now opened her very own bead shop – “Bloomin’ Beads, Etc.” in Powell, on the edge of Columbus, Ohio, and she has a stock of my Isabella necklace, Morgan Le Fay necklace and Luisa earrings kits available! I’m grateful for her support and look forward to teaching workshops there.
Our time in Milwaukee flashed by so quickly and it was sad to have to say goodbye to all our lovely beady friends again. The day Steve and I checked out, we had breakfast and I did the winning smile and fluttery eyelashes bit, and vanished into the exhibitors hall for one last mad dash around and some final, beady hugs. Then we were off……………..to Niagara Falls, New York and yet more beady escapades!!!!