When I was about 16 years old. I fell in love with beads and beading. Do you know where and why? At my local bead store in Billings, MT, called the Bead Depot. The last I looked it was closing down. Definitely a sad sign of the times.
I have worked in the beading industry for about 20 years now. When I first entered, bead stores were being opened left and right, beading sections were being added in your local craft store and bead shows were booming. In fact, I started out my career with Soft Flex Company as a traveling saleswoman that went from show to show to show around the country. I traveled from Thursday-Monday almost every week for the first year or two of working for Soft Flex Company. Times are changing, but I feel like I can make a solid argument as to why we want to be careful to not just look for the best beading deals, but to look for how we can spend our money in places that build a community (both online and in the real world). Because spending a little more and being apart of a beading community is well worth the extra expense.
Support your local bead store. They may not be there forever without your help.
In a few weeks, I’ll be teaching two classes at one of my local bead shops here in the bay area – Just Bead It in Concord, CA. There is nothing like getting to learn from an expert in person and ask questions as you learn a new skill. Bead stores provide such a great opportunity to learn beading skills in person. Many store owners will show you how to do small techniques on the fly if you stop by their store. When learning a more robust new skill, there is often a long list of great classes offered to help you reach the next level in your beading skill. Learning at a bead store is also handy because the products are right there and available. How many times have you gotten knee deep into a project to realize that you don’t have the right bead, crimp, wire, etc? Having access to everything is really helpful. Finally, taking a class with people who love beading just as much as you do is just plain fun. It is inspiring to see a community of people around you that share your same passion and hobby.
Here are my upcoming classes at Just Bead It in case you want to join in on the fun.
Sparkly Kumihimo Necklace Class
In this class, we will learn how to use Soft Flex beading wire on a Kumihimo disk. We’ll crimp using two different sizes of pliers – regular and mighty with two different sizes of crimp tubes. The crystals in this design really make it sparkle. It is a perfect piece for the upcoming holiday season and can be done in a multitude of colors of Soft Flex and/or crystals available in the shop. Using Soft Flex beading wire on the Kumihimo disk is key when you are using beads like crystals. They have sharp edges that might cut into other threads and cords in this style of braiding.
Brick & Mortar Store:
2051 Harrison Street, Ste. C
Concord, CA 94520
Knitting on a Spool Bracelet
In this class, we will learn how to knit Soft Flex beading wire on a knitting spool to make a fabulous and unique bracelet. We will crimp and apply crimp covers in class too. The combination of beading wire colors available and centerpiece options will ensure that each design will be unique and one-of-a-kind. Using Soft Flex beading wire on a knitting spool makes a really interesting stretchy bracelet that doesn’t require a clasp and can roll over your hand.
Brick & Mortar Store:
2051 Harrison Street, Ste. C
Concord, CA 94520
Local bead stores need your business. But don't forget the smaller guys that work hard to establish an online community. There are smaller bead shops online that do not have a brick and mortar store. But they strive to connect through social media. There are companies that have hundreds of educational videos on YouTube that offer gentle and easy instruction. It is simple to pick up a new design technique with these informative videos. Social media enables you to talk directly to these talented folk. Support these smaller companies. If you enjoy their online libraries and information, but are not shopping their sites, they will eventually have to close shop and move on.
Support your local bead shows. They definitely won’t return unless there are people there buying.
You would be hard pressed to find a better access point to your local beading community than a local bead show. Vendors bring materials from around the world and set up booths to inspire people to embrace adornment. There is a really lovely low buzz at a bead show that sounds almost like a bee hive, it is the sound of ideas and thoughts being shared. I’ve never walked away from a bead show not feeling excited and ready to bead new projects. Bead shows also offer great learning opportunity. There are often demonstrations, make-it-take-its, classes and books for sale. Most vendors are quick to explain where things come from and what makes them unique or special. Just getting to see what each person has hanging from their neck, ears or wrist is a treat in itself. Finally, local bead shows are a great way to find your local bead society and bead store, helping you build a network of fellow bead enthusiasts.
This week, I’ll be attending the Whole Bead Show in Oakland, CA. I will be demonstrating kumihimo, knitting on a spool, bead weaving, crimping and more at the Soft Flex Company booth. Make sure you visit our booth (606, 608, 709).
Check out my Soft Flex Live Design Challenge video from Tuesday, October 30th. You can view it below, on a YouTube link, or visit Soft Flex Company Facebook page. I opened a mystery package from vendors that will have booths at the show. This was a wonderful opportunity to see what kind of beads and lovely stuff that you will find at the show. If you plan to visit the show, check it out. You can start your shopping list early. If you do not plan to visit the show, the live Facebook video is a great way to find a new bead store you may have missed.
The Whole Bead Show takes place in Oakland at the Marriot City Center. The show is open November 9th through the 11th, Friday and Saturday 10am-6pm and Sunday 11am-5pm.
So, you lovely reader, may not live here in the Bay Area. However, chances are high that if you live in a city with a lot of people that there are beaders out there just like you. And chances are also high that you have a local bead supplier, store or show that might really need your support to survive. It will be a very sad day when these opportunities to connect face-to-face are gone completely. I am a huge fan of connecting online, especially through live video, but we all have to admit that it is not entirely the same as a real smile and warm hug in person. Please take time to get to know and shop from your local shops and shows. Take a class and learn something new. Connect through an open beading night and make new friends that share your love and passion for beading. Let’s keep these options open for us and for the new generations coming along that will also learn to love beading through their local bead store or bead show, just like I did.
Look at this lovely necklace and earrings I made with items from vendors that will be at the show:
If you are going to be attending the Whole Bead Show in Oakland or plan on visiting the Bay Area, we would love to see you at the Soft Flex Gallery. We recently expanded our gallery hours. We have always been open on Wednesdays, but we are now open every Wednesday and Thursday from 10:00am to 3:00pm.
If you are a wholesale buyer, you can call us and schedule an appointment to visit our gallery on a different day.
Our gallery is located at:
22678 Broadway, Suite 1
Sonoma, CA 95476
Broadway is also known as Sonoma HWY 12 / ROUTE 12 / CA-12. Go down the long driveway and turn right at the stop sign. We are located adjacent to Bright Event Rentals.
Our gallery is special. We have a bunch of gemstones and beads there that will never be on our site. We have sales at our gallery that are not available on our site. Everything has been hand selected by founder and owner Mike Sherman. Mike has traveled the world extensively. He has spent countless hours networking and finding special gemstones and beads from vendors and artisans. As a jewelry designer himself, he wanted to pick the finest beads he could find. He has a wonderful eye for color and shape.
We are an education focused company. We want you to learn how to use our tools. How to design jewelry with our wire. We want you to know what crimps you need for what diameter. If you visit us, be sure to ask as many questions as you can. We can give you demonstrations and help you move to the next level on your beading journey.
For more information, check out our Gallery Page.
Shop local! Support your local bead stores. Attend bead shows. Tell your friends to support the local guys. The big box stores are great, but if you do not support the little guys, you will find this thriving community is going to get smaller and smaller.
Visit our Facebook page. We have live shows and bead gallery sales. We have a growing community of designers and passionate jewelry makers on our Facebook group - VIB. Join the group and post photos of your work.
(Visit Sara's Blog here: SaraOehler.com)
Visit the Soft Flex Company YouTube Channel!
Sara Oehler (pronounced Ay-ler) is a well-known jewelry designer living in the Bay Area. Sara is the author of several beading books, including her latest title, written with Kristen Fagan, Seed Bead Revolution. She has designed and written for numerous publications including: BeadStyle, Bead&Button, Bead Trends, Stringing, Jewelry in Fashion Trends, Simply Beads, The Flow and Today's Creative Home Arts. Currently, Sara is the Sales and Marketing Manager for Soft Flex Company.Ask Sara Bead Expert