How Dedra Weiss Combines Beadwork and History to Impact Modern Fashion
I’ve always been in love with the past. If there existed a time machine, I might jump inside and dial the clock back to a period where women wore gowns with hemlines that swept the ground or to an era with decadently beaded flapper dresses. Combining my love of historical fashion with my passion for loomed beadwork, I create vintage-inspired beaded purses and handbags that meld the past with the present.
I seek to keep the tradition of bead weaving alive in a manufacture-driven industry. Also, I aspire to make people feel beautiful and artistic while wearing my one-of-a-kind creations of intricately woven beads dangling from a lovingly restored antique purse frame. When displayed in galleries and museums, my purses and wall hangings remind patrons of historic bead weaving and that artists continue the tradition.
The purse-making process
I am a self-taught beadwork artist, creating my own purse-making technique. After drawing my design and painstakingly transposing it into a mosaic pattern, I weave together thousands of glass seed beads to make a beaded “fabric.” This tedious work requires patience and precision, yet I find it soothing and remedying to my soul. I get an overwhelming sense of satisfaction snipping the hundreds of warp threads, freeing the finished beadwork from the loom.
Then, I hand-stitch each warp thread into a satin lining, perfectly spaced with no visible seams. Finally, I sew an antique metal purse frame onto the beadwork. My imagination always runs wild at this stage. “What secrets did the frame hold?” My mind wanders to who may have held the piece and what their story may be. My finished purse merges history with the present, ready for a new story.
Finished purse merges history with the present, ready for a new story.
Lessons learned and lessons taught on my creative journey
My creative journey began when my mother gave me a sack of seed beads from a tattered vintage purse. I created my first purse through trial and error from those remnants, perfecting my techniques ever since.
I am a self-taught beadwork artist because there’s a lack of detailed instruction books to create these types of pieces. Basic bead weaving tutorials are available, but I was left to my own ingenuity to figure out how to make a purse.
Early on I often thought of giving up. Some of my purses could have been more beautiful. I’ve actually cut apart more than one in disappointment and frustration. The lesson learned was that I didn’t need a class from another to succeed. I created my own study and method and began to document my processes and create the digital course “How to Make Beaded Purses,” which is offered once per year.
If I had succumbed to moments of self-doubt and criticism, I never would have realized my capabilities, never found the comfort that comes with each bead strung and abandoned a broken piece of history. My journey of perseverance inspires others to keep on in their craft despite times of discouragement.
Connection to the community
Using my art to help the community has contributed to charitable organizations raising needed funds for important causes. My Sweetheart purse was a part of the Atlanta Heart Ball silent auction that raised funds for The American Heart Association. My Manhattan purse was auctioned at the Get Organized New York charity gala benefiting The Fund for Public Schools. My purses have also been auctioned for school fundraisers in Atlanta, Georgia.
As part of the Wings and Stings exhibit, my one-of-a-king Honeybee purse will be on display at the Grand Opening of The Museum of Beadwork in Portland, Maine, connecting the community to beadwork and bead artists.
Inspiration behind the designs
As an artist and a poet, my passion for other creative realms often inspires my beadwork. I create acrylic, pencil, charcoal, pen, and watercolor works. I frequently draw from my finished pieces of art, focusing on one element, such as a rose or pattern, which I use as the focal point in my purse design. I chart my drawing, transforming it into a mosaic image to which I assign bead colors.
I also use my poetry as a source of inspiration. When writing, I conjure an image in my head and materialize it into a design. I also write a short poem for each purse I make, trying to convey the emotion behind the beadwork that I’ve created.
Beading as a business
Starting a business was not intentional. I beaded simply because I loved it, finding great pleasure in creating something beautiful out of a pile of beads and thread. I enjoyed the challenge of creating patterns and designs and seeing them become a reality with each row of beads woven into place.
I gifted many of my purses to friends and loved ones and, of course, added them to my own personal collection. However, I often got comments about their uniqueness when I wore my bags to various events. The turning point was when a woman asked to purchase one from me. Then, through word of mouth, I began getting orders for custom purses and handbags, leading me to create an online boutique, www.handmadebeadedpurses.com. This website is a place for lovers of fashion accessories and a source of inspiration and instruction for other beadwork artists.
A parting poem…
True to my tradition of writing a poem to accompany my works, here is a little verse that I wrote describing my bead weaving and purse making.
So delicate and fragile,
the tinted beads of glass.
Row by row they’re woven,
bound for a vintage frame of brass.
With the passing of the hours,
fingers pricked but weaving on.
An image in a sheet of glass,
emerges with each thread drawn.
Stray threads sewn into satin;
a purse of beauty formed.
Blending past and present,
to inspire and adorn.
Dedra Weiss, a dreamer, artist, and old soul, creates vintage-inspired handbags and purses by weaving together thousands of glass seed beads on a loom. She is a self-taught beadwork artist, making her own unique technique. Dedra hand-makes all of her creations, inspired by historical fashion, nature, and artistic patterns. She hopes to encourage others to create art or fashion with beads and keep handmade traditions alive.