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Wooden Towel Bar with Bead Embroidery c1860


The number one rule for collecting is “Collect what you like” and the number two rule is “Collect knowledgably”.

Worldwide, beads have been strung, applied to personal items like clothing, or applied to decorative items to express cultural or religious beliefs, celebrate life events, illustrate creativity and skills, and declare social standing. Beadwork was created using needlepoint, embroidery, knitting, crochet, netting, and loom weaving.


Beaded panels were set in furniture to resemble porcelain, marquetry, or mosaic. Beadwork covered table tops and upholstered chairs, footstools, settees, benches, music stands, and piano stools. Beaded panels were enclosed in doors, cabinets fronts, room screens, wall pockets, hat racks, and towel bars.  


And, easier to collect, beadwork decorated many small items like jewelry boxes, glove boxes, hanky holders, writing instruments, notebooks, books – particularly religious books, game holders, and baskets for holding special items like sewing tools, key holders, and matchboxes.

A collection theme might be cultural or geographic. I began by focusing on western beadwork which included Europe and the Americas as well as pieces created by western women in colonial Africa and Asia. The heyday of western beadwork occurred between 1820 and 1880 when many decorative and functional items were covered with beads.

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Tilt Tip Table Bead Embroidery Fruit c1850 French


Portrait of Lady in Hat Bead Embrodery c1860 English

Many of the themes for needle arts and beadwork were allegorical, particularly when it came to remembering loved ones – reflecting the high rates of infant mortality, women dying in childbirth, men dying in wars and revolutions, and the myriad of plagues and diseases that took loved ones. Classical themes were very popular – thus angels became a frequent image. Themes also included romantic views of daily life or reflected the various art and decorative arts themes – Biedermeier, Rococo, neoclassical, romantic, Victorian, and aesthetic.

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Casket for Sewing Tools Bead Embroiodery c1850 Portugese

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Tea Tray Pastoral Ruins knitted beadwork c1830 German

Collecting antique fiber art - beadwork, knitting, lace, and quilts has helped me fulfill an appreciation of the tremendous work that has been done by women over the ages. Value depends on design, quality of materials, and quality of work. Having a signed piece is rare in antique fiber art – the majority of the pieces have no attribution.


Don’t forget to collect contemporary fiber art for your enjoyment and support other artists.

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