If you’ve seen beautiful bead embroidery in New England, chances are you’ve viewed the work of Keelin Brett, for Keelin is a master of the art form. She skillfully combines vibrant hues and a broad array of stitches to create designs that entice and please. One is taken by her unique choice of stones and beads, the texture of her pieces, and the diversity of the jewelry she creates.
Keelin is first and foremost an artist. She graduated from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, as an art major where she specialized in painting. Her work reflects her talent as well as her intense interest and understanding of color.
Keelin’s entree into the field of beading was a unique design in itself. While in college, she accompanied her mother, a landscape designer, to purchase gardening supplies at a local store. On display was beautiful sculptured jewelry in the shape of orchids and roses. Determined to replicate them, she researched and found they were made of polymer clay. Keelin purchased the clay, and before long she was sculpting delicate flowers that she turned into earrings and pendants. However, to complete each piece she needed ear wires, pins and decorative string, items that are readily available at bead stores. Once inside, her life took a major turn. She was awestruck by the possibilities she saw before her.
Keelin began stringing beads, and shortly thereafter took an off-loom seed beading class, a birthday gift from her mom. Her love for seed beads led her to a course in bead embroidery, and suddenly it all clicked. She had found her passion.
“When I do bead embroidery, it’s like I’m painting with beads,” Keelin explains. “I start with a small section just like I was working on a canvas, and it goes where it goes. I never know where it will end up. That’s the excitement of it for me.”
Keelin’s work is influenced in part by Asian culture. “I lived in Japan for a year and a half where I taught bead embroidery and English. I brought back silk embroidered pieces of obi sashes that I often refer to for color and design.” Her color choices are sometimes those diametrically across from each other on the color wheel. “I also like to use three similar colors and one totally different one to make a statement.”
Keelin works at The Bead Hive three days a week and spends the rest of her time creating her art. “The Bead Hive is a very inspiring place for me. There is always something new and exciting in the store that motivates me to create different designs.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BEAD EMBROIDERY
Bead Embroidery is believed to have originated in the Orient and the Middle East as far back as 30,000 BC. Primitive people discovered that it was just as easy to embellish animal skins as it was to sew them together for clothing and warmth.
Early findings reveal that ivory beads, shells, seeds, eggshells and stones were used for decorations. As time went on, beaded embroidery became the dress of royalty. Alexander the Great is said to have worn an embroidered and beaded robe when he conquered Persia in 331 BC. Other great rulers had clothing designed that included gold and silver thread, some of which was decorated with gems, beads and pearls.
Through the years bead embroidery progessed from being worn by royalty, to being used to embellish religious items, and later incorporated into clothing and home furnishings that the everyday person could afford.
Today, bead embroidery is a very popular craft. We hope you will stop in The Bead Hive and meet Keelin and learn about the exciting classes she’s teaching now and in the months ahead. You might enjoy looking at our magazines and books as well that feature the best of bead embroidery.