What is French Beading?
In short, “French Beading” refers to a specific set of techniques which combine beading, wire wrapping, and sculpture. These techniques are usually used to create flowers. These flowers can be used in anything from jewelry and accessories, to flower stems, floral arrangements, decorations, wreaths, and even wedding bouquets.
In the past, there was a clear distinction between this technique and the “Victorian” technique. The biggest difference is that in French Beading, most techniques follow a rule where the wire passes through the beads once, while in Victorian, the wire passes through beads twice. However, the art of “French” beading has traveled all around the world, with artists in many countries each adding their own new techniques to the repertoire. Some artists choose to combine French and Victorian, and other wire weaving techniques. With all the advancements in the art, only some of the techniques we use today are truly “French” (and some of those were probably actually adopted from Italian beaded flowers.)
So why are they called “French Beaded Flowers”? There is conflicting information as to whether the art started in France or Italy. The art was popular all over Europe. But, those making the flowers probably didn’t call them “French” or “Venetian” at all, no matter what country they were in. I believe the name “French Beaded Flowers” was created in the 1900’s when the flowers were being imported from Italy and France “factories” into the United States, the shops selling them called them “French Beaded Flowers” so as to make the flowers appealing to the American audience, or because they believed the art began in France.
A Brief History
French Beading is an art many centuries old. There aren’t many historical accounts about it, so very little is known. The best history I’ve read on the subject is found in the book “Forever Flower” authored by Swedish beaded flower collector Ragnar Levi. The roots of beaded flowers are believed to start in the 1500’s—if not earlier— in Italy or France, or possibly both. One popular story on how French Beading began says that peasants gathered beads leftover from embellishing gowns and strung them onto wire, then wrapped to form flowers and leaves for religious altar decorations. Whether the story is true, we don’t really know.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, these flowers were used to make lavish funeral wreaths, called immortelles, which were produced by workers for factories, sold in shops, and purchased by family members to display on their loved ones’ graves. Some of these wreaths—and the flowers used to make them—can still be found in antique markets today. After the wreaths were banned due to them making an unseemly mess in graveyards, the popularity of the art waned for a few decades until it’s revival in the United States.
In the mid 1900’s a company called Walbead reintroduced the craft in the US with kits for making beaded bouquets, which sparked a new interest in French Beading. Following soon after were books written by designers such as Virginia Nathanson, Bobbe Anderson, and Virginia Osterland, to name just a few.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s another crop of designers—Donna Dickt, Zoe L. Schneider, Dalene Kelly, and Carol Benner—published more books that brought the art to another generation.
In short, French Beading has gone through many revivals, with each new generation of artists making exciting breakthroughs that push the art forward! Today there are more artists than ever before developing new techniques and finding creative ways to use old techniques! It’s going to be exciting to see how much farther this art form will develop and spread with the advances in technology that makes learning resources easier to produce and distribute than it was for previous generations.
Below are some pictures of antique pieces that I have in my personal collection. Most are Immortelles, but there is also a reliquary that was made by nuns as part of their devotionals in Germany in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s.
Meet the Designer
Hello! My name is Lauren Harpster and I am the owner and designer here at Bead & Blossom. Making French Beaded Flowers is more than just a hobby for me – it’s a calling. I discovered French Beading by chance years ago, as I was trying to learn new bead weaving techniques. It was a fascinating art that combined my love of flowers with my love of beads. I needed to learn how to make them!
I learned the basics of French Beading from books written by Donna Dickt, Zoe L. Schneider, Dalene Kelly, and Carol Benner, but quickly started down my own path, and I have been beading flowers like a maniac ever since.
I decided to open my own business and start this website to spread the word about these unique and beautiful flowers, and dedicate my skills to teaching others. I am proud to be one of those keeping this old art alive!
One of my favorite things about French Beading is the meticulous nature of the craft. I research each flower extensively before making the flower out of beads. Finding just the right combination of techniques and sizes can be difficult, but I absolutely love it! My work tends to test the limits of French Beading and push a bit beyond traditional techniques. I love to experiment with combining techniques in new ways to make my flowers as accurate as possible. I’ve even developed a few new techniques along the way. Take a peek at my Portfolio to see some of my French Beaded Flowers.
I’ve been making these beautiful flowers for over 10 years, and teaching the art for many years through my website. You may know me from my previous website – Lauren’s Creations. In 2017 I published my first book, “Christmas Collection”, which is the first volume in my “French Beading Patterns” series. In 2020 I published two more books: “Learn French Beading: Beginner Course” and “French Beaded Christmas Wreath: A One-a-Day Project”. I am currently working on my fourth book.
If you want to learn how to make French Beaded Flowers, I have developed a Beginner Course to help you on your way. The course is completely free and you can find it in the Learn section of my website, and the videos in the Video Classes section.
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Welcome aboard! A world of beading adventures awaits!