When I first started making jewelry, I shopped at the big online bead stores for my supplies. They had tons of selections, the prices were reasonable (well, as reasonable as it gets for beads) and it was convenient. It didn't take long for me to realize that many other jewelry designers shopped at these places as well. I started seeing other online jewelry sellers using the same beads and components that were part of my stash. In my quest to produce unique and different jewelry, I didn't really like that very much.
Fortunately, my small town has a local bead store and the woman who owns it is a person who has spent years collecting beads and components from all over the world as well as vintage items. She has a very eclectic mix of merchandise in her shop and I became a frequent customer.
Not long after this, we decided to go on vacation. Until then, it had never occurred to me to visit bead stores out of my area and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that. It has now become a given that anytime we are out of town, I will seek out the local bead stores to see what they have in stock. I have purchased beads from stores in Lake Tahoe, Truckee, towns along the northern California coast, Vermont, Nevada and even Thailand (which was one of the biggest thrills of my life!).
Here are some of my recent finds:
From Talisman Beads in Eureka, California, I picked up these glass beads plus the two textile beads the left. They were mostly things I hadn't seen before which guaranteed they'd go into my shopping bag!
These earrings were made from part of that haul and I wished I had bought more of these blue beads. As it turned out, two weeks later I found myself back in Eureka and over to Talisman I went only to find that they had just one pair left. I quickly scooped them up. This is a good lesson to learn - when you find something you love, don't put off purchasing as chances are whatever it is will be gone when one does go back to buy.
These cute little owl beads are also from Talisman's. I bought them in gray, white and black.
Next door to Talisman is a fairly new store called Philosophers Stone Gallery that is filled with rough stones, polished stones, cabochons, beads, fossils and all kinds of other unusual items. It was my first visit, but certainly will not be my last!
During this trip, I also visited Chapmans Gem and Mineral Shop in Fortuna, CA. Housed in a large warehouse, they have piles of raw rock in outside bins. From these rough hunks of stone, they cut and polish their own beads and cabochons. Chapman's also has a large museum where every possible type of stone and fossil you can imagine is on display under glass cases. I could spend an entire day just looking at all of the rocks! In another wing, there is a gallery of really special things that is open by appointment only. If you're into rocks, stones, fossils and beads this is a really interesting place to visit.
|Raw Copper Nuggets Shown on Right|
Next up was Heart Bead in Arcata, CA, where I found these cute fruit beads as well as the cool skull beads. Hey, Halloween is right around the corner - time for some spooky jewelry!
Last fall, my friends, sister and I decided to visit Vermont to see the fall colors. While there, we stumbled across a wonderful bead shop (the name of which I don't recall) and I spent several hours shopping while the rest of my group went off to do something else. They were actually very patient with me and my bead obsession. The very awesome skull bead in this Dia de los Meurtes or Day of the Dead necklace came from that shop. The lampwork beads with the flowers are from a small shop in Truckee, CA and the silver beads are from a Hill Tribes Silver store in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
This wire netted stone is also from the bead shop in Vermont:
Speaking of Thailand, we spent three months visiting Asia last winter and one of the highlights of the trip was spending a few days in Chiang Mai, which is in northern Thailand.
One of the highlights of our stay in Chiang Mai was discovering that there was a Hill Tribes silver store right next door to our hotel. I spent a very happy afternoon in there looking at bin after bin of silver beads, charms and components.
There are literally hundreds of bins and each one contains a different bead/component design. I went over budget, but decided it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and handed over my Thai bahts.
While in Chiang Mai, we spent one day at the Elephant Nature Park which is a rescue operation for abused, neglected and injured elephants. It was such a wonderful day, meeting the elephants, learning each one's story and being allowed to feed, bathe and visit with them.
In honor of the elephants, these earrings were the first thing I made with my stash of Hill Tribes silver.
Another one of my favorite places for finding unusual beads and jewelry parts is a local shop that sells vintage jewelry which has been purchased from estate sales, auctions and Ebay. I could spend hours rummaging through the bins of broken jewelry. Actually, I have spent hours doing just that!
Thrift stores can also be a source of unusual beads. I always look through the jewelry displays and have often found jewelry to take apart in order to salvage the beads, clasps and other parts for new designs. When incorporating used or vintage supplies for creating new jewelry, it is important to remember that these items are often coated with years of grime, so I am sure to give them a good cleaning either before using.
Since discovering small bead stores while traveling as well as museums, rock shops and thrift stores, my outlook regarding supplies has completely changed. The hunt for treasure in the form of beads and parts is a large part of it, but so are the people who own and work in these places. They are friendly, love to talk beads and will ask what I am working on as well as sharing their latest work. The merits of various techniques are discussed at length. Beading history and sources of supplies generate endless conversation. Every time I leave one of these small shops, I walk out feeling that I have met a kindred spirit. No longer will I buy from the big suppliers - these small operations have won my heart!
To read what other members of the Jewelry Artisan Community have to say about bead stores, please click on the links below.