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Can’t bead ‘em? Join ‘em.

Although it’s always a treat to visit the People’s Center, Thursdays are special at the museum. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. interested folks are invited to come to the museum and learn to make moccasins, bead, make cloth dolls or dance outfits. 

During most of these Thursdays, a core group of women sit beading, needles flashing in and out of snowy pellon. The ladies are surrounded by plastic boxes and Ziploc bags full of colorful beads, spools of thread, pieces of smoked buckskin and a box of Fig Newtons or some fruit salad for snacks. KERR radio plays in the background, and the ladies ask questions, make comments and laugh.  

Flo Drowatzky, Edna Finley and Mary Partida are all members of the group. They come to bead with Marie Torosian, Education Director and Exhibits Coordinator, and Lucy Vanderburg, Museum Director.

Drowatzky started beading about a month ago and can’t stop. Her first beading project was a barrette; she’s also made a checkbook cover and is now working on a yellow butterfly coin purse.

“If you get (your beads) just right, it comes easy,” Drowatzky said with a chuckle

She said she had the best teachers — Edna, Lucy and Marie.

Drowatzky asks Finley when she has a problem with her beading or thinks she needs to take some beads out.

“The reason I know how to undo all these mistakes is because I did ‘em, too,” Finley explained, smiling.

Not a novice to beading, Partida used a peyote stitch to cover pens and lighters, but she just started flat beading and was working on a barrette in purples and blues.

The bigger the number the smaller the bead, and Finley used size 13 Charlotte cut beads. Charlotte cut is a descriptor for beads faceted on one side. Finley used the tiny beads to decorate a round coin purse in a snowflake design.

Finley has been beading since she and her husband Octave moved back to the Flathead in 1973. Her sister-in-law Angelic Matt taught her to bead.

“I wanted to learn before I came up here,” Finley said. 

The first beadwork project she remembered making was Octave’s dance outfit. She made a belt, moccasins, rose appliqués for his vest plus a pair of armbands and cuffs. 

“I love beadwork; I love handicrafts,” Finley explained.

Finley said she’s had good beading teachers, too. Besides her sister-in-law, Lucy and Marie, Finley learned from Oshanee, Rachel Bowers and Joan Arlee to name just a few.

There are lots of different ways to bead according to Vanderburg. There is two-needle beading, where one needle is used to string the beads and the other needle is used to tack them down.

The lazy stitch is another way to bead although it’s not called the lazy stitch because it’s easy Finley explained. For a lazy stitch, a beader sticks her needle through her pellon or canvas, picks up eight or less beads on the thread, sews those down and then comes up for another batch of beads. Lazy stitch is good for backgrounds, Finley said. 

The ladies agree that Plains Indians, such as the Salish, used more floral patterns for their beading. “Now everybody uses everybody else’s patterns,” Vanderburg said.

Vanderburg recommended beading on pellon, which is interfacing, rubberized sheeting, or canvas. 

But then there is a controversy over what kind of thread to use. Finley uses cotton and waxes it good with beeswax. 

“Newer beaders use nylon (thread),” Finley said. 

Vanderburg cautioned that nylon thread stretches, which can be a problem with people just learning to bead. Vanderburg explained a person just learning to bead might pull the thread too tight, and their beadwork would bunch up whereas cotton thread doesn’t stretch.

Torosian said she tells beginning beaders to pick three colors of beads and a beading needle that will fit through their beads. After drawing a straight line and a circle on a scrap of canvas, Torosian has novices practice using two needles and beading a couple of straight lines. Then she moves them onto a circle starting with a bead in the center.

When a new beader can do these, Torosian suggests they start with a small project such as a barrette or a pin and keep coming to Culture Arts Day on Thursday to learn how to finish the project. 

Beginners can bring their own materials or purchase them from the People’s Center gift shop. Call 675-0160 for more information. 

Chances are you’ll see Drowatzky, Finley and Partida if you drop in, and they’ll help you with your project.

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