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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Bleil

My Life in Beads series


Beads have been an integral part of my life.  I can pinpoint the events in my life that brought me to where I am today.  I am a beadwork artist with 30 years of experience, selling my jewelry on my website.  I have an in-home studio filled with beads and books.  Over the next three or four weeks I will post about my life in beads.

Formative Childhood Memories 1961 to 1979

Stained glass windows

St. Sylvester’s Roman Catholic Church was in the small working-class borough of Brentwood, just south of the smoky City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was a student in grades 1 through 5 at the Catholic school attached to the church.  I loved the church then, enjoyed going to mass and singing the hymns and engaging in the call and response with the priest.  The sermons though were beyond my comprehension and my eyes would wander.  I often was enthralled by the looming, stained-glass windows with their rich colors and stories to tell.

I trace my love of beads back to this, to the stained-glass windows.  They were so beautiful especially when the Sun shone through them.  I now am drawn to transparent beads in my favorite cobalt, red, and emerald colors.

The Geology Kit

When I was 10 years old, I received as a gift a geology set.  In the box was a claw hammer, chemical kits to help identify different rocks and minerals, and other such things that I cannot now remember.  This set deepened the fascination that I had for rocks and minerals.  I learned about Moh’s scale of hardness, crystalline structures, and the process of mineral formation.  This interest channeled into collecting tumbled stones, crystals, and thumbnail specimens of whatever mineral had captured my attention.  There are numerous books on the shelves in my studio that I refer to when describing the stones I use in jewelry.  Many of the necklaces and some of the bracelets I have made over the years feature semi-precious beads and cabochons.

Cocktail and Electrical Wire Rings

During the Summer of 1972, I was 10 years old and living with my maternal grandparents in Mount Oliver, even closer to downtown than Brentwood.  My Grandmother taught me many things that Summer; how to sew, iron, bake cookies, and play Parcheesi.  She also taught me how to make cocktail rings from a kit which contained a length of elasticized thread, some crystal beads, and instructions. I remember sitting on the porch with her showing me how to make them.  Also, that Summer, my father, an electrician, provided me with a handful of colorful electrical wires about 12 inches long.  They came in many colors and patterns.  I formed them into spirals and twisted them into rings. This was the first time I made and gave jewelry as gifts.

A Child in the Sixties

I was born in 1961.  From the beginning, beads were a part of my life.  There were large wooden beads on spindles on my crib! 

Many cultural phenomena defined the Sixties; music, dress, and protest, to name a few.  I liked to listen to music and the messages conveyed in the music. My maternal grandfather introduced me to the Beatles, I Wanna Hold Your Hand in 1964.  By 1968 they were studying Transcendental Meditation, and I was very interested.  As I grew, I loved the fringed clothing, embroideries, and flowing maxi dresses worn by the Hippies, who became then and forever will be my people.  Hippies wore beads, therefore, I wore beads.  I often use fringe in my designs.

Learning to Crochet

I learned to crochet when I was a young woman and spent the next decade learning different stitches and how to crochet with different weight threads.  I made blankets for everyone I loved.  A yellow and orange one for my little sister.  A blue striped one for Aunt Susy.  I made people scarves, mittens, socks, and bookmarks, buying yarn with money I earned babysitting. I found it easy to incorporate beads into my crochet work.


Stained glass windows and an early interest in geology sparked a life-long love of colored glass and pretty stone both so easily found in beads.

Please stay tuned for more in this series about how beads have been a part of my life.

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1 Comment

Dec 20, 2023

We were surrounded by beads in the sixties! Your reminiscences are making me flash back to the long curtains of beads that we used to place in our doorways. No wonder we've retained that fascination.

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