Beadwork trend rises in Iowa City


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Taking on running a local retail shop in a down economy was a risk Karen and Laurel Kubby were willing to take.

“In the first year and a half, we turned the business into a nose-above-water business,” said Beadology Iowa co-owner Karen Kubby.

The two sisters purchased the bead shop in August 2008 and changed the name and look of the store. The original owner had been successful for 23 years, leaving the Kubby sisters convinced that beadwork would continue to thrive in Iowa City. In order to maintain the business, the store began hosting charity events and providing weekly classes.

“We aren’t just a store,” said Karen Kubby, a former Iowa City city councilor. “We are involved in downtown issues and the community,”

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Beadology Iowa, 220 E. Washington St., will provide the opportunity for people to learn how to create a cuff bracelet by using a Herringbone stitch, a technique that allows individuals to sew heavier materials such as larger beads or flannel cloth. The class will only allow 10 people in order to provide more one-on-one attention. Admission is $65.

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At noon Jan. 23, 16-year-old Alex Moen will teach the basics of chain maille at the store, which involves combining individual rings to form intricate chains. The class capacity is eight; admission is $65.

Karen Kubby’s fascination with beadwork began at a young age. As a child, she watched her grandmother take brightly colored beads out of a small tube and manipulate them into extravagant wedding dresses and decorative handbags.

“I loved the process of watching one bead at a time make this amazingly beautiful item that she was going to wear,” Kubby said.

Her grandmother, a Des Moines native and seamstress, made appointments with attorneys and car salesman to showcase her handcrafted business ties. If department stores were crowded with customers, she stopped and persuaded store officials to purchase her beaded purses.

“She was a real entrepreneur,” Kubby said.

Like Kubby, Moen sold his work at local farmers’ markets and craft fairs. The City High student, a customer at Beadology, attended the store’s weekly open lab for fours hours at 4 p.m. Thursdays, in which customers can create pieces free of charge in the store’s workspace. A staff person is dedicated to help those with questions.

Kubby noticed his progress and asked him to practice teaching her the steps.

“He has a very low-key tone and is very patient,” she said. “He wants you to succeed, and you can tell that from his nonverbal actions.”

Stores such as Revival and White Rabbit also help to showcase Iowa City craft-makers, encouraging customers to buy locally.

“The whole craft movement has gotten popular in the last few years with more encouragement from the media to do it yourself,” said Revival manager Liz Preciado.

The craft is appealing to a wide range of people. From simple friendship bracelets to challenging fire-made glass beading, store owners feel that the variety in craft is one reason that it has a large market.

“Our youngest customer is 4 and makes necklaces for aunts and grandmas, while the oldest is 84,” Kubby said.

University of Iowa sophomore Kathleen Jensen has noticed increased popularity for beaded items in Iowa City as opposed to other statewide art shows, such as those in Des Moines.

“There are a lot of young people in Iowa City who want something handmade,” she said.

Kubby hopes that the classes she leads will help to continue spreading the beadwork trend in Iowa City.

“The satisfaction I get is sharing skills that people actually get,” she said. “They walk away with a new skill and use their creativity to establish their own voices.”

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