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Friends hang out, make jewelry at Bead Retreat

Augusta Valentine is a little unsure she wants to make her first piece of beaded jewelry.

"I hope this is not going to become another addiction," she says, looking at the five other women seated with her around the table.

Debbi Shellhase is just the opposite. She can't wait to make what is probably her 50th piece.

"I have a jewelry box full," she says.

The two women recently gathered for a Bead Retreat jewelry-making session at the Naturals Yarn Shop in Gloucester, Va. They sit around a table with four other women, talking about former husbands, kids and clothes. Everyone admires the pink Mary Jane Crocs that Lindsay South wears with jeans and a pink top.

Bead Retreat, started in 2001 by southeastern Virginia residents Lesa Shepherd and Cindi Swett, allows friends to hang out while they make beaded jewelry from kits. A "coordinator" provides and explains the kits, shows finished samples and helps participants through the process.

Costs include a $10 per-person class fee and whatever your beaded kit costs, which ranges from $2.50 for a Next Generation bracelet to $63 for a Namesake bracelet. The $28 starter tool kit includes a bead board, nose pliers and wire cutter. Each participant also receives a catalog where they can order kits to take home. The party hostess enjoys special gifts.

"I've been in direct sales ever since I was 18," says Bead Retreat coordinator Melissa Hansen, 39. She's also a stay-at-home mother to Cody, 10, and Gabriella, 5, both active in programs such as ballet and sports. "This is what makes it possible for me to run them everywhere and be at their school programs."

During the next hour, Hansen guides the women while they make different bracelets. Shellhase chooses the Solaris style with opal quartz, Czech fire-polished glass and pewter beads, $8.25. South makes Beaches with mother-of-pearl beads and chips, $10.25. The others opt for Fish `n Chips with aqua quartz, mother-of-pearl and pewter beads, $10.

The women use numbered bead boards to arrange their beads for stringing.

"We lay it out any old way?" South asks.

"Lay it out the way you will string it," says Hansen. "Once you make this bracelet, you can make any."

Deciding how beads flow is the most time-consuming part. Extra beads are included in each kit so customization is possible.

"I'll swap you two of these beads for one of those," says Pat Breth to Valentine and Jean Crowder. "I'm trying to do a particular pattern."

South finishes first, slides the bracelet on her tiny wrist and holds it up for all to see.

"Mine is all white so it was pretty easy to do," she says.

Valentine struggles a little with hers.

"I have lots left to do nothing with," she says.

"You have lots left to do something with," says Shellhase. She likes to use extra beads to make matching earrings.

Once Valentine gets the beads on the fine-gauge wire, she puts on the finishing toggle clasp.

"Finally," she says smiling with satisfaction. "I like it and I did it without saying any bad words."


What is a Bead Retreat? A gathering where a hostess invites friends and family to make jewelry using kits with instructions and photos. It's a Newport News, Va.-based company started by Lesa Shepherd and Cindi Swett; the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce recognized both as small business owners of the year in 2006.

What does a party cost? $10 class fee per person, plus cost of bead kit, which ranges from $2.50 to $63 in latest catalog. Tool kit is $28.

Want to learn more? Visit or call toll free 1-888-708-2323.