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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Snowy Owl

Time once again for the Toronto Bead Society (TBS) Bag of Beads Challenge. At least one of everything in the kit has to be used in the challenge!! My first impression of the contents of the 2022 edition was hmmmm… How am I going to combine a circle of birch bark with a monster 16mm pearl ball and bugle beads?

Contents of 2022 Bag of Beads

Naomi Smith of Black Tulip Designs gleefully added a birch bark circle to her generous donation of seed and bugle beads for this year’s TBS challenge. By definition, the bark is the stumper as it does not have a hole in it. We’re a BEAD society!! A doughnut could be classified as a bead should you want to string it, but flat birch bark isn’t!

I moved on to the next challenge — the IDEA! “How could I incorporate the birch bark into my beadwork?” What is my theme? What could I embroider on the birch bark? 

Once the OWL idea popped in my head, I started searching for visual references. There were all sorts of owls out there. The most appealing one was the Snowy Owl drawing by Art by Three’s Sarah Rebekah Rachel White that had been uploaded on January 20th, 2020 to My husband traced over a print out for a line drawing and then digitally reduced the size to fit in my circle. This allowed me to trace the main outline of the owl on my birch bark for filling in with bead and porcupine quill feathers

Snow Owl inspiration


The two sizes of black bugles begged to be netted, but first I had to play around with the placement, seed bead mesh points, top edge and lower trim for a smooth netted collar. We could add beads to the challenge. By adding brown iris 10/ seed beads in between the black bugles the overall netted collar would have character and be more compatible with the birch bark. 

Testing netting ideas

Since we had two months to work on our challenges, I took along several bead options  for the netted collar with me for our circle tour visit of family and friends over Christmas and New Year’s. We had plenty of spare time in Erie, PA. A desk with a window view and good music provided a creative space for designing and beading.

Good light, a view and space to work

In my stash, I found a sample pack of drop beads in a mix of colors. What a thrill to discover to how nicely the lower net edge looks when a single drop is centered along the lower edge of graduated bead sizes. I alternated the copper, matte black, gunmetal and shinny black along the lower edge in a pattern until I ran out of the copper and gunmetal. By wearing the collar front to back, the 4-color pattern would look great at the back.

Alternating drops

Then, I alternated the remaining matte and shiny black drops equally on both sides of the 4-drop repeat until I ran out those drops. I figured, a clasp on the all black ends would be hidden under the birch medallion and the all-black drops would make a great background for my owl.

Collar and inspiration

Serendipitously, the neck circumference using two 8/ seeds along the top edge fit perfectly right at the point I ran out of the drop beads for the lower trim! Someone was looking out for me!!

Perfect fit


First of all, it helps to use an awl to pierce holes in the birch bark, but be sure to have a cork base handy to soften the punches! 

Awl and cork base

I made holes just inside the circumference for use in the very end when I add a leatherette backing for a clean finish. I used the guides on the circle template for dividing the circle as evenly as possible and was satisfied the holes were well spaced for the edging finish at the end!

Since the body was too small for my selection of beads to be properly defined, I decided to partly bead embroider the large owl wing and the face. By using porcupine quills for the owl’s body I could achieve a modelled 3-dimensional effect.

Since the birch bark is more fragile, I figured I would be able to bead embroider freely on the leatherette, cut it out closely, and then add it on top of the birch bark to make a more realistic owl.

I had ivory leatherette material handy for backing the medallion when it was finished, but first, I cut off a small a piece of leatherette for embroidering the owl face and large wing with beads.

Inspiration with birch back and leatherette

I used the time-tested trick of shading the back of my proportioned owl print with a lead pencil. Then traced the outline of the owl on the bark, as well as the leatherette, with the awl. The markings came out clearly on both surfaces!

Preparing the transfer image


I started embroidering the feathers with an assortment of bead shapes and colors. Each feather started with an ivory pearl 11/ seed, sand-lined crystal 11/seed, copper-lined cylindrical Toho, 3-cut topaz, 10/ brown iris. I staggered the feathers so they appeared long and distinct. Once the feathers were in place, I outlined the face with tinier beads. Inside I stitched around crystal AB 11/ seeds for a fluffy face and then added metallic gold “O” beads for the eyes. A tiny black seed bead holding the O in place became the pupil.

Beads for feathers

One row of feathers done

Three rows of feathers done

I trimmed the face-wing carefully not to cut any strings of feathers.

Testing fit of bead embroidered portion


By using porcupine quills, I could easily create shaded feathers. The colors are naturally there. By carefully positioning the transition of colors between the holes was like painting feathers. Thanks to a 2013 workshop with Naomi, I learned how to work with porcupine quills and had a few spares. The important thing was to soak them so the quills could be bent and folded, as needed.

Porcupine quills

Soaking quills and birch bark ready to go

A few punched holes were a good start, but I needed to add new ones as each feather dictated.The burr end and the long white ends both cooperated as I pushed and pulled them to a pleasing feather-effect. The quills had to be fully dry before trimming the excess quill points.

Using awl to pierce birch bark

Placing first few feathers

Creating a nature feather pattern

Underside of birch bark before quills are trimmed

All the quills have been trimmed

Once they were trimmed, I positioned the beaded overlay next to the quill body and proceeded to stitch down the beaded feathers. This combined the two techniques in to one 3-D owl! I added little black claws between the quills to perch my owl.


Ready to assemble

Using the bark circle as a template, I traced and cut a leatherette circle for the backing. Looking at the remaining beads in the TBS 2022 Bag, I noted which ones were still outstanding and needed to be incorporated in my creation. I tried using some of the coral pink 8/, and tried my own turquoise seed mix to tie it into the three large turquoise shapes in the bag! In the end, the best edging solution was to use two 8/ black beads along the edge anchored by the 10/ brown iris bead through every hole. Simpler is better!

Black edging in process

This was not the end because there were more beads which needed to be used!!


Again, a review of what was left over in the TBS Bag revealed metallic pink barbell- shaped beads, 8/ matte salmon pink seed beads, two large turquoise-finished beads, a single turquoise larger potato-shaped bead with headpin loop, 5 - 16mm ivory pearls, a dozen of pear-shaped ivory pearl drops. 

Stringing some of the remaining beads for the kit

At least one of every one of these beads needed to be used in the challenge. I decided to string a strap for the owl medallion ending with single round 16mm pearl on each side followed by the turquoise. I checked my stash for large-shaped black beads to fill in between the metallic barbells and matte pinks. I used my diagonally-drilled Czech cubes and had to supplement the length with interlocking V-shaped beads. I added fine metallic peacock iris seed beads for zing between the pinks and blacks. This was strung on a beading wire with crimps added to secure a lobster clasp at each end. 

Netted collar, medallion and strap


I added two soldered rings near the top of the medallion for the strap attachment. 

There still were large pear drops and the huge single turquoise on a head pin to deal with. The only place it made sense was in a fancy fringe trim of the circular medallion. I dropped down the turquoise bomb on a few seed beed in the very center below the owl. A single metallic peacock bead between black ones made a difference! I then added the pearl drops with metallic pink barbell wings on each side. Four fancy pearl drops each side of the gentle upward curve did the trick for balance and interest.

Medallion with trim and connected to strap


When trying to model my creation, I found I needed another component to make it possible to hook on the strap to my medallion. Unfortunately, the color of my spring clasp does not match the gunmetal findings., The overall look is worth this minor  finding color oversight. 

Modelling all three components together   

Here I am modelling the three views of my Snowy Owl creation: the Netted Collar, the Owl Medallion and The Ensemble. 

Netted collar

Medallion attached to strap

All three together

I really enjoyed this challenge because it made me try new things and ideas. This is the only way to grow. I look forward to seeing and hearing stories of my fellow TBS members at the February 9th Reveal meeting.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Zalishchyky sylianka with monety restoration

The "Spirit of Beads: Sharing Their Stories" exhibit at the Ukrainian Museum in Canada, Ontario Branch, brought this incredible artifact (adornment) out of storage!

Since Bozhena Gembatiuk works at the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre (UCRDC), she could see the exhibit preparations going on in the museum on her way upstairs to work. At one point, the museum staff were pulling together examples of beadwork from Ukraine to compare with Indigenous Beadwork of North America which were going to be lent for the exhibition.

Bozhena believed she had just the piece which would fit in the exhibition, but when she brought in her sylianka from Zalishchyky to show, tiny black grain of sand-like beads were loose in the box. Everyone's hearts sank as this beaded choker with coins and unique bugle trim could not be used in the exhibit. I, a consultant for the Spirit of Beads exhibit, was recommended for the restoration of the beadwork.

Bozhena with sylianka & family photo


Bozhena's grandmother, Olena Korol Gembatiuk, proudly wore this beaded sylianka, a family heirloom. Here she is wearing it in the photo with her son Jaroslaw, Bozhena's father, who was born in 1910. They lived in Zalishchyky, located on the Dniester River in Chortkiv district in Ternopil oblast.

Olena Korol and son Jaroslaw Gembatiuk

Zalishchyky sylianky are easily recognizable! They were primarily black seed beads backgrounds with fine rhombs and diamonds in coloured beads in what appears random order. These are very difficult to see because of the overwhelming black netted background. They were created using horse hair in a multi needle technique (pick up a bead on one string (horse hair), pick up a bead on another string, criss-cross through a new bead); then move on to the next pair of strings/ hairs. A trained eye can notice how the beaded band was created when there are missing beads in a diagonal exposing the stringing material. Often times the netted band is stitched onto a twill ribbon to stabilize it.

Multi needle horse hair weaving

Close up of the original 

It was an honour and a privilege to restore this sylianka! Here was my chance to see how the craftspeople of yesteryear problem-solved to get the desired results they envisioned.

full front view

This piece, called a 'strichkova sylianka z monetamy' (ribbon band sylianka with coins) according to Olena Fedorchuk (
Ukrainian Folk Adornments from Beads. Lviv:Svichado, 2007), was stitched onto a black twill base. It has 15 coins from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Galician empire along the lower edge. Some of these coins had rings soldered on, while a few coins were drilled near the top. They were all strung between large beads and then attached to the black twill tape. 

full back view

It had a very unique bugle bead trim along the top edge. This bugle trim was stitched onto a very fine wire cord braid and then added onto the top edge of the twill tape. 

A red wool twill ribbon was stitched onto one end, a fine wide black trim was stitched to the other side. I'll show you later what a fine trim it was, but scrunched together it makes a handy tie.

The 'strichkova sylianka', a fine bead on horse hair multineedle net was stitched on top of the twill tape separately. We know the sylianka was separate because a paper slipped in the torn area reveals a solid net!

Strip of white paper helps 

When it became clear Bozhena wanted to wear her sylianka heirloom in the future, it was clear this portion needed to be removed and beaded on fresh new thread, then stitched back in position to recreate the Zalishchyky sylianky look.

Documentation -- Where do I begin?

First step was to document the entire piece from all sides, both front and back and look for clues of it's construction.

Close ups of the seed bead sylianka revealed the rhomb diamond motifs. It also enabled me to see where there were missing beads, broken horse hairs.

I circled the problem areas and sent it to Bozhena. At first it seemed I might be able to rescue some area by filling in beads. A test revealed this was impossible because a fine needle and thread could not pass through some of the microscopic bead holes on horse hair! Also, there turned out to be more seed beads missing that first glimpse. I needed to add beads into the sylianka. 

Problem spots on left side

Problem spots on right side

I found Czech 13/o charlottes were the closest in size. Because they are cut on one side, they reflect light. Since I was adding them to the mix, I released a string at a time and mixed them with the beads I pulled off the horse hair. As I was beading the sylianka, I found many of the original beads were erratically-shaped, some with impossibly tiny hole, some thin slivers seemed ready to break. There were a lot of discards! The bead soup of old and 13/o Charlottes enabled me to bead weave the full length.

working to remove beads from netting

Charting the pattern

I printed my black 5-bead graph paper at 50% size and started colouring the motif from my close-up photo of bead sylianka. It was easier to see the pattern on paper rather than in the original. There was a rhomb with double coloured horns around a black diamond. Then, a diamond where a single coloured bead on each of four corners forming a miniature rhomb. There was a seemingly erratic colour placement of the rhombs and diamonds, but blue rhombs seemed more dominant and were spread out equidistantly along the sylianka.

charting pattern

using coloured pencils

charted pattern of full motifs

I closely photographed each section of the original again. Then printed out those sections and matched them up so I could have a pattern of the exact sequence. I wrote out the colours above each rhomb and diamond as often it was impossible to tell the difference between royal blue and dark green rhombs in the photograph. I then used it as my master.

photos next to sylianka

Today we can achieve the netted look with a single needle and thread. To recreate my charted pattern per the Zalishchyky sylianka, I found I needed to use a second needle to add a two bead edge to recreate the pattern exactly as drawn. In the end of the day, the netting has the same pattern as the multi needle horse hair original. 

sample in progress next to photo

Sample next to original

My sample was beaded with 13/o Charlottes with rhombs in larger 11/ seed beads for color placement. Because this was the netting stitch, it was more forgiving and could handle an occasional larger bead in the netted fabric. The color of the bead was important and occasionally I had to use it in the final in place of missing beads.

starting two rows

Blue rhomb taking shape

Red rhomb next

Adding two beads along lower edge

sample next to original

Vertically netting the sylianky band  --  Netting the sylianka

Once I had the stitch and the pattern, I started again using as many of the original beads as possible. This meant releasing the beads from the horse hair sylianka. I unpicked the threads holding down the sylianka to the twill base and cut away sections at a time. As I was releasing the beads, I was constantly amazed how the patterns were created. Simple, if you have 6 horse hairs tied into a knot and secured to a table for plaiting one or two beads at a time!

Cutting away from the twill ribbon

Gently pull away

More removed from twill

Removing beads from horse hair

Seeing the mutli needle weaving 

Removing red rhomb section

More detail of the weaving

Removing the blue rhomb section

More beads being removed

I added some Charlottes to the released bead mix on my Chinet plate and proceeded to net. I was using NYMO 0 thread and a very fine needle. As I was picking up strings of beads, there were times when the beads would only go up a few millimetres, or worse get stuff by the eye of the needle. I would flick these discards on to a second plate next to my bead soup mix. Slowly the sylianka got longer.

Bead mix

Comparing to master

I needed to add a two bead edge to compete the pattern. While it finished the pattern nicely, it was a straight thread verses the flexible netted fabric. I stitched around the lower edge where possible so there wouldn't be long lengths of a single thread. This 2-bead edge done with the second thread pulled the netted pattern together and matched up to the original pattern.

Adding two bead edge

Photo reference, work in progress and twill ribbon

The tie ends and a few secrets

The red wool tie near the black tail base was shredded. As I unpicked to release the ratty red tie, I found a fine black fabric with traces of yarn dyed edges. It was stitched over the ends of the horse hairs which were knotted at the sylianka ends. The horse hairs were then folded under for securing and protected the wearer by a fine fabric patch finish.

Red wool tie attached to black twill

Opening the original black twill ties

I cut off the worn red twill and restitched it over the base as not to disturb the original any more than necessary.

Patched end ready to reattached ties

Original cord that coins and large beads were strung on

Stitching on the new sylianka

First, I basted on the netted band with white thread as black on black is brutal for the eyes! 

Attaching the new netted section

Basting netting to twill ribbon

Continuing to baste

Basting done

Once I started stitching on the net to the base along the bottom near the coins, my double Nymo B thread kept catching everything in the vicinity. I needed to take off my glasses for the close up operation. By catching different monety along the way, I had a chance to have a good look at all the different coins and monarchs ranging from 1769 to 1893!

Different threads used

Working with a good light helps

Reattaching coin

Marie Therese coin

The lower edge took all morning, while the upper edge took the afternoon. As I stitched on the top net I tried to catch some of the bugle trim. This resulted in a better finish where the bugle trim does not flop over the seed bead sylianka but should stay more upright when worn.

Next I reinforced the monety bead trim along the lower edge to the black band. There were some gaps between this trim in the original. The coins were strung on a separate string are heavy. If Bozhena is going to were this sylianka, I thought it best to reinforce everything as best I could!

Reinforcing bugle edge

Continuing to reinforce edge

Monety from Austro Hungarian times

This is a separate lesson onto itself! With changes in occupations of the Galician Ukrainian territories, money was devalued. Someone came up with the bright idea of adding the coins of the ruling monarchy as trim to adornments. It was also a way of showing status. Not knowing history, one wonders why someone would take the great trouble of soldering on a ring to coin or drill a hole for stitching it onto a fabric base. This needs more study. Some coins were solid with great detail. Other monety were much thinner with worn down details. There was Joseph, Franz Joseph and Maria Theresa. The empires kept changing according to the lettering on the coins.

Detail of coins

Detail of coins with rings soldered on

Coins of different sizes

Head side of some coins

It was a privilege to work on such a fine specimen of microscopic beadwork trimmed with 

history in Ukraine.

Restored sylianka next to photo references of original

Thank you, Bozhena, for trusting me with your baba Olena's "strichkova sylianka with monety"

from Zalishchyky.