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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.