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A shopping asylum for bead nuts

Mere smoke wouldn’t stop the Fabulous Five. For the unhip, Fab 5 is the name four friends and I gave ourselves while daring anyone to doubt its accuracy. Sue Musolf instigated the latest plan, which sounded interesting and a lot like something I wouldn’t choose, being among the craft-challenged. Beading was something others did, while I reaped the reward of their passion come my birthday. When time rolled around for us to meet and make five custom-designed pairs of Fab 5 earrings, the entire valley looked like, well, I don’t know what it looked like. I couldn’t see anything. I nearly pooped out, but couldn’t let the girls down.

Carol Garfield is the owner/operator/designer and head bead nut at Dancing Beads, 121 E. Sixth St. in Medford. Her email signature adds, “an asylum for bead nuts.” The asylum part fit, but I doubted my ability to create an acceptable product, as in something I would wear in public.

We climbed upstairs to our private conclave — each at our beading station with varying levels of expertise. My needle pointed to zero. I had nowhere to go but up. All I needed sat before me in little packets along with instructions, which included pictures. Carol proved invaluable as a teacher. She guided us through each step with the patience of a nun and an enviable ability to keep from laughing.

First, to thread the needle, something I’ve done hundreds of times. But not with this needle and thread, a thread named six pound fireline. Picking up the beads with the needle followed. I ended up playing tiddly winks with mine as they sprang over my deck space when I tried to spear them. I used my fingers until I got to the Japanese seed beads, which were the size of a baby ant’s head. I could see them and their holes, but let’s just say that looking back I’m not sure how I looped the fireline back through four beads and eventually watched a beautiful five-pointed star appear.

Lynn, an experienced seamstress and quilter, shared a daunting thought. “We have to do this twice.” I glanced at the clock. Beading isn’t like sewing or cross stitch or any other needle wielding effort with which I’ve been involved. But I was amazed at how much quicker the second one came together. New learning curves are great brain exercises. I feared I might come out of the experience cross-eyed, but a few blinks put me right.

Carol Garfield opened her store in 1995. She had loved beading as a girl but had gone into the more practical medical field. Her store is in the 1925 former Jackson County Title building. There’s an old vault downstairs filled with beads instead of bread.

As far as the average Joe or Hildegard coming in with an idea, Carol says, “Everything is very attainable as an art form. What we try to build is success in community.” She uses beads to connect people to one another. They meet, become friends, and start hanging out. Carol says male customers are more serious about their projects. Fishermen come for fly-tying beads, sometimes using Swarovski crystals for sparkle. One Native American sculptor comes in search of eyeballs.

Carol brings customers and vendors together for trunk shows. Recently a show presenting African trade beads and antiquities was held. While viewing the collection, Carol spotted a strand of ancient Roman beads. “When I picked them up the most amazing feeling happened! It was as if the beads were vibrating in my hands. I really wanted to hear their stories, to know where they’d journeyed the last 2,000 years to end up in Southern Oregon.”

Now she’s living her dream, but she cares even more about people. Think of Dancing Beads as an alternate pub where everybody knows your name. Because after one visit, you’re part of the family. Escape the heat and take a class.

We’ll wear our custom-designed Fab 5 earrings proudly.

Reach freelance writer Peggy Dover at pcdover@hotmail.com.