Colorful Blooms and Baskets

Martha Stewart Living, May 2005

Beaded flowers and baskets blithely flaunt their beauty. They glimmer with color, catching light and flirting with passersby. The flowers, made of glass beads and wire, never wilt or shed their petals. The baskets, fashioned out of plastic beads and safety pins, have a jewel-like luminescence that belies their humble components.

These affordable, versatile collectibles bring buoyant charm to any setting: Position a cachepot of freesia, peonies, and lilacs in a hall; use a flower to hold a place card; or put a dish inside a basket and fill it with candy. These are not objects to be reserved for special occasions but eye-catching items to be enjoyed every day.

Nancy Staub Laughlin of Princeton, New Jersey, an artist and avid gardener, has been collecting glass-beaded flowers and bead-and-safety-pin baskets for more than a decade. The 130 baskets and several hundred flowers she has amassed enliven her 250-year-old Early American house -- and fill the pages of this story.

"What I love is the way the flowers and baskets shimmer and sparkle," says Laughlin, who creates bouquets from blooms she purchases primarily from online auctions. "They just make the house come alive. It's like having springtime inside all the time."

The craft of making beaded flowers is believed to trace back to medieval Europe, where artisans created the blooms for altars, banquet tables, and grave sites. During the Victorian era, ladies of leisure whiled away afternoons beading lamp shades and other decorative items. In the 1950s and '60s, a resurgence of interest in home crafts turned beading flowers and baskets into a popular pastime. Do-it-yourselfers took up the craft, using pattern books and kits that are still available.

For those who prefer to purchase vintage collectibles, they can be found at online auctions, antiques stores, and flea markets. Flowers are sold singly or in bunches that you can separate and combine with other blooms to create arrangements. A small basket or simple flower might cost just $5 to $10. But an exceptional piece, such as a large, double-handled basket, can sell for $100 or more. Flowers are often botanically accurate in size and shape, but the most sought-after are imaginative and intricate, combining dazzling colors and mixing opaque and translucent beads. A lily with a pearl stigma and silver-edged, cobalt petals is likely to be more prized than a modest yellow daffodil. Most stems are wrapped in floral tape; a beaded stem can add value. Among Laughlin's rarest treasures are a foot-high orange-tree topiary, a spray of lavender orchids, and a half-dozen pink and blue hyacinths.

Despite their ornate appearance, these decorations require little care. Laughlin recommends cleaning them with a damp paper towel and drying them thoroughly to prevent rust.

Then, display them as you please. You don't need dozens of these objects for a magical effect. Just one basket, twinkling with hundreds of colorful beads, can transform an unassuming corner into an enchanting space.


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