How Savage Mill's Bead Soup formed a community around a niche art

Bead Soup in Savage Mill draws beading enthusiasts from all over the Mid-Atlantic and beyond.

This Savage Mill shop cultivates a love for beading -- and a sense of community.

A dozen women have assembled in a high-ceilinged corner room with exposed brick in Savage Mill’s New Weave Building. It’s midday on a Wednesday, when enthusiasts come to Bead Soup’s weekly Beading in Circles session.

They sit at long tables strewn with instruction books, ribbon, projects in various states of completion and plastic bins filled with hundreds of thousands of glass beads. The women run threaded needles through the beads, some of them so small you wouldn’t even notice if one were to get into your shoe.

It’s all relative, though. Columbia resident Lisa Symeson points to the little groupings of colored spheres on the table before her that are about as big around as the head of a pin.

“These are like boulders to me,” says Symeson, who, in addition to doing beadwork and other crafts, constructs one-inch-to-one-foot miniatures.

Melissa Etheridge. Serafini will be at Bead Soup in early November.

But Fritz also prides herself on bringing to her store lesser-known but innovative designers. Upon discovering one of these in Julia Pretl of Baltimore, Fritz campaigned to get her to Savage, even though Pretl doesn’t do as much teaching as other designers.

“We went back and forth for about a year,” recalls Pretl, whose beaded vessel designs include a turtle with a removable shell for a lid.

Fritz and Pretl observe that beaders interested in creating jewelry generally are much less interested in sculpture pieces, and vice versa.

“You see a whole different crowd,” Pretl says.

The special guest instructors supplement a regular calendar of beading opportunities at the shop. Recurring events include Freebie Fridays and Beading Blitz, a Saturday marathon of back-to-back instructional sessions.

Enthusiasts also come to Bead Soup to restock their supplies, which many in the Beading in Circles crowd freely admit take up entire rooms in their homes.

Bead stores generally have been disappearing in recent years as fashions change and the economy fluctuates, but Fritz hangs tough by changing with times and tastes.

“You constantly have to be re-inventing yourself,” she says.

With Internet shopping becoming the go-to option for more people every day, Bead Soup is the only place nearby where crafters like Columbia’s Monica Braxton can go to find what they need.

“I like to touch my beads and match colors. You can’t do that on the Internet,” Braxton says.

The only other physical spaces within a reasonable drive are “big box” craft supply stores. But Braxton and the others in the Wednesday circle agree that’s not a real option, as the bead inventory in such places is often of inferior quality, lacking symmetry and consistency.

Another point the Wednesday circle agrees on: beading is highly addictive. And all seem quite eager to get others into the habit.

“It’s a cult,” Fritz says, only half-joking.

But it’s one that engages the mind and the hands, and as Christine Arancio of Silver Spring observed. “You’re creating something,” she says.