I Love Texas: Weaving The Perfect Purse

Dedra Weiss beads beautiful bags that are all the rage in Austin.
Meg McKinney

On a loom that's the size of a large book and with beads smaller than drops of water, she creates the perfect night out for a client, one bead at a time.

With her cat, Minout, beside her, Dedra Weiss of Austin spends hours weaving as many as 10,000 seed beads through up to 120 loom strings to make purses for evening wear. Days or weeks later, she finishes a small, elegant handbag, which is both art and accessory.

Many take their Dedra originals to parties for good causes in this city with a big heart. "Most of my customers buy them to carry to fund-raising galas," she says of the creations and business she calls Dedra. "They sometimes ask me to customize purses to coordinate with their gowns." With a one-of-a-kind Dedra, a client can stroll confidently into a ballroom knowing that she won't bump into someone else with the same bag.

One Seed Bead After Another
It's late in the afternoon when Dedra, home from pharmacy school classes at The University of Texas at Austin, settles down to a desk in her spare bedroom. On it she props her loom and beside it her palette--boxes filled with colored beads. "It's my little space," Dedra remarks. "It's not glamorous, but it works." Often her husband, Cord Stone, serenades her from another room where he creates songs for his self-named band. "While I'm working, I get to be entertained by this great music," she says.

With each glass seed bead, Dedra's purses come to life. A pink rose adorns one. A morning glory trumpets dawn on another. Butterflies take flight and peacocks strut across other examples.

Her pretty creations range in size from shoulder bags to wrist wear to "Proposal Purses." Guys buy these, which are just large enough for a ring and inscribed with "I Love You" or "Marry Me." Such gallant gestures, Dedra reports, have evoked more than one "yes."

Her works are reminiscent of the 1920s, when flappers in shimmering gowns and cloche hats clutched similar sparkling purses just large enough to hold their lipstick, Lucky Strikes, and mad money. Into a modern-day Dedra, an owner fits compacts, credit cards, and a cell phone. "I have an appreciation for earlier times, and I love how they dressed," Dedra says. "I try to bring that back a little bit."

From Design to Evening on the Town
Such retro creations begin in virtual space. Dedra may take an order by phone or e-mail. Customers can buy a purse pictured on her Web site or describe what they want. Dedra will create designs on graph paper and e-mail them for approval.

Once Dedra has the design in mind, she begins work with all of her tools--needle, beads, thread, and loom--plus her long fingers and endless patience. "Just to thread the loom takes a good hour and a half," she remarks. Next, with the point of her needle, she picks up one, two, or a dozen beads and guides them through the loom's strings, trailing a thread five arm-lengths long. Slowly, from the chrysalis of a design captured on graph paper, her beadwork opens into a butterfly, a flower, or another creation.

All the while, Dedra is relaxing. "Beading is very therapeutic for me," she says. "I love seeing how each row progresses into an image or pattern that I am making. It is a slow excitement, but I just find it so fascinating that I can turn a pile of beads into something that's beautiful. It's quiet and relaxing. The cat is right beside me, and I have Cord's music.

"This doesn't feel like work to me," she continues. "I get such a wonderful sense of accomplishment when I finish one. It takes so long to make, and I've touched every single one of these beads." Gary D. Ford

Buying a Dedra
Her designs range in price from $50 to $1100. You'll love the names: Candy Girl, Sparkle, Queen, Blaze, Sassy, Spring, Fabulous 40s, Ice Rose, and Sweetheart, to name a few. For more information visit www.dedra.net.