Elsie Chartier(Photo: Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit News)
Elsie Chartier of Shelby Township likes to keep busy. The 91-year-old Australian-born crafter moved to the U.S. as a newlywed in 1944, and she enjoys spending much of her time crocheting and knitting with micro-glass beads, creating rope necklaces and elegant Victorian-inspired handbags.
“I make them because I have to be doing something. I don’t like just sitting, ” she says.
Chartier started making beaded necklaces about four or five years ago after taking a class at a bead shop in Franklin, where the owner encouraged her to learn to make dainty beaded purses. “The lady said, ‘If you crochet and knit, you should make these purses.’ I said, ‘Oh no, ’ because of the small beads, but then my daughter bought me a kit and I’ve been making them for my children and grandchildren ever since, ” she says, with a strong Australian accent.
Unlike her bead-crocheted necklaces, the purses are knitted with beads. And, despite the fact that “they’re quite expensive to make, ” Chartier doesn’t seem to mind because her daughter helps with the expense of buying the costly supplies. “The cost can vary from $50 to more than $100 for one purse, ” she says. “Some take five or six hanks (of beads) at $13 each, and the (purse) frames cost around $18 or more. A lot of them are antique silver or solid brass.”
Chartier loves being able to use her time constructively to create something to share with others. “I know it’s not good for my back to sit from 9 in the morning to 11 at night, ” she says. “I’ll have a purse made in about a week, but I’ll sit for hours doing it. I do take time to go out in the garden. It’s not a set thing (time-wise), it’s a pastime.”
She makes her bags using tiny seed beads (size 11), and without the help of a magnifier. “They come in hanks on fine thread, and you transfer those to a pearl thread, ” she explains. And, although she hasn’t been making the beaded accessories very long, the meticulous bag maker admits to having grown somewhat disappointed with the quality of beads available on today’s market because they can be three different sizes on one single strand. They’re not as consistant size-wise.
Some of her bag handles are made with a purchased chain that’s been enhanced with sections of her beadwork, while others are all beaded in one of her fancy designs. All of her bags are lined with either rayon or silk, and she adds a “fancy braid trim” to the inside near the top as a finishing touch.
Among her specialties are lovely vintage-inspired bridal bags, made with either white or off-white beads. “I just did two beautiful ones for a mother of the bride and mother of the groom, ” she says.
In terms of patterns, Chartier says she usually follows one of the six basic designs for making such beaded purses, but finds herself unable to resist the urge to improvise whenever she wants to make a purse larger, longer, or add embellishments, like loops or flowers, to the bottom.
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.