The Case for Ugly Brown Beads

Ugly-Brown-Beads cover image
Ugly-Brown-Beads cover image

As much as I love bright colors on dark fabric, there are times when my muse takes me off in an unexpected direction. My current project includes a lot of stitching in warm colors in graduated tones. (Think gold, rust and deep reds). It even provided the case for  — get this — ugly brown beads. 

Before you think I’ve gone off my rocker, let me back up just a bit.

Seed Bead Collection
Beautiful, bright beads!

During our trip to the US last fall, I made it a point to acquire a collection of Miyuki seed beads which are not readily available in Mexico. I happily browsed through the online catalog and ordered a good variety of colors. 

When my order arrived, I discovered the grand truth to that ever-present warning of “the color you see on your monitor may be different than the actual product.” Right!

When I sorted through my order, most of the beads were what I expected. But there were a few that had me thinking “Wow, those are some ugly brown beads!”

StarFlower 5 by Shelly Stokes
StarFlower 5

Fast forward to my current project and it’s clear that the Universe had my back. Adding bright beads all the way around was not going to work!

Bright beads for bright colors

Choosing beads for the lightest colored shapes was easy. But for the darker side of the piece?

Not exactly what I expected with my bead order…

Dare I say it? Ugly brown beads to the rescue???


You never know until you actually do the work. Here’s how it turned out…

The bright gold beads look fabulous on the “light” side of this stitched painting.


And those “ugly brown beads” are simply perfect on the dark side.

The craziest part of this whole story is that I almost forgot I had the dark colored beads. When I sorted my bead collection for storage, all of the dark colors wound up in a bag of “left overs” that didn’t fit in a particular color range.

I’m not sure there’s a big lesson in this little story. But it’s fun to see how things that look like a bad mistake one day can be the perfect fit later on.

Thanks for reading

Your attention is the greatest gift you can give to a writer. I appreciate the invitation to be a small part of your creative world.

To join the conversation, leave a comment below. I expect I’m not the only one to find a home for un-loved colors in my art. 😉


  1. Rebecca Muir MacKellar on July 18, 2020 at 2:35 pm

    Beautiful. I have had stuff like that happen and before you know it, it worked.

    • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 3:42 pm

      It really does, Rebecca. When we least expect it! 😉

  2. Thea 7 on July 18, 2020 at 3:35 pm

    Beautifully decorated embroidery however those rich brown beads made their appearance!
    I might have to reconsider a few choices on my current project.

    • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 3:48 pm

      Now that’s a much nicer description! “Rich” brown beads… I’ll have to keep that one in mind.

      • Jean Louise Wright on July 18, 2020 at 5:02 pm

        Love reading about your discoveries. Also, your embroidery skills are top notch!!!

        • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 5:40 pm

          Thanks, Jean. I absolutely love the combination of Paint, Stitch and Bead. I don’t worry about making any kind of statement with my art — I just stitch for the pure joy of putting needle and thread to fabric.

  3. Sue on July 18, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    I love your use of beads all over your quilts–in strategic places, of course! You must have the patience e of Job; i, on the other hand, am such a pokey puppy when it comes to handwork that I lose interest and wind up with another UFO. 😒

    • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 4:05 pm

      Years ago, Sue. That would have been me. For the longest time I claimed to be “allergic” to needle and thread. Now, it’s the most relaxing thing I do. Go figure!

  4. Sheila Lazarus on July 18, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    I totally agree with you. I’m not what I call earth tones fan, especially yellow. Although I love Sunflowers. Sometimes when you are forced to use something you might not have otherwise use, it comes out wonderful. Your embroidery piece is beautiful!

    • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 4:09 pm

      Thanks, Sheila. I adore yellow, but rarely venture into the earthy colors. I think it was the warm golds in the background fabric that just begged for warm colors of thread. At any rate, I’m very happy with it. It has been interesting to step out of my comfort zone.

  5. Shirley on July 18, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    I love surprises like that. Can be the most rewarding of all!

  6. Gail Downey on July 18, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    In all my stashes, I have what I call my ugly ducklings (most given to me, but some purchased on purpose), which one day turn into swans under the right conditions. It is amazing how something is not working and then you grab that ugly duckling and wow, it just explodes into something beautiful. I remember once my daughter was making a baby quilt for a friend and had five different fabrics to go in one place, none of them were working, and asked me what was going wrong. I took one look and knew I had exactly what she needed (an orange and yellow piece), not in her colour wheel at all. Of course my daughter went “yuk”, but mother was right when put in the middle of that quilt it just all came alive and looked fabulous, she just couldn’t believe it. The moral of the story is never give up on those ugly ducklings.

    • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 7:24 pm

      Ugly ducklings, indeed! What a perfect description for those bits that seem totally out of place — until they are the perfect fit. Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂

  7. Barbara Williams on July 18, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    What? Ugly brown beads! They would probably turn out to be my all time favorite. I love all colors, but my friends recently made me aware that I had a preference. Turns out most of my stash is made up of earth tones. It turns out that brown and oranges are my favorite.

    • ShellyStokes on July 18, 2020 at 9:07 pm

      Thanks for the chuckle, Barbara. I knew I was going out on a limb calling anything “ugly.” I know you have a lot of company in the earth-tone lovers corner. 😉

  8. Vee on July 19, 2020 at 3:58 am

    Oh Shelly, that’s so funny about the ugly beads. I was in my studio 3 weeks ago and found a bag of ugly fabrics, I mean real ugly fabrics. I thought well I will use these to experiment with and nothing will be lost only more knowledge gained. To cut a long story short, by playing with colours and adding a high contrast, these fabrics now look amazing. Live and learn. Colour is a powerful tool. I love what you have done and the brown beads worked perfectly, a little accent of play but not too strong to throw the eye of the main feature. Hugs and here’s to more play!

    • ShellyStokes on July 19, 2020 at 1:14 pm

      Yes, ugly fabrics can be very useful if you are open to play. Many years ago, one of my first quilting friends would always keep a small stash of “ugly greens” for applique. Seriously, she would shop for fat quarters of the ugliest green fabric she could find — and they always found a home in her amazing applique blocks.

      So yes, a big vote for more play!