Stunning Beadwork Purse Illustrates Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott”


Sandra Rothers is a beading hobbyist who has won many awards in both county and state fairs in her home state of Minnesota for her work.


She considers her “Lady of Shallot” beaded purse her most ambitious work so far.


Sandra first became interested in beading in the 1990s when she received a Christmas gift from an employee in her parents’ restaurant.

“It was a small kit to make beaded fringe earrings. I was hooked and began making and selling them,” said Sandra.

Around this time, she was helping to run a boutique in Stillwater, MN, and she began to sell her handcrafted beaded products there.

“For a time, I also helped run a bead store and, there, I was able to read and learn many different skills and techniques,” said Sandra.

She later began to enter county fairs with her beadwork and has also entered her work into the Minnesota State Fair for the past several years.

“I have been pleased to receive many first place and grand champion ribbons over the past years,” said Sandra.

This year, she used her favorite Tennyson poem as inspiration. She was first introduced to the poem in the 1980s Anne of Green Gables miniseries. In the series, there’s a scene where Anne acts out the poem, floating down the river in a rowboat and getting herself into a bit of trouble. (In the book, it’s Tennyson’s “Lancelot and Elaine” that is acted out.)

Sandra said she found the poem romantic and tragic.

“Over the years, I have read the poem, listened to the beautiful song by Loreena McKennitt …”

(Warning: The song below is almost 12 minutes long, so you may want to read ahead and come back to it later or just listen to the beginning for now, to get a feel for it.)

and researched the paintings of John William Waterhouse,” said Sandra.

John William Waterhouse [Public domain]
This was the first project for which she created an original chart with her own drawing. She used colored pencils and a peyote grid to create her chart. Peyote is the name of the stitch she uses, a kind of off loom bead weaving technique.


“When finished, the beads are turned into a kind of fabric that is then sewn together to form the body of the purse,” said Sandra.


To this, she added crystals and the focal “Lady” bead. The purse straps were made with a similar technique, with a line of poetry spelled out on it. There are lines of poetry woven into the reverse panel of the purse as well.


Sandra created the focal bead herself, saying it was “especially fun to make.” She first printed out a photo of the Waterhouse painting. cut out the shape of the lady and then decoupaged the image to a glass slide. The finished product was then a partially transparent cabochon bead through which the beadwork behind it could be viewed.



When the body of the purse was completed, Sandra added her fringe.


Sandra said her finished product is heavy, but she designed it to be functional with a cross body strap to help distribute the weight. She has worn it on special occasions.

“I was so proud to receive first place this year and have received much praise for my work. It was truly a labor of love,” said Sandra.