Beadwork Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Celebration: Stories That Inspire, with Sheilah Cleary

Sheilah Cleary
Growing up in West Virginia as the youngest of ten siblings had its pros and cons. Although I never got a dolly that wasn’t handed down from a sibling, my older sisters were always willing to teach me crafts including sewing, knitting, and quilting. Since I learned certain arts around age three, I had plenty of time to get pretty skilled with a needle and thread. Another thing I established at an early age was a desire to travel beyond the ridge and meet people from around the world.

Decades later, after I learned bead weaving on my own, my childhood dream actually came true. And it was all because of beading! I was teaching an Ndebele (herringbone) class at a local shop when Gloria McKinnon, owner of Ann’s Glory Box, asked if I’d like to teach at her shop in Australia. That was it — my gateway to the world! Trips to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Hobart soon followed. I was not only traveling but also forming warm, personal friendships with people in other parts of the world. My opportunities in Australia led to even more travel around the world.

Sheilah Cleary's workspace

The greatest part of these experiences, which I hadn’t imagined, is that I’ve been able to use my gifts to help so many others. In Korea, I taught the owners of franchise bead shops, and they passed their skills on to women who were trying to earn financial security for the first time. In Japan, I was a “sensei of sensei,” helping other teachers advance during their years of apprenticeship. After visiting Singapore many times, as I walked down Orchard Road (Asia’s most famous shopping street) one day, I spotted a woman wearing a design I’d taught. This piece of jewelry had been presented to her as a token of love and appreciation.

Sheilah Cleary bracelet design from Beadwork magazine

Through traveling and being actively involved in different cultures, I discovered that all the useful lessons I had learned at a young age from my sisters are equally important to all my other “sisters” around the world. Creativity is the international language — so learn, use, and teach your craft(s) to whomever you can.

For more about Sheilah and her work, visit

Find the previous inspirational stories of this series in the December/January, February/March, April/May, and June/July 2017 posts and in the issues of Beadwork.

Find more inspiration in the Interweave store!


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