In the 1850’s, crocheted beaded bags were a cottage industry. 1905 was the first instance of a printed beadwork instruction, and beads came roaring back in the flapper era. Judith showed an instruction page from a 1924 magazine, and the instructions for one piece was literally two lines! In the 1970s, plastic pearls were the next resurgence, and set the scene for today’s bead crochet.
In 1994, Martha Forsyth and Pat Iverson learned of the Balkan bead crochet technique on a trip to Bulgaria; this is how the prisoner-of-war bead crochet snakes of WWI were made. Judith saw one of their bead crochet snakes, and it made her want to learn bead crochet. There is a book on the technique: Bead crochet snakes: History and technique by Adele Rogers Recklies.
Other examples of beads used in crochet are in crocheted doilies and wire bead crochet. Ann Benson has written books on tapestry bead crochet, which uses single crochet. The bead crochet tubes by artists such as Birgit Bergemann, which are 30 or more beads around in size 15 beads are also done in single crochet. Holle Randy is another bead crochet designer whom Judith mentioned, who works mostly in slip stitch, I believe. (edit 4/10: Holle does single crochet.)
Judith says when she first learned bead crochet at a bead cave in 1999, she just couldn’t get it. It took her maybe two dozen pieces before she made one that she was comfortable even giving to family. Now, she bead crochets in slip stitch all the time. Here’s some pictures I took of her samples she had available to admire and handle:
Her work progressed/evolved to include clear beads with variegated thread, then added big beads, then made lariats (great for art beads). The large beads distort the rope, changing its shape — and if a bead is large, it likely also has large holes, which can allow room for extra embellishment.
Judith’s first book, Bead crochet ropes, is available again as an e-book. Patterns and graphing for bead crochet ropes was her next publication, and includes software to develop your own slip stitch patterns (Windows machines only). Her most recent publication is Triangular bead crochet ropes, and provides instructions for many ways the rope shape can be distorted with different beads: magatamas, daggers, lentils, cubes, and larger beads.
She concluded her talk with a gallery of beadwork of other bead crochet artists.