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Beading Resources > EncycloBEADia > Bead-It-Forward Breast Cancer Quilts

 Bead-It-Forward Project 

by Jamie, Jewelry Production Specialist, Marketing Content Development Group, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®


Jeanette Shanigan, a designer-artist, teacher and author of numerous beading books, lost her mother in 1985 after a long battle with breast cancer. Since then, Jeanette has been donating her efforts to raising money and awareness for researching a cure. Jeanette founded the Bead-It-Forward Beaded Quilts Project in 2006. With the contribution of 31 beadwork artists, Jeanette created a quilt from one-inch butterfly-themed beaded squares and donated it to the Bead Artists Against Breast Cancer (BAABC) auction, held during the Bead Social at the Bead and Button Show in June. In that first year, the beaded quilt brought in over $1,000.

Photo Courtesy of Mike Ann Zable


The beneficiary of the BAABC fundraising efforts is the Medical College of Wisconsin Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) is dedicated to providing comprehensive cancer care, education, research and service. Established in 1984, the center is a primary source of new and potentially life-saving treatments. MCW physicians are leaders in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and have helped to change national standards.

When her original quilt in 2006 proved successful, Jeanette realized more money could be raised if only more people were in on the project. She invited others, via the Internet, to join her in her efforts. After many email campaigns and online outreach efforts, Jeanette was shocked by the international response as designer-artists of every experience level stepped forward from over six countries and 34 states to participate. A few beading groups joined in the effort, including the Yahoo! group, Beady Shenanigans, the Benson Beaders, Etsy Beadweavers and other renowned artists across the world.

The beaded quilts have a different theme each year to create awareness and further define and celebrate women during their struggle with breast cancer.

2007 - Butterfly Theme

The 2007 theme was butterflies, symbolizing being metamorphosed through the battle with breast cancer. This battle can make a woman feel emotionally withdrawn from the world much like a caterpillar in a cocoon is hidden from the world. And many times, when a woman emerges from her old life, her shape is changed and she will redefine her beauty through strength, acceptance and character--all the qualities that were essential to her survival. For instance, one artist sent in a square of a female torso with different sized butterflies for breasts to represent how breast cancer forever altered her shape. Many men have also beaded squares in honor and memory of lost mothers, sisters, wives and daughters.

Jeanette received 374 squares from 222 bead artists for the 2007 project that she combined together into 12, 10x10-inch quilts. The quilts were framed in shadow boxes and auctioned, contributing over $5,600 to the nearly $22,000 raised during the BAABC auction.

2008 - Rose Theme


In 2008, Jeanette selected roses as the theme for the beaded quilts. An even greater response of beadwork donations resulted in 20 beaded quilts containing 48 squares each. Chosen because they symbolize love, roses bloom under adversity and embrace the thorns of experience found in life's trials. A rose is not only a significantly symbolic flower, but also a hardy one. They thrive and bloom under harsh conditions, revealing their strength with beauty and fragrance like a gift that is enjoyed by all. Over $4,400 was raised from the 2008 beaded quilts project, totaling over $23,000 from the BAABC auction.

2009 - Heart Theme


The 2009 Bead-It-Forward Project includes nine quilts consisting of 100 one-inch squares from beadwork artists around the world. Hearts were the theme, with creative submissions including buttons and three-dimensional patterns. Over $14,000 was raised during the 2009 Bead and Button BAABC auction. View three of the 2009 Bead-It-Forward beaded quilts and the artist that created each square.

2010 - Turtle Theme


The 2010 theme embraces the steady and persevering nature of the turtle. A total of 622 turtle-themed squares were received for the 4th year of the project. Founder Jeanette Shanigan sewed the beaded squares into 6 beaded quilts made up of 100 squares each. The remaining 22 squares were used to embellish a pink Fire Mountain Gems tote bag. Each unique hand-beaded square depicting a turtle symbolizes the persistence needed in continuing breast cancer research. This year's quilt shows us that slow and steady is the way to win the race toward a cure for breast cancer.

2011 - Caring Hands Theme



The 2011 theme highlighted the "caring hands" of those who live with, work with and love breast cancer survivors. A total of 672 hand-themed squares were received for the 5th year of the project, from beaders in 30 states and five foreign countires (Canada, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). With these squares, Jeanette Shanigan was able to create six beaded quilts with 100 squares per quilt, a 70-square quilt, and a 2-square framed piece. To date, Jeanette and her many contributors have raised around $17,515 for Bead Artists Against Breast Cancer (BAABC). Jeanette has decided that this is the final year that she will organize the Bead-It-Forward beaded quilts project. The staff at Bead and Button magazine has stepped up to organize the 2012 project.

The family of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads has been personally affected by breast cancer. For this reason, Fire Mountain Gems and Beads makes a strong effort each year to help with breast cancer research through the Circle of Hope Necklace Project. In addition, Chris and Stuart Freedman, co-owners of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads, purchased seven of the 2007 beaded quilts, three of the 2009 quilts, four of the 2010 quilts and the quilted Fire Mountain Gems tote, plus five of the seven 2011 beaded quilts during the BAABC Bead Socials.

The quilts are proudly displayed in the front lobby of Fire Mountain Gems and Beads as well as throughout the building for employees, guests and visitors to enjoy. The beaded quilts are also featured in the online Gallery of Designs, showcasing the individual artists who created and donated one-inch squares to the project.

If you are interested in submitting a square to the Bead-It-Forward Project, please visit Bead and Button magazine's Bead-It-Forward page.They provide free patterns for this year's theme. You can also visit Jeanette's site Shanigans Bead Shenanigansfor information on the project, artist recognition and quilt images from previous years.



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