Stringing beads on the necklace
By Storee Powell
March 26, 2009 | Barb Farris has an aptitude for sewing.
She can put a thread through anything and make it cohesive,
meaningful and even beautiful. The beaded necklaces
she has been making since the early '90s are evidence
of this, particularly the ‘seed bead' ones. A seed bead
is slightly bigger than a mustard seed, and requires
the patience and endurance of the sewer.
Often Farris doesn't know how her jewelry will end
up; she just likes the challenge, not to mention the
variety of shapes and colors of the beads. Sometimes
her necklaces are bold and rebellious. Other times they
are intricate and delicate. Even though Barb doesn't
always have a pattern in mind, she is always determined
to finish what she starts. Somehow from thread, needles,
clasps and mountains of beads, Barb's thread ends always
Fran Titchener, a close friend and a member of the
once-a-month bead group, describes seed beading as strenuous,
"It requires great strength in the upper body, patience
and high energy," she said.
The bead group was started by Farris, Titchener and
Pam Riley, and now there are several more members. Each
woman's beading style is very distinctive and reflective
of their personalities. Sharon Ohlhorst makes her own
beads from clay. Lucretia Georgi never makes a symmetrical
necklace. Sewing miniature beads together takes Farris
hours to complete. A lariat several feet long made of
sandy beach beads took Barb five hours to craft, and
it is her pride and joy. The high energy and meticulousness
required for such a project illuminates the dichotomy
of Farris' personality.
Fellow beader, Georgi, said, "Barb has so much energy—if
she didn't use it all she would explode."
"I just have to be doing something all the time. I
can't sit and watch TV—I feel like I am wasting time,
I could be doing something, I could be beading. I describe
myself as ADD," she said.
Titchener explained, "Barb is the white light spectrum—what
you see is what you get."
The white light spectrum consists of six colors arranged
in a specific order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue
and violet. The sun produces a constant white light
on its hot, energetic surface. Farris's life is multifaceted;
she refuses to be defined by any one thing, but rather
six. She is an avid runner, reader, high school teacher,
sewer, nature dweller and animal caretaker. Like her
colorful beads, Farris's life reflects the six colors
of the white light spectrum. The high energy she possesses
is the thread that orders her seemingly chaotic and
Farris can't explain why she likes to read everything,
has a duck, runs 12 miles consecutively, sews with seed
beads, why she's in the profession she's in or why she
and her husband own yurts that make them no money.
"I don't know why, I just have to be busy. I just
have to be doing something. I like a challenge. I just
do it," Farris said emphatically.
Riley, longtime friend of Farris, said, "Barb follows
her interests; she doesn't just talk about doing things—she
Exploring nature is an irreplaceable bead on Farris's
necklace of life. This bead is multi-colored, from gardening
to skiing to hiking. This bead is the common bond between
Farris and her husband, Stuart Reynolds. The couple
do all of these things together. They grow basil to
make their own pesto, and sell at the Farmer's Market
every summer. They also have owned unprofitable yurts
for 12 years, up in Cache Canyon. A yurt is a domed,
free-standing tent with no plumbing, often used by skiers.
Once a year Farris and her family stay in the yurts
and go skiing. She also volunteers at Stokes Nature
Center, where she is the secretary. Farris teaches nature
education as well as fundraising, for which she even
donates her beloved necklaces.
However, Farris can't explain why she likes the outdoors,
or why she has so many animals. Farris owns a duck named
Quack, a horse, two cats, one named Midnight, two hyper
dogs and a plethora of chickens.
Farris said, "I rescued the cats. One was being used
as a football at school, so I brought it home. I don't
know why I have a duck and a horse. I think so someone
can feed them every day. The chickens do lay eggs. I
am a dog person; I suppose it's just hard to envision
myself without dogs."
Hank, a German sheppard, and Sammy, a wire-haired
pointer, follow Farris diligently around the house and
guard her loyally.
Deborah Byrnes, another beader, knows why Farris has
chickens and all the other animals.
"It is part of the constant activity, her range of
interests," Byrnes said.
Unlike the animals, the running bead does explain
some things for Farris, like her husband. Both met as
students doing a graduate student's running research
at USU. The couple married in 1982 and have been together
Running also explains Farris' determination. It pushes
her to run many miles in a row. Recently, while running
with a neighbor, Farris started thinking she couldn't
finish the run of 12 miles, so she planned to stop at
a café and wait for her friend to return. But she couldn't
"I had already gone seven miles, so I just had to
finish it," she said.
She said her father was very patriarchal. He did not
want her to run.
"I said, OK, you've got the wrong daughter," said
But her determination to run doesn't stem from a competitive
streak, but from a childhood desire. Barb remembers
being 5 years old at a friend's home watching track
runners on the summer Olympics.
"I knew that's what I wanted to do," said Farris.
"But I wanted to play sports at a time when it wasn't
appropriate for girls to play."
She got her chance when she started Catholic high
school at Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City. The school
had a girls' sports program, which included track. But
Utahans weren't too keen on girls running at track meets;
Farris had to fight for everything, including her uniform.
However, her determination to run placed Farris in the
first Utah track meet in 1972.
"I started running at 14 years old, and I haven't
stopped since. People probably think that's all I do,"
said Farris with a twinkle in her eye. "Now I have to
run four or five times a week just to keep sane. Running
cleans me out, my head. I feel thick and, ugh, if I
don't run, but it's a natural high. I like the challenge,
but I can't run inside."
Since people can't run forever, Farris uses reading
to create some symmetry on her necklace. Reading allows
her to rest while still keeping busy. She doesn't have
a favorite book or genre; she just wants to read everything.
Farris reads like she runs, for a long time.
"I have to force myself not to read during dinner
with the family," she admitted. "Sometimes I read more
than I should, that's why the house gets messy sometimes."
As an English major, Farris is well read. When she
enrolled in Utah State University, she wanted to be
a forest ranger because she adores nature but decided
that wasn't realistic.
"I loved to read, so it seemed logical to major in
English," she said.
After graduating with her BA in 1982, Farris started
working at Planned Parenthood as an educator, where
she learned she had a knack for teaching.
It took some serious effort to earn her teaching certificate.
Farris learned of a health educator opening at South
Cache High School. But she had to become an accredited
teacher, so she went back to USU for her MA.
"I was teaching full time and doing my classes on
my own, via correspondence. I remember my nutrition
class was so difficult," she said.
Farris was also married with a son, Vincent, who was
born in 1990. Finally, in 1996, she threaded her teaching
bead onto her growing necklace with an MA in health
However, Farris has been questioned if teaching "complements"
the rest of her life. When she got pregnant with Vince,
people asked her if she was going to quit her job.
"It hadn't even crossed my mind," she said.
Farris said she is "absolutely a feminist" and is
about "making her own choices." To continue working
was not even a question, and this streak of independence
was what led Farris to become a self-taught sewer, the
ability that would literally and figuratively allow
her to so gracefully string her beads together.
"My mom is an impeccable sewer, and even though I
was a tomboy I wanted to sew. I don't know why," said
As a child, she begged her mother to teach her to
sew. But Farris's relationship with her mother was somewhat
stressful growing up, and her mother told her she didn't
have the patience to teach her to sew. So she taught
"I am still not a Susie Homemaker, but I love to sew,
especially now with beads," Farris explained.
Her first necklace was made of semi-precious stones
such as turquoise. Farris said she had no idea what
she was doing. Now she is an impeccable sewer herself
and "100 percent self-taught." This is the bead Farris
is clearly most proud of in her life, and one of her
deepest passions. She buys beads everywhere she goes.
Often friends will bring them to her from their travels.
One necklace Farris fashioned is from round beads with
a flower in the middle made in Italy.
Another bead is up Farris' sleeve, however, a black
bead of rebellion.
"I was a hellion growing up. If it wasn't for Judge
Memorial, I wouldn't have even graduated high school,"
The white light spectrum produced by the sun, it was
later discovered, emits black lines from the cooler
parts of its atmosphere, where certain elements are
absorbed. Farris' black bead is intertwined with her
personality and her experiences growing up. Farris grew
up a Catholic, which she said influenced her for the
good, although she is not a practicing Catholic today.
The strictness of her life growing up, from gender expectations
to the solitude she experienced when her parents divorced,
shaped her rebelliousness. She often skipped school
and found herself being scolded by authority.
"I hated to be left out as a kid. I would throw tantrums
if I was being left out," said Farris.
Farris said she comes from a family of artists. Her
mother sewed, her brother drew.
"I think art stuff comes in families, but I can't
draw to save my life. I knew I had to figure out something
else to do. So I learned to bead," said Farris.
So over time, Farris has learned to channel her rebelliousness
by carefully threading her energy through things she
wanted to accomplish but was told she could not. She
doesn't feel left out anymore.
Farris' rebelliousness is emitted throughout all the
other colors of her life. Her desire to overcome suppression
is clear. She ran track while fighting gender norms,
which helped her want to attend school. She taught herself
to sew without the help of her mother. She kept teaching
when people thought she should stay at home. The black
doesn't stop there though. Farris decided to keep her
own last name when she married instead of taking her
husband's name, Reynolds. Farris is also unrelenting
in her demand to teach sex education to her students,
despite frequent protests from local parents of students.
Titchener said, "Nothing can stop Barb. She refuses
to accept artificially imposed boundaries."
Dangling in the front window of Farris' home is a
string of African glass wedding beads, brightly illuminated
by the sunshine. These beads were made in Italy as a
practice to see what glass would look like before it
was blown. Subsequently, they were traded in Africa.
Then the bold, light-bulb-shaped, earth-colored beads
made their way to Blacksmith Fort Canyon Rendezvous
where they were bought by Farris. She now proudly displays
them for all to see, and perhaps as a reminder of her