Working with recycled materials is both an artistic statement and a business model for Heather Macfarlane, and Mardi Gras beads are her main medium.

Macfarlane, who has a degree in printmaking and fiber art from the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland, came here 20 years ago via New York, where she worked as a jeweler and learned a lot about plastics.

Arriving in New Orleans, “I always say this, and it’s totally true — I saw free resources hanging off the trees,” she said.

She began melting Carnival beads and creating ornaments, trivets — all kinds of things. “It wasn’t anything new. People had being doing that — it was a big thing in the ’70s and ’80s. ... I just took the process and refined it a lot,” re-fusing beads in a system of ovens and kilns to create recycled plastic sheets. The sheets can be formed into lighting.

“I had the idea, too, that there could be other things made with it, (beads) almost like stained glass rather than plastic,” she said. “About 15 years ago, I started studying glass fusing, which the method is similar to beads. You’re using heat in exactly the same way. Combining glass fusing and beads in kiln forms.

“Beads are our mainstay, our New Orleans ammunition,” added Macfarlane, who with her husband, Mark Kirk, owns UP/Unique Products on Magazine Street. He creates large-scale chandeliers and lighting. She repurposes the beads into lighting, housewares and glassware.

But beads aren’t her only medium. Recently she’s begun reusing festival banners to make bags and aprons. And other projects take other materials. She finds recyclable materials first, Macfarlane said, and then comes up with ideas to use them.

UP/Unique Products has just moved to 2041 Magazine St. as a pop-up store. An opening reception is planned for Feb. 29.

Kirk’s chandeliers are on show at Crescent City Brewhouse, along with painting and graphics from Simon and metal art from Luis Colmenares.

Drawer Pulls

Macfarlane shared do-at-home instructions for making drawer pulls from plastic beads.

SUPPLIES: Nonstick mini-muffin pan; old-style plastic beads; 3-inch screws; toaster oven; fan

NOTE: This must be done outside with a standing fan and a toaster oven because of the fumes. This craft is for adults.

1. Fill mini-muffin tin with loose or cut separated single beads to the top of each cup.

2. Place screw upright in center of beads.

3. Preheat oven to about 275 degrees.

4. Place tin in oven, with a fan blowing the heat away from you.

5. Leave for about 5 to 7 minutes. Once you see beads melting or fusing together, remove from oven.

6. Let cool. The melted shapes should pop out or loosen with the screw.

NOTE: Muffin tin can be used again, but not for anything edible.


Debra Baynham started Bead Dat after moving here about seven years ago. “I was looking for an office job and finding nothing that I liked,” she said.

“I woke up one morning and just started (beading) with a fleur-de-lis, then a crawfish and LSU and Saints flags,” she said.

Since then, she’s progressed to more elegant New Orleans scenes such as the St. Louis Cathedral. “The first (cathedral) took me from 6 a.m. to midnight; the second one took only 17 hours to do,” she said.

Though she claims no training in art, she draws her own designs, from hot sauce bottles and giant crawfish to streetcars and jazz players.

“My heart’s in it every morning when I wake up,” she said.

Check out her work at the Freret Street Market, weekends at the French Market and on Facebook.

Decorative Tray

SUPPLIES: Wooden tray; acrylic paints; scissors; beads; glue; Ultra Clear epoxy

Optional: Rustoleum spray paint; carbon paper; printed design

NOTE: This craft is for adults

1. Baynham started with a brown wooden tray, so she spray-painted it white using Rust-Oleum. Choose glossy or flat finish, as your project and taste dictate.

2. Draw a design on the tray in pencil. Or, use carbon paper to lightly trace an image you’ve found drawn elsewhere.

3. Decide on color scheme for the image. TIP: To get the colors you want, you can paint the beads with Rust-Oleum as well.

4. Using inexpensive acrylic paints, fill in the drawing with color. “Sometimes you get little spaces between the beads, and it keeps the background from showing,” Baynham said.

5. Cut necklaces into individual beads. TIP: Cut as close to bead as possible on one side, but leave a small amount of string on the other. Push the string down into glue to help the bead hold fast.

6. Start at the bottom corner or tip by gluing one bead. If you want to outline the image, do that first, then work your way up with other colors.

TIP: In a design that covers the whole tray, using different sizes of beads in the background can add a visual pop.

7. After drying for three to five days, coat with a clear resin to keep beads from discoloring.


Kate Parham, an associate at the Algiers Regional Library, wears several hats. She’s the volunteer coordinator, and come March she’ll be the program coordinator for Prime Time Family Reading. Somewhere in between, she also coordinates the monthly crafts activities for kids and families.

“The main thing we wanted was to provide different levels that adults or children could do,” Parham said.

At a recent Carnival-themed event, the 20 or so people taking part could choose from a few prepared templates, such as a Mardi Gras mask, or create something all their own.

Bead art

SUPPLIES: Pencil; scissors; 1 photo frame; 1 piece foam board, cut to fit frame; Mardi Gras beads, cut individually; hot glue gun and glue sticks (or strong, clear drying glue)

NOTE: This craft can be done by kids and families.

1. Remove back of frame, inserts and glass. Set aside.

2. Cut foam board to fit back of frame by tracing glass onto the foam board.

3. Pop the foam board into the frame, and trace the frame outline onto the foam board with a pencil.

4. Remove foam board from frame; set frame aside.

5. Using a template or your own idea, trace design on foam board, staying within the pencil line.

6. Cut Mardi Gras beads in appropriate colors and sizes.

TIP: An empty egg carton makes a great holder for the beads.

7. Glue beads onto foam board.

8. Let dry.

9. Erase pencil marks from foam board.

10. Place design in frame.

11. Replace back of frame. You can use the glass for a different project.

Bead coasters

SUPPLIES: Mardi Gras beads, cut individually; foam board or card stock; hot glue gun and glue sticks or strong, clear-drying glue; scissors

1. Start by gluing one bead in middle of foam board or card stock.

2. Glue alternating color of beads around the middle bead to make a flower design.

3. Continue to glue beads around previous ring, alternating colors to form a hexagon shape. There should be five rings total, including middle bead. Expand the size to nine rings to make a trivet.

4. Let hexagon shape dry, then cut around coaster.


Michelle de la Cruz. owner of Bead Art by Mimi In NOLA, creates complex mosaics. Here are some of her tips for working with beads.

1. De la Cruz starts by buying premade canvases at craft stores, or even better, she said, by using old paintings from garage sales or thrift stores. “Sometimes the painting are framed, and that adds a nice touch to the bead art.”

2. Leave beads strung while working with them on canvas, but add individual beads to fill small spaces.

3. A hot glue gun holds better than craft glue. De la Cruz puts the glue on the canvas rather than on the beads themselves. “I use a hot glue gun and basically trace the outline, little by little, with glue, and then string beads on the glue outline, pushing the beads together so there are no spaces in between beads for a uniform look.”

You can see more of her work at innola/.