CASE STUDY: Mrs Magooty’s Virtual Beadwork Retreat

This case study, which explores a participatory textile making project, is written by Sarah Longfield. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.

Title of case study project or workshop

Mrs Magooty’s Virtual Beadwork Retreat

Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any

Sarah Longfield, Mairi Carlton, Carole Cowie from social enterprise, Mrs Magooty CIC.

Context for project

For the past 12 years we’ve held a beadwork retreat in central Scotland, bringing together up to 50 people (usually 49 women and 1 man), to spend the weekend together, beading, laughing, eating cake and sharing our love of small sparkly things.

Our twelfth retreat was all booked and ready to go for April 2020.  Obviously that didn’t happen.  So we worked quicky and moved things online…

When did the project take place?

Our virtual retreat weekend took place in September 2020, but we had been building up to it with weekly zoom beading groups from as early as 20th March 2020, when it became clear we wouldn’t be seeing anyone face-to-face for a while.

Background(s) of the practitioner(s)

None of us are full time professional beaders.  Mairi and Carole are on the committee of the Beadworkers Guild of Great Britain, have their patterns published in beading journals and teach regularly.  Sarah is a freelance creative producer in participatory arts, so tends to get involved in all sorts of projects which aim to light a fire and spark some creativity for all.  Her background is in theatre.

Aims of project

The aim of the Virtual Retreat was simple.  To bring our regular beaders together from across Scotland (and some from down south too), and give them the opportunity to connect, reduce isolation and reignite the shared love of our craft.  We also wanted to make the zoom calls as friendly, welcoming and reassuring as possible.

Description of project

30 ladies joined us for the day, on a sunny Saturday in September.  Mairi led a class in the morning and Carole led one in the afternoon.  In a change from our usual retreats, the participants didn’t know what they would be beading until their kits arrived earlier in the week and the patterns were emailed out the day before.

The classes ran from 10-12.30pm and 1.30-4pm.  Mairi’s class created a Right Angle Weave hanging heart decoration, with bezelled Swarovski chaton, using Miyuki seed beads.  Carole’s class created a beaded ring, worked with Miyuki Delicas to create a peyote strip, with seed bead picot edge and a 14mm Swarovski Rivoli bezelled with seeds and delicas.

Then all were welcomed back for an informal, silly games night in the evening, when facilitator Sarah became her alter-ego Tricia Devine, and played some games like Play Your Cards Right, the Generation Game and Pictionary (using the zoom whiteboard).  The scoring was erratic and the bolder of the participants got mercilessly picked on by Tricia.  But the aim to make everyone laugh and relax was achieved.

Why did you choose to work in this way?

Although getting the patterns the day before was a little unnerving for some, we chose to work this way to reduce the stress and also provide a bit of excitement and intrigue, after so many months of not much excitement at all.  The majority of the group are in the shielding category, so it was very important this day brought a bit of buzz and specialness with it.

Each class involved a fairly simple design which would allow the faster beaders to complete within the two hours, and others to be able to finish without too many additional hours.  As you might imagine when you’re adding one 1.5mm bead at a time, beadwork can take up a very long time, but we wanted this workshop to be as stress free as possible.

Dilly Dangle by Mairi Carlton

And the games night was the added extra.  A chance to have a glass of something for those who had missed that; a much missed opportunity for social interaction.  Because of the sound constraints on zoom, we knew we couldn’t manage a general natter without some feeling excluded or exasperated, so a games night felt like a good way to give us a focus.  Sarah also loves getting dressed up and pretending to be someone else (it’s that drama background) so was quite happy making a fool of herself for the enjoyment of others.  We peppered the evening with little youtube clips of Victoria Wood and other musical interludes too.  Maximising the laughs wherever we could!

What did you learn from the project?

That when everyone is in flow and happily beading, the atmosphere can still be special, even if it’s online.  Also having something to concentrate on (making with your hands) reduces the social awkwardness of zoom.

The box of beads (plus some edible treats and other beading goodies) was a great hit.  Who doesn’t love receiving a box of lovely things in the post?!

And there is nothing funnier than asking two bead tutors to draw “Lobster Bisque” on the less-than-responsive zoom whiteboard in a round of Pictionary!


“I so enjoyed our virtual retreat, the patterns were great and just suited the time slot. The evening session was an absolute hoot and thank you so much for all the organisation and entertainment on the day. The arrival of the box of tricks for the day was fun and I would love to sign up for another virtual retreat!”  Anne

“Absolutely bloody brilliant from start to finish!!!!”  Linda

“It was my first time on zoom, and the first social occasion since March.  It’s been wonderful” Maureen


We looked for other virtual classes but there wasn’t much out there to find.  So as with most projects, we made it up as we went along.

Further information

We have a lovely website:  It can sometimes be a bit out of date, but our previous projects and lots of gorgeous beadwork is on there.  Do email if you’re interested in learning or developing your beadwork and we can point you in the right direction for virtual (and soon, in person) courses and groups.

Sweet Secrets by Carole Cowrie

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