Southpass Beads and Fibers in Cobden Offers All the Craft Supplies You Need
A search for the perfect pair of dangling earrings led Union County Farm Bureau member LouAnn Elwell to turn a passion for making jewelry into her own business.
Today, Elwell runs Southpass Beads and Fibers from her home in Cobden. The “Southpass” name pays homage to an early 1800s moniker for Cobden. Elwell carries a wide variety of beads, including Czech Republic pressed glass beads, Czech and Japanese seed beads, large-hole seed beads and crow beads, mixed metal, wire, stringing materials and tools for making jewelry.
Early in the 2000s, she worked for Southern Illinois University’s School of Art and Design, where a graduate student in metalsmithing taught Elwell basic stringing techniques.
“I just kept researching and trying new things until I learned what I know now,” Elwell explains. “I made jewelry that I sold at festivals and fairs, but I noticed there were no other niche shops that sold beads in our area. That was another point of inspiration to open the store, which I did in 2010.”
Beyond the Beads
Over the years, Elwell also noticed crafters often express their creativity through a variety of art forms, as people who bead often knit, too.
“I decided to carry yarn, fibers and other supplies for knitting, crochet, embroidery and cross-stitch,” says Elwell, who was also inspired by her sister, an avid knitter. “You don’t generally see beads and yarn in the same store, but it made sense to me to have all of it together because many times a knitter who is making a shawl, for example, wants to put beads on the bottom to give it a little bling. They can come here and pick out everything.”
Elwell carries cotton, nylon, cashmere, Shetland wool and blended yarns, to name just a few. In addition, she carries wool yarn handspun by her sister, Saundra Keiffer, who grew up in Metropolis. Keiffer even hand-dyes some of her yarns and markets them on Etsy under the Housecats Hats brand. Elwell is active on Etsy as well; in fact, the e-commerce website accounts for about 75% of her sales. She ships beads, fibers, supplies and her original designs, including rosaries, all over the world.
Schooling at the Studio
At the shop in Cobden, Elwell offers classes and parties, and she suggests beginners who want to learn beading, knitting or crocheting pick a very simple project to get started. Online tutorials work well for some people, while others need live, personalized instruction to learn how to string beads for simple jewelry or to cast on to make the first row of knitting stitches.
“Don’t expect that you are going to do things perfectly,” she advises. “It takes practice.”
She’s such a believer in supporting her local community she hosts an “open studio” on Thursday mornings and Saturdays for crafters to receive help or just bring a project to bead or knit in the company of others who love to do the same. She and her husband joined Farm Bureau even though they don’t farm. “We’re part of a small, rural community,” Elwell says. “We thought it was important to join.”
In return, Elwell asks people to support local businesses in their communities.
“When you buy local, that’s money that’s coming back into your community and that benefits everyone,” she says. “Plus, niche shops offer things that often no one else does. Give them a try; you’ll probably be surprised.”