Saturday, September 30, 2017


One of the pleasures of subscribing to bead magazines is encountering a new stitch or design and suddenly seeing new ways to apply it.  Such happened when I first came across the plaited Herringbone or Ndebele stitch in the April 2002 issue of Bead & Button magazine. The pattern was for a bracelet but I loved the stitch so much I wanted to do something more with it.

Here’s the bracelet design made by the creator of this stitch, Chika Terai:

 A lovely design, but…two sides of whatever you created with it would always be V-shaped, and designing for something besides a bracelet would be a challenge. But that was answered when I immediately saw a wall hanging in my beading future.

I used a palette inspired by the autumnal colors of a cherry tree outside my window. It went from green to yellow with splashes of purples and reds.  I stitched it organically rather than create a pattern to follow. With this stitch you start at the center and work your way out to the length you want on one side, each row getting shorter than the previous one, and then you do the same for the other side. I call the result “Arboreus.”

It’s funny, I haven’t thought of this stitch for a long time, but am now thinking about finding other possibilities for it – creating earrings, using this stitch in lieu of brick stitch, or for neck straps to frame a bead embroidery pendant. Hmmm…

Want to try it yourself? Chika has a free tutorial on her website, Sweet Pea Beadwork, and you can find it here.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Feeding the Beast

Contrary to popular belief, one does not acquire a bead stash so they can sit atop it like Smaug, who, as Tolkien tells us may not have known a good [bead] from a bad, but “had a good notion of the current market value.” The goal in building a bead stash is to possess every kind of bead ever created is to have the right beads on hand for the project you want to, no, have to make right now.

All right, I admit it, Smaug dwells in the heart of every serious beader. While buggles (non-beading folk) may not understand the pull of the stash, I maintain that everybody collects something and thus can sympathize with a beader’s need to feed the monster.

So here are my words of wisdom on tending your bead stash as it takes over your life.

Don’t Buy Cheap.  Truer advice was never given and never taken.  I heard this from experienced beaders when I was starting out but did I listen? No!  The lure of inexpensive beads was too great and I wanted more bang for my buck. I didn’t stop to consider that there’s a reason some beads are cheap – they aren’t uniformly shaped, their colors fade, their finishes rub off as soon as you have finished the piece (if not while you’re actually working on it – gah!), and they just sit there, like some black hole sucking up space and giving nothing back. Eventually you move them to a remote part of the bead room and they are never heard from again.

Wait For It.  Sign up for the various newsletters put out by bead sellers and wait for the sales. Many have free shipping.  Never buy at the regular price. This means you may not always have the beads on hand that you crave, but ideally, by practicing a method of patient acquisition you will achieve bead nirvana, that state where you actually have on hand the beads you need.

Buy Narrowly. Stick to a specific colorway, for a time at least, building up stocks of different kinds of beads that complement each other. I like to buy in the metallics because copper, gold, bronze and silver go with almost anything.  And if they are too expensive, go for the luster version, poor woman’s gold-plating I call it.  I know you should push yourself to work outside your color preferences but early on, make those preferences work for you.

Indulge Yourself. Make room in an order for that special type of bead or color that may be more than you want to pay. Order just one.  And stop there.  You can do it.

And one day, one golden day, you will come to a bead project you want to make and all the beads will be there, ready to hand. At that point you will realize that your bead stash sucks up more money than your mortgage/rent/school loans/taxes and you are totally fine with that.

Bead On!!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Beader’s Needle

I'm going to start a regular feature called the Beader’s Lament. And my first post is about beading needles.

Here’s what they look like coming out of the package:

And here’s what they look like after a bead project or two:

Bent needles (especially in that disctinctive S shape!) come with the beading territory. I don’t know any beader that doesn’t have a collection of these.

Some deal with it by using thicker needles but that means you may have trouble using smaller beads. Though small is relative. The rule for seed bead sizes is: the smaller the number, the larger the bead.  The smallest size I work with is size 15, though I have a small stock of size 18 and even a few in the size 20-22 range I bought years ago and nearly went blind trying to use. 

But needles are tools and you need the right tool for the right job. So here is my little primer on the kinds of needles I think a beader should have. And I mean the two-inch long ones generally known as English beading needles.

Size 12 – these are the workhorses of beading and can bead most beads. They are fairly easy to thread which is a relief and can handle most kinds of beading thread. Even so, beads this needle can pass through the first time may not be so accommodating the second time (and there is always a second time, believe me), in which case you pick up:

Size 13 – the savior needle, when you return back up a row and cannot pass the thread through a bead – this will generally do the job and if it doesn’t, opt for:

Size 15 – the emergency needle. These get bent just by breathing on them, and they snap easily, no surprise. So you only use them when circumstances absolutely require it and you take it off when that circumstance is dealt with or you will be the proud possessor of first, the bentest needle there is and second, a broken one.  Also, you can go permanently cross-eyed trying to thread them, so use them sparingly.

A few years ago the Japanese company Tulip came out with a size 13 beading needle that could do the work of a size 15 with impunity. The catch was that a single needle retailed for $7.00. Ulp.  But eventually, as I have a tendency to do, I broke down and bought a pair and have not regretted it. These are easier to thread and don’t bend so much, saving my precious stock of 15s for when all else fails. Little has failed with these beauties.

Two other kinds of needles I use a lot:

Sharps – by this I mean the short needles, a little over an inch long and durable, in size 12 or 13. They are great for when you want to take that last couple of stitches - which will finish your row so you don’t have to add more thread, but you end up with a shorter length to weave in – the sharps will let you do that.

And let’s hear it for the size 10 muscle needle. Sometimes the beads you have already stitched just won’t cooperate and this needle tells them where to go.  It’s great for opening up a path for that difficult-to-reach set of beads, or shoving beads aside or flicking them into their proper position so you can clear the way for your working needle.

It also works well in pulling out thread when you make a boo-boo or many boo-boos, like an entire row that needs to come out. This is the most common way my needles get bent and I finally learned to call in the Brute Needle for this work. It also makes a useful little platform to skate your working needle across when you are stitching on a crowded surface and trying to avoid picking up an unwanted bead or thread – simply lay this down perpendicularly across the path of your working needle and it acts as a ramp to give you the elevation you need to take that stitch cleanly. So your working needle gets a little bent in the process, what of it? You nailed the stitch! YAY!