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!


Thursday, July 6, 2017


Beta Beaders

One of the things I have been working on is developing instructions and kits for my designs to sell. I taught in a local bead shop for several years and am a teacher in my other life, so I know the first step is to craft good instructions. Looking at the creative process from this angle - how to teach your design to someone else - is an interesting exercise. What can I assume people will know when they come to my design? How detailed should my instructions be? One wants to hit a happy medium between a half-page list and a 1gig file.

So I decided to recruit some Beta Beaders – my friend Connie was my guinea pig and she roped in two other willing innocents, Alicia and Jesse. Actually they were not novices – one of the things that led me to talk to Connie is that we are both stitchers and both Alicia and Jesse were too. So that would be the first assumption – don’t tackle a bead embroidery design if you have no stitching background – otherwise those tiny needles and misbehaving beads will be even more of an aggravation.

We got together one afternoon out on Connie’s lovely enclosed porch and had a grand time. The idea was for them to work their way through my instructions – I supplied them with a kit – and give me a critique. I tried not to guide them as the idea was for them to pretend they were doing this at home on their own.  Their advice and comments were right on target and I’m grateful. Doing the project as a group was also more fun – lots of opportunities for comparing and commenting and just plain beady horsing around.

And, no surprise, some things I never gave a thought to stumped them, other things I thought would stump them didn’t. For example, they had no difficulty stitching the crescent beads, I’m hoping because the advice I gave in my instructions was helpful. On the other hand, I neglected to make clear that when you pick up an O bead plus a seed bead, you are supposed to stitch back through the center of the O bead, not to one side of it – leaving the thread showing. I confess, that is so standard with me I never thought about it – but that’s the view from inside the beading universe, not elsewhere.

                             Beading on the Porch in the Summertime

The project was a piece of bead embroidery using a brass filigree that I painted with Vintaj Patinas. I call it my Filigree Art Nouveau Pin (it can also be made into a pendant) due to its shape. I came up with three colorways and here they are:


                                                    “Dry Martini” 

                                                      “Hollyhock”

                                                       “Harvest”

My thanks to you all, it was a fun afternoon and I love my Beta Beaders!

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Old Glory

There are some color combinations I have trouble with and they are mostly of the holiday variety. Red and green as in Christmas, and red, white and blue as in July Fourth come to mind. And red and blue as in, I dunno, but that’s another one.

But I have found that if I use different versions of these colors they begin to work for me. For example, I remember doing a piece in red and blue for a friend at her request and sighed, as I thought it would be a tad boring. Maybe that’s the problem I have with these color combinations – they are overused. However, when I chose a cobalt blue and a red with a good deal of pink in it I was smitten. And something ho-hum turned into an exciting project.

I did not forget that lesson when I accidentally created a “holiday” palette on a piece of brass filigree I was painting:

This was a version of the patriotic palette I could live with and I immediately began calling it my “Old Glory” colorway.  It wasn’t long before I began adding beads to it. I picked a different filigree piece to paint, which had a place in the center where you could glue a cab. I have a stock of clear glass tiles and have begun painting them with nail polish (yes, now I have a nail polish stash that I never use on my nails). I had a perfect antique dark blue on hand and went from there:


So, what about Christmas red and green? Maybe crimson and olive? Hmmmm…

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Earring Marathon

Every once in a while I engage in an earring marathon. I might have said “indulge” but that is not the way I feel about it. Making earrings is work. Good work, but still, toil.

Why is this?  You would think earrings would be the ultimate immediately gratifying act of jewelry creation: Ta-DAH!  But it doesn’t always turn out like that.

There are some good sides to making earrings - it’s a great way to get reacquainted with your bead stash. The down side is the same: getting reacquainted with your bead stash. It’s an embrace that can quickly pall if you are doing it on a large scale, as I do in making earrings to sell.

Selecting your beads is the mere tip of the iceberg. Then you have to decide what color of metal you want for your findings:  gold (and would that be pale gold, yellow gold, lemon gold) or silver (and would that be white silver, yellow silver, antique silver) brass (antique, shiny, matte) copper (ditto), or gunmetal and would you like fries with that?

Before you know it, the bead room is awash in small plastic bags and tubes that the cat wants to lie down in, and you want to join him. For something so small and easily made, your basic earring requires an amazing amount of thought and planning. Finding le bead juste for a single pair of earrings is fun. Finding the same for two dozen will send you screaming from the house.

There are some things I have learned over the years to manage this process in order to engage in a sane earring marathon.

A while back someone on one of the beading blogs I subscribe to described the Muffin Tin Method. This is a great way to produce earrings efficiently, well, more efficiently than the Mount Trashmore approach. Start with one or two interesting beads that go well together and toss them into one of the muffin cups, add your findings and accent beads and stir. Pretty soon you have twelve pots of potential earrings. Ta-DAH!

A second method I have begun to use is what I’ll call the gold panning method. It works best if you focus on a central color scheme, such as turquoise, one of my favorites. My friend Barb, bless her, recently brought me a large shallow lidless cardboard box with a Styrofoam base insert that is perfect for this. Pile everything relevant to your colorway into the box. Sit it in your lap and sift out the specific beads you want to use and put them in a smaller box and make your earrings from that. Essentially you are creating a manageable bead stash you can dip into without getting overwhelmed. When you finish with that colorway, you can assemble another.

  
So here are the results of my latest Muffin Tin marathon:


Whew! I’m exhausted just writing about this.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Overdoing It

One of the hardest things for any artist to learn is knowing when to stop. It’s especially hard for beaders because we like to lay embellishment on with a trowel.  On the other hand, you learn something when you overdo it that is useful for when you try again, which you will inevitably do. After all, for many beaders, if you can bead one of something, why not bead more? Why not bead seven, yes, isn’t seven the most powerfully magical number, wouldn’t seven-- oops, sorry, wandered off into a Harry Potter flashback there. Of course Voldemort didn’t know when to stop either.

Where was I? Oh yes, here’s a design that started out well. Some bead embroidery around a piece of brass filigree I had painted and added a glittery cabochon in its center.



I started with the O beads, spacing them out fairly evenly and had in mind a kind of spreading peacock’s tail, but wound up with this delightful asymmetrical design. I could see this as a necklace with one strap extending from the filigree and another from the adjacent point.

But for some reason I didn’t leave it here, I decided to add beads to create a more even edging which would make it easier to cut out and finish. Here’s the result:


Not quite as interesting as the first draft. The edging smoothed it down a little too much and the filigree looks a bit lost among the seed beads. Though I will note that such might be a desirable effect, depending. Next time around, I’m still going to bead a border that smooths everything out, but I’m going to use black beads. That will give it more shape and drama while still allowing me to cut it out easily.  OK, back to the horcrux drawing board….

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Throwing Beads Against the Wall

I have two beading buddies, Bobbi and Karen. We met when I was teaching beading classes at a local bead shop. The shop closed, but they wanted to bead on, so Bobbi generously offered to host us at her house and we’ve been beading there for well over seven years now.

We have learned each other’s bead crotchets – Bobbi doesn’t like the color purple, Karen doesn’t like freeform beadwork, I don’t like hearts or holiday designs. But we have a lot more things we like in common or we wouldn’t have stayed together this long. 

Our beading sessions tend to follow a certain rhythm– someone will propose a project and if the other two say yes, then we go for it. Karen is an ace bead pattern sleuth, finding amazing designs in a variety of foreign languages or interesting online blogs, websites, Facebook, you name it.

Pattern in hand, we get together and there ensues much discussion (i.e. wailing, ritually consigning to the flames, and celebration) of our color choices, the quality of the directions, and other beady topics. Then as we get to work the muttering and moaning starts up and before too long Bobbi announces she’s going to throw her piece against the wall if the beads don’t start behaving.

Curses fly, and much laughter and eventually Bobbi brings out some fabulous dessert for us to fall on like starving, well, like starving beaders. Beads and food, oddly enough, go very well together.

And eventually, though it may take a while, we arrive at: “hey I like this project!”  And the sun blazes forth and music fills the spheres and all is contentment.  Until the next project and we start this all over again.  There’s nothing more satisfying then hanging out with others who share your passion. We speak the same beady language, we have a level of mastery so that we can tackle all kinds of projects, and we love playing show and tell.

 
Karen and Bobbi – here’s to you!

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Beading Down Memory Lane: The Garden Gate Bag

For the first seven or eight years in my beading life, in the decade of the 1990s, I taught myself from the pages of books and magazines. As Bead and Button began to carry ads I entered a new and exciting phase in my beading life - finding bead shops, bead shows and bead classes. One of these in my area was Forestheart Studio down in Thurmont MD, where Mary Klotz presided over a triple delight of beads, fibers and glass.

It was there I took my first beading class with Delinda Amura, making her "Beyond the Gate" bag. As soon as I saw the photo advertising the class I had to have it (a reaction that was to recur with a generally exciting but also financially debilitating frequency).

It was interesting to take a class where everyone was teaching and learning about beading. Also bead gossip - some of the students were from the livelier, more active Washington DC beading scene. And Delinda was great fun: patient, with a great laugh, and her work! She was at the time doing passementerie that simply stunned me. Today one can find amazing, intricate work at the press of the "Go" search button but back then such eye candy was scarce.

Her pattern, which I still have, was mostly text, something I suspect would not work so well today, though I go back and forth on the text/images balance in creating bead patterns.

She recommended we bead with silk thread and, for a number of years after, that was my thread of choice. However, the piece fell apart after a while because of it, which gave me the opportunity to make it again (which should surprise none of us in the beading world) and fix the mistakes.

So here it is with the clever fence posts and twining blooms.  




  I feel fortunate that Delinda's was the first beading class I ever took.


















Thursday, March 16, 2017


Valley Tiles

I’m a big fan of the video game Monument Valley. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is nothing like any other game you have encountered.  For one thing, it breathes. Yes, I know that sounds weird but it does and it’s very calming. For another, it has an incredible design aesthetic, powered by M. C. Escher and Dr. Seuss, among others.

This is the only video game that ever made me go “ahh” – literally catch my breath at what unfolded. On the surface, it is a path which you help the intrepid Princess Ida navigate, but, given the Escher influence, you have to slow down and really look at what you are seeing, because things aren’t what you think they are, and trying to figure out how things work in the Valley universe is one of the most beguiling of pastimes. Like those books you cherish, you wish you could wipe your memory of them so you could experience anew the pleasure of their unfolding.

Don’t read any further, if you have the devices, go buy it. It’s inexpensive and will repay you many times over. Even after you figure out all the various puzzles, you will play it again and again just to gaze at it.

The game has a photo function and I have built quite a collection of these because of the design and the use of color:



And I have begun designing little tiles using shaped beads that have been inspired by it. Here’s one:










Thursday, February 23, 2017


Beadzeimers

How many times have you come across this in your bead room?


And scratched your head and gone, what was I going to use these for?  It’s fun picking color palettes and bead shapes. I enjoy the Zen of selecting, the oooohhh when you find le bead juste and then… Beadzeimer’s sets in. Other projects are more demanding; if you stack one more bag of beads on your work table it will collapse; you laid out FIVE different palettes for this project and begin to suffer from choice fatigue. Weeks go by, and one day you encounter this great grouping of beads and can’t for the life remember why they came to be there.

And you put them back. Sigh. But picking palettes is very soothing, and good practice. Yes, that’s what I tell myself.

Well, I can’t leave it at that – so here’s a palette I enjoyed picking: 


This loomed wallhanging was inspired by a photograph of an iris, and I was pleased at how the ombre effect came out.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Can this Necklace be Saved?

There was a column in the Ladies Home Journal I remember reading in my youth back in the Stone Age (the late 60s early 70s) titled "Can this Marriage be Saved?" which has inspired today's ruminations.

I can't remember if it was the first or the second time I was making a piece from a specific pattern (probably the second - I have a theory about the second time you try to follow a bead pattern, but more on that another time), but whatever time it was, I used the wrong size spike beads.

Here's the original design by Sabine Lippert titled “Handle with Extra Care” that uses 7 x 17mm Czech spike beads.  You can find it here.



 Well, in putting together my beads for this piece, I pulled out instead the 18 x 12mm bruisers and couldn't understand why the pattern wasn't going the way it should. It kinked and folded and would not behave. I had plans to make a necklace out of it, omitting the spikes along one side so the wearer wouldn't spear themselves in the chin, but it wouldn't lay right.

So I turned it into a round pendant, added a bezeled rivoli, crocheted beaded straps and lo! this beadwork was saved from the dreaded Drawer of Unfinished Projects. YAY!









Thursday, February 9, 2017


Component Challenged

It’s not enough to be able to bead a really cool focal piece, for it will only languish if you don’t have a concept for how it is to be used. And that means components. That means having a flair for how the parts of a piece of beadwork harmonize (or not).

I am often challenged about where to go with a focal piece of beadwork or how to arrange a smaller repeating motif. That’s one of the reasons I set up a Pinterest Board “Jewelry Inspiration for Bead Design” which you can view here. It has been a help to me in getting some ideas about how to put necklaces together. Good design is tricky and I have also noticed that many of the successful bead artists have a background in design, which I wish I had. If you want to spend some time honing this sense, check out Charlotte Jirousek’s “Art, Design, and Visual Thinking” which can be found here.

A while back I created a motif using some 20mm lozenge-shaped beach glass beads I found at a bead show:



You can see (barely) that I attached them to each other using a band of Cubic Right Angle Weave, but I wanted something more for the strap. I wanted components. Here’s what I came up with: 


And here’s the whole necklace:


I call this my Beach Glass Dragee Necklace because those beads remind me of Mentos Dragees candies.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Bead Fabrication

Having begun beading on  my friend Linda’s fabric by putting a pellon backing on it for easier stitching, I then realized that this method no longer limited me to the kinds of fabric I could bead on. I have a lot of these hand-smacking-forehead moments. The creative process can both open you up and give you a terrible case of tunnel vision.

Up to now I have been doing bead embroidery with something called Easy Felt, which you can get at most craft stores.  It’s not the floppy felt you might remember from your youth – I got a felt board with various floppy felt critters and letters one Christmas. I remember my Dad borrowing it to create title boards when he edited his Explorer Post whitewater canoeing movies.

But Easy Felt only comes in certain colors. Which is a pretty frequent beader’s lament: why doesn’t this bead/thread/felt come in more colors?  No turquoise, no seafoam, no rose, no celadon; red purple but no blue purple. But with pellon you can turn any fabric into essentially a piece of Easy Felt.

So, off to my home away from home, Jo-Ann Fabric, to buy monochrome fat quarters. The first one I worked with was in my favorite turquoise. I had bought a bunch of acrylic cabochons for another project that never quite took off, so was happy to find another use for them.

Here is the result. I like the somewhat muted palette that still shows a lot of color - with little accents (I restrained myself) using Czech shaped beads.




  
You will also notice I forgot to iron the fabric before I fused it. (Sound of hand smacking forehead – OW!!)

Thursday, January 26, 2017


From Back to Front

Last time I wrote about using fabric for backing bead embroidery. But I liked my friend Linda’s fabric too much to leave it back there; I wanted to bring it around to the front and feature it as part of a bead embroidery design. One of the challenges was actually stitching on the fabric, which was not all that easy to do, even using an embroidery hoop and a sharp needle. That piece did not get finished. Then I hit upon using pellon as an iron-on foundation. This worked perfectly, making it easy to cut a section of the fabric to wrist cuff size and stitch on it. 

This project also allowed me to experiment further with bead stitching in asymmetrical ways. (Don’t get me started on the division between beaders who love structure and those who love freestyle in their beadwork.)

Freeform beading can be great or it can be terrible. When it works, there’s nothing more absorbing than following where the beads want to go. When it doesn’t you sigh and mope and whine, maybe take another run or two at it which is no improvement at all, and eventually consign it to the dreaded Drawer of Unfinished Projects.

This time around I got lucky and the piece just created itself. Part of this was because I wanted the beautiful fabric to shine, so that helped restrain that bling-‘till-you-die impulse beaders are prone to overindulging.  At the time I was working on this I also came across these Gypsy Jangle bracelets while strolling and scrolling on my Pinterest app and fell in love with them: 





Now I want to run to Jo-Ann Fabric toting an air mattress and camp stove and just move in. That’s where I found the perfect trim for the edges of the bracelet.










 So, while the Drawer of Unfinished Projects may have closed on one piece, I now have a new drawer, full of nifty trimmings, fiber and fabric for designing.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


See What the Beads in the Back Room Will Have

Early in my beading life, I came across Ann Benson’s bead embroidery books and kits (you can drool over some of them here). These taught me a lot about stitching beads onto things.  I liked her sense of color, bead shape and design; I didn’t like stitching on a piece of stiff paper with the design drawn on it. I developed a technique for pricking holes in the design and using a metallic-ink pen to poke through them onto a piece of stiff felt (much easier to stitch with). Then I just connected the metallic paint dots and had my design.

What I really loved learning about was how to finish the work, using colorful fabric and fusible webbing.  This led to many pleasant hours grazing the fat quarters section of quilt shops. I now have, yes, a drawer devoted to swatches of fabric for this purpose.

A friend of mine gave me some fabric she had dyed and it really pleased me to be able to use it, as I did here for an embroidered pin.


The back should look as good as the front, eh?  All the parts should harmonize. Thank you Linda.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bits and Pieces

So what else can you do with pieces of stained glass? My friend Beth cut me some small squares out of this wavy celadon-green glass. I’m sure stained glass people have a very descriptive and technical name for it, just like beaders know what you mean when you say you used Chalk White Senegal Luster Picasso SuperDuos when making a bracelet. This glass looked like a little slice of ocean waves but with streaks of fuchsia and glints of chartreuse in its depths. Pink and green are colors I actually tend to work with quite a bit, even though they still make me think of the preppie fad from the early 1980s, which was all about pink and green. This, however, is not a necklace for preppies.


I call it my “Garden Plot” necklace and it evolved over time. I got the Right Angle Weave (RAW) frames for the stained glass squares figured out first, but then came the challenge of creating a component, a beaded something which harmonizes with your focal pieces, which I always have trouble with. How to join up the frames? It may be that by the time it came to join them I was tired of all those right angles and my subconscious coughed up a variation – beaded circles.


Of course, these are RAW circles, so my subconscious wasn’t going completely off the rails.

Here’s what the back looks like. Sometimes that can be as interesting as the front of a piece of beadwork.


I’m showing you this because quite often I get really hung up doing multiple rows of Right Angle Weave and they end up looking like they decided to rugby tackle each other. I’m not showing you the one where that happened! This is a modest, well-behaved piece of RAW.