Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Work in Progress: Fall Fail Cuff

I’m way behind in my goals this week for beading and for blogging. It’s one part day job overload, one part back to school shopping, and one part beader’s block. (It’s a good thing the shopping part was really fun, because our teachers have been on strike since June and the actual going back to school is postponed until further notice).

Over the past week or so, I’ve been trying to recreate the semi-freeform mosaic cuff from a while back, using Java glass, vintage white hearts, and 8/o seed beads. I don’t know if it’s the materials or just bad luck, but I haven’t had any success. Last time, the beadwork just fell into place, but this time around I’ve had to take apart several attempts and start from scratch. I’ve still got two of my four failed starts to frog before moving on to something else.

Fall Color Cuff Frogging in Progress

This project has taken up so much time, and I don’t want to continue fighting with it when there are more exciting projects to make. I’m hoping that I’ll find my motivation again once I get some new beads on the tray. It’s too bad, because the colors are pretty awesome. I’ll have to keep them in mind for a fall themed project in the future - probably a necklace.

What are you working on this week?

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Spring Bead Mix

This week at Bead & Button, I shared some ideas for using bead soups and seed bead blends without doing any freeform stitching. Even if you’re working with a structured stitch, you can still get amazing, organic looking designs just by using a whole bunch of beads together.

Thinking about some of my favorite custom bead soups reminded me of a packaged seed bead blend that I was once head over heels for. Way, way back when I first started bead weaving, I had two choices for bead shopping in town. One was a small indie craft store, and the other was a dollar store that stocked such nice things it was more like a boutique. And they carried Czech seed beads, which was incredibly awesome. Both stores sold their beads in tubes, and one SKU in particular was always in stock - much to my delight.

Spring Rain Bracelet with Copper-lined Earth Mix Cuff Bracelet with Color-lined Earth Mix

The mix was called Earth, and included copper lined: transparent dark gray, crystal, Montana blue, mauve; and a gorgeous, stunning, copper lined green. If it weren’t for the metal lining, I would still be using that color today, because it is amazing. The mix that I liked also included color-lined crystal seed beads in Montana blue, pale blue, pink, and sometimes mauve. I’m a big fan of the color-lined crystal finish, and on occasion I used just the color-lined beads and left the rest of the mix for other projects. At some point, the recipe changed, and the color-lined beads were replaced with copper-lined blue and pink.

I lost access to this mix when both of the stores I shopped closed, and then I gave up using metal-lined seed beads. Even when I went back to ordering Czech seed beads online, I never thought to look this mix up and see if it was still available. It turns out you can still get the earth mix, but it doesn’t quite have that pop that I loved way back when.

Do you have a favorite bead mix or blend?

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Work in Progress: Dragonfly Bracelet

This week I’m experimenting with some different treatments for lovely 22 mm Czech dragonfly coins. I’ve got a selection of beads that I want to use, including Rullas and Miyuki drops. Luckily, I just happened to have some in nearly identical colors.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to use both my green and blue coins, or stick to just green. I’m definitely kicking myself for not purchasing more of the blue! With the right back up colors, both coins could look great in an alternating pattern, or with just one as a focal. Maybe asymmetrical. I’m going to have to play a bit and see what happens.

Czech Dragonfly Bracelet in Progress

I’ve also got a bunch of Java glass laid out in my workspace, drying after their water baths. I’ve got two more secret bracelet experiments coming up, which will revive and old favorite design. Eventually, I’ll also get around to stringing the last three embroidery pendants we made, so I can show you how they turned out.

What are you making this week?

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bead Color Ideas: Bone and Monochrome

Sometimes when thinking up fun color palette trios, I’ve got a great theme in mind, or a great focal to experiment with. And sometimes, I just wing it. This month I wanted to make palettes for some new carved bone tubes with a natural finish. Instead of planning ahead, I just grabbed my seed bead trays and went with the first thing that came to mind.

The first thing I spotted was a hank of lustered turquoise blue, which is a fantastic match for the bone beads. On a whim, I grabbed a strand of aqua white hearts, too. Rather than separate them and try for two palettes with light blue, I decided to use them together. What better way to show off a great neutral finish that with bright monochrome?

Clear Skies Bead Color Idea

Clear Skies is a palette that I can definitely see in a lot of different designs. Not only do the bone and turquoise look as if they were made for each other, but the glow of the white-hearts really plays nicely with the other blue. Together, they create a plain but interested backdrop for the bone beads, allowing the subtle shades of beige and brown to stand out clearly. I can see it in a multistrand design, or something with oodles of fringe.

Secret Meadow Bead Color Idea

Next I went for greens, and combined two colors in the same finish. Transparent emerald and transparent lime are lush and lively, which really enhances the organic quality of the bone beads. Secret Meadow looks rather sophisticated, with its natural colors and perfect balance. It would make a great fall or spring palette, with just the right amount of warmth and light. I think this trio would look great in a symmetrical design, like an embellished cuff or beaded pendant.

Candlelit Study Bead Color Idea

For the last palette, I switched out the roles a bit. Rather than two matched seed bead colors, I chose transparent dark topaz to go with the bone beads, and jet black for a contrast. Although we consider black to be a color that goes with everything, we often underestimate just how much black can change a palette. It can make other neutrals look lively, or bright colors seem serious and edgy. In Candlelit Study, the black provides a depth that makes the two browns seem perfectly aged. This palette definitely needs a classic design.

Do you like to use monochrome palettes and elements in your designs?

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Existential Bead Store Questions

Acrylic Craft Beads

What makes a perfect bead store? The answer is certainly different for every beader, as we each have different needs and favorites depending on our style and the type of beading that we do. And just as there are many types of beaders, there are many kinds of bead stores, too. Naturally, some of them will be better than others.

The city where I live has only two craft stores - one of them a big box chain - and no dedicated bead stores. This means that I have to shop for supplies online, which certainly provides a lot of choice, but not necessarily a lot of inspiration. The ability to browse, touch, and compare beads in person is invaluable.

Two years ago I was able to visit bead stores in a nearby city, and I was a little surprised by what I found. One shop had a large selection of very basic beads from China, in a variety of materials. They also had lots of Czech seed beads, some Japanese seed beads, and a few unique odds and ends that were fun to browse. The second store was just a little bit smaller, but their selection was limited mostly to the generic Chinese imports - basic lampwork, metal charms, gemstones, and some bone.

I didn’t think much about the selection that I found in these two stores until I made another trip this summer, and happened upon another tiny bead shop. I was really excited to browse, and perhaps find some unique focals and accents, plus top up some of my favorite seed bead colors. The selection that I found was confusing, to say the least. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it was almost identical to the second, smaller bead store that I visited on my last trip. It seemed as if the stores were both stocked from a kit, rather than selected by hand.

I didn’t end up buying even a single bead - only a few met my picky criteria, and they weren’t exciting enough to make it worthwhile. I recognized a few of my favorite Czech seed bead colors, but when I looked for the ones I needed, I found that they looked generic up close. And without labels, I couldn’t be sure that they were of good quality. I was reluctant to ask because I had already inquired about 125 yard spools of Fireline - a curt “No” was the only answer I received. I couldn’t help but compare this store to the bigger one from my last trip. There, when I asked if they carried tagua, a polite “No” turned into a ten minute chat about natural beads.

When I left the store I was disappointed and confused. I also found myself feeling rather annoyed. Even if I wasn’t so selective with the materials that I use, there weren’t very many offerings in the shop that would meet the standards of a seasoned beader. I thought about it for the rest of the day, and found myself wondering just what the purpose of a bead store like this could be.

Bead Store Finds

Whatever our origins in beading, it’s inevitable that we will be drawn to good quality materials. If we start out stringing cute plastic beads, it’s only natural to learn from our bead peers and beading books about artisan lampwork, Swarovski crystals, and good quality semiprecious stones. If we start out beadweaving with a premade palette of Indian seed beads from the dollar store, eventually we’ll learn about Preciosa, Toho, and Delicas, and want to try them out.

Considering the natural progression of a beader’s repertoire, is it likely that a store carrying beads, but none of the things that serious beaders want, is run by someone that doesn’t bead themselves? Why would anyone do that? The question that really made me ponder and puzzle was this: Who is supporting these stores, and what are they doing with the beads they buy? And if the customers eventually upgrade to higher quality materials, doesn’t that mean that the store will lose their business? If not for each new generation of crafters cutting their teeth on the cheap stuff, these bead stores would be totally unsustainable.

Although it was several weeks ago, I still feel a bit steamed whenever I think about these two little bead shops with their uninspired and uninspiring selection. I can’t quite say why it bothers me in such a personal way, and it makes me feel like a bead snob - in a bad way. I can only hope that these shops will inspire bead novices to start the craft, and move up from there.

I’d love to hear what you think! Do you have a favorite brick and mortar bead shop? What makes it special?

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