Friday, 12 February 2016

Coming back to bead-weaving and my {song}beads

One of my favourite bead-woven pieces - I still have this one somewhere or other.

My journey in playing with beads and creating jewellery is almost as long as I am old. My Grandma Anderson, master-embrioderer, had me hooked on beads before I went to school. I still have her little collection of beads - old cigar tins, pill bottles, other miscellaneous jars which were presumably convenient and cheap (free!) for her at the time, but of course are now imbued with layers of nostalgia and charm. Flat backs in hard plastics and glass, sequins, seed beads which I now know to be either Czech or German in origin due to their shape and colour, and a small selection of real coral. Not a material I'd work with now, not in the form of 'new' beads, but my Grandma's treasured coral beads are one of those hand-me-down heirlooms that are too precious to be, well, precious about. I had a child's bible which my Grandma made a cover from old curtain material with, and which I then stitched some of the relatively-large-for-embroidering-with coral barrels (around 6mm) onto and was ridiculously proud of. I probably still have that somewhere too! 

Of course, it wasn't long before I was threading beads onto cord and short pieces of wire to make some, erm, *interesting* jewellery, shall we say. Sadly, there is no photographic evidence of any of this but I seem to remember that some of my favourite earrings to wear circa. 1994 as a 13-year-old were some funny metal swirls which I'd embellished with some wooden black and white beads, and one of my favourite shops to hang about in the '90s was Edinburgh institution, Helios Fountain. If you've visited Edinburgh, you'll almost certainly have visited the Grassmarket - Helios Fountain is still there*, although I must admit to not having darkened its doors for several years now. I'm not even sure if its infamous table of beads is still there. Kind of like a healthy pick n' mix - healthy for your waist that is, not so much for your purse! A young teenager's pocket money doesn't go so far when they have a greedy bead appetite (let's be honest - what's changed?). 

*Update - in googling Helios Fountain to add a link, I've discovered that it shut down last Spring! I'm gutted - the end of an era, for me at least. Many, many fond memories of shopping in that wonderful place.*

Put your sunglasses on! A beaded ring of mine, based on a Laura McCabe bezel.

It wasn't long before I discovered bead-weaving - I still remember a tiny new bead shop opening in Stockbridge where I grew up; Beadnik (the punniness of which was totally lost on me), which specialised in bead-weaving materials. I discovered that not all seed beads are created equally and that Japanese glass seed beads are the way to go, not to mix my brands for weaving projects and that I   (still) just *loved* creating things with a needle a thread. I bought a small book entitled 'Why not make a beaded amulet purse' (why not indeed?), a heap of Japanese seed beads (including Miyuki Delicas - precision-cut cylinder beads which many bead-weavers swear by) and off I went. Adventures in cross-stitch followed (as far as one can have an adventure with cross-stitch - I'm not sure any of my efforts ever quite counted as that!) but it was the beads that I always came back to. Alas, Beadnik only lasted a few years, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers what a very special shop it was. 

I can totally recommend this little book for anyone wanting to have a go at bead-weaving. It is incredibly thorough and really gave me a good grounding in the stitches described within.

A Highland Wedding - designed and made by myself for a dear friend's wedding back in 2008.

When I moved onto working with wire and all the techniques associated there, about ten years after I'd discovered bead-weaving, I abandoned the needle and thread. I must admit to being thrilled at being able to use ALL the beads in the bead shop, but also, pleased that I could create finished pieces of jewellery SO much more quickly than I ever had been able with seed beads. I also relished the ability to work on my own designs and not rigidly follow a pattern. I had a few bead-woven designs of my own which I was pretty proud of, but not having an engineer's brain, I had always struggled and preferred to work to a pattern. The more and more beads and jewellery became part of my career, the more time was a precious commodity - it was hard to justify teaching a single 2.5 hour class for which I would earn £50, when I had spent a whole week+ designing and making a piece plus a different colour way or two, and then 2 days trying to write up instructions. NOT the best way to pay the bills! 

I made each of my eight(!) bridesmaids a bead woven bangle, mostly featuring a cluster of my signature bead-woven flowers.

And so seed beads really stopped being part of my repertoire, despite my (of course) hefty stash of them. I made the odd venture into seed beads - a couple of classes with Laura McCabe, a kit or two from The Bead Merchant, an entry into The British Bead Awards - but essentially, it was all about The Bigger Beads for around 7 or 8 years. 

My award-winning entry into the 2011 British Bead Awards.

And then a couple of years ago when in Belfast, I felt an unexpected urge to return to them in a more permanent fashion. One thing I'd always yearned after creating without any particularly great success was the beaded bead. I'd bought a book on the subject, poured over bead-woven high art in many different tomes, trying unsuccessfully to work out exactly how different artists, any artist, created these beautiful objects. I tried and tried but alas, my non-engineering brain really didn't want to play ball. Until that night in Belfast when I was home alone aside from 3 tiny bunnies, and decided for some reason to try my hand again. I don't know what had re-sparked my interest, but I do remember that night - I was up stitching til 3am, trying to sort out a pattern with which I was happy. Here are those first beads:

You know, they may come easily to my fingers now, but I sweated blood and tears - the former only figuratively, I admit! - over these little ones. I know now that for best results I need a) to use the same brand, even in a mix and b) it's incredibly important to have perfectly round core wooden beads, neither of which I stuck to in these first {song}beads. But you know, I remember feeling that I'd really managed something special with these. There was an AWFUL lot of trial and error over many hours that night, and these beads felt like a supreme achievement for me. 

As an aside, look what Pinterest suggest as similar to this image:

Love it! 

Since then, I have barely put down my needle and thread for a day. I've experimented with different brands and sizes of seed beads, worked my way through many different core wooden beads before settling on the brand which works best for me, played with colour and pattern within the individual {song}beads and recently branched out into surrounding different shaped wooden core beads in my favourite tiny 1mm glass seed beads - these rondelles are my newest love:

Right from the start, I called my little creations {song}beads. I sometimes worry it seems a little unnecessary - after all, although my patterns are all my own in that I have come up with them myself after many hours of hard work, I'm not claiming to have reinvented the wheel here - bead-weaving is a bit like knitting: if you understand the stitch, there are logical ways to create and build with a stitch, and with something as simple as covering a round bead, there are a limit to the ways in which it can be achieved. I'm sure there are many other handwoven, or 'beaded beads' made, all over the world, in very similar or even exactly the same ways. But every bead which I stitch seems such a part of me. They feel like a culmination of what I've described in this post - a way of marrying together my pre-professional jeweller bead-weaving activities, and my 'larger bead' activities. They feel like a true expression of me; somewhere where I am happy to have arrived at within my work,  and that's why the title {song}beads seems entirely fitting and right. 


Terri said...

I love your woven flowers!!

Julie Wong Sontag said...

"They feel like a true expression of me; somewhere where I am happy to have arrived at within my work" - just LOVE LOVE that so much. I truly enjoyed reading this post, wonderful Rebecca! Everything you do is magic. xo -- Julie


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