beading, beadwork, color, craft, creativity, glass beads, jewelry design, seed beads, tatting

Still got it?

Here I finished two strands of the necklace by threading them through a wire coil, then back where they came from. I knotted them off and cemented them.
Tying off the two lines to end the work.

I recently completed a necklace, an 18″ design made of fire-polished glass, MiniDuos, 11/0 seed beads, and 11/0 Delica seed beads (which are slightly smaller). To create the structure of the piece, it was important to have a variety of bead sizes. I strung it on C-Lon Micro, using a tatting (shuttle lace) technique to make a button loop (which was actually…exciting; this is part of the reason why I learned tatting), and then running both lines through a coil of gimp and a shank button, before threading it back into the work, tying it off, and cementing the lines.

This is a detail image of the buttonhole I formed with a lace-making technique.
clasp detail

I was happy to get back into this — and to see how far I’ve come, since the time I started (25 years ago!). Especially as I had experienced doubts about my ability to see a project through to completion.

The design took about two days to work out (and a number of different tries before I got the loop right), but I’ve realized that since I was using standard-sized materials, I can echo the design in different colorways…and not necessarily charge an exorbitant rate for the time it took for me to work out the pattern, the first time. I guess that’s what happens when you know it’s okay to re-use past work, as versus aiming to make everything unique. (Uniqueness will still come; it’s just that it isn’t necessary to kill the seed you’ve planted, after its first fruiting.)

I also now have a project box which began with the thought of the Aquamarine and Pink Botswana Agate beads. It expanded far beyond what I had expected, and uses no stone in this final form (as versus another final form).

Reasons to go on

I have also remembered some more reasons to sell jewelry. For one thing, I like to make jewelry so much that were I to keep it all, it would be in excess of what I would use. I’ve also realized that having made the pattern — or structural form — for this piece, it gives me the ability to expand on that initial trial and work a number of different projects in different colorways, extremely easily.

Over my palm, you can see alternating single and double Czech fire-polished beads, in teal, violet, and orange.
Basic pattern. I extended this over 18″ to make a Princess-length necklace.

There might not be justification for that if I were just making things for myself, but if I’m doing it because I want to do it, not just to decorate myself (that is, if I’m enjoying the process more than the product), it probably doesn’t hurt to sell some of the extras (or, “experiments;” or, “trials;” I don’t know if anyone would really want to hear they’re buying an “experiment,” although that’s basically what a lot of — maybe most of — art is), and recoup some costs.

I can also then try making different decisions at specific points in the pattern, and by doing that, develop derivative works, or families of pieces which work along different creative pathways. This lets me expand the initial idea into a family in which each member is a record of a different, iterative thought (or design) process.

Also: I’ve been working on the design of another piece; using Smoky Quartz, the Pink Botswana Agate, and Hematite. (The Aquamarine is too pale to work in this scenario.) I did purchase some sterling bead caps…which, now that I see them, I realize are fairly expensive, for what I got. I suppose it could be worse: I could have gotten the sterling version of what I already had in pewter, and paid around $5 per cap for 6-8 repeats (each containing two caps), making the cost at least $70 (with tax and shipping). For 12-16 caps. That are tiny. Which I think I would have had to buy in multiples of 6. The silver isn’t even the focal point.

No, that…that wasn’t happening.

The bead caps I had which were pewter…I honestly don’t know where the rest of these guys are, but they’re likely locked up in projects which I won’t wear and have not worn. (When you’re a beginner, it isn’t unusual to make things you won’t wear…or to buy things you think look great, which look gaudy at a later point in time.) Originally, they weren’t expensive — they were from a fabric or craft store. It’s just that the exact same design — the exact same design — is in sterling silver, and I can’t find the pewter version, anymore.

The ones I did get were close to $22 for eight…meaning they’re $2.75 each. That’s fine if you’re buying a couple for earrings, but if you need 7 repeats at a minimum for an 18″ necklace, each 2.5″ repeat using two, and you have to buy in multiples of 8: 16 caps are $44. Before tax and shipping. That still kind of makes me clench my teeth, especially when they’re so tiny, but…well, hopefully, they won’t tarnish — which is the only reason, aside from safety and allergy concerns, to get Sterling. Granted, those safety and allergy concerns are likely well-placed.

(Maybe I should have taken advantage of that recent Trunk Show…)

In any case, the fifth reason to sell things is the process of buying strands of beads to make into things, and then as you’re assembling, you realize that you’re only using like 1/5th of the strand…meaning you have 4/5ths unused. If you aren’t just making for yourself, you can make for someone else, and have fun at the same time.

Part of my newer bead collection.
All Toho 11/0s, except the two vials in the lower right: the grey label is a 15/0 vial. The one below it, I purchased from a supplier who doesn’t label by brand, but which I think may be Miyuki (as its name is, “Teal Duracoat,” which so far as I know is proprietary).

So anyway, to detract from the frustration of having spent so much on so little, I also did purchase a bunch of little 11/0 Toho beads in order to gain a bulk discount (which…unfortunately, did not include free shipping). Buying seed beads online is often…more difficult than doing it in person. It’s because you’re depending on photography to give you an accurate idea of color…and as I learned in Intro to Graphic Design, neither computer screens nor print can replicate all of the colors we can see (“color gamut” is the name for the range each technology can produce).

So…when buying a complicated color that you know is probably complicated, because it has a name like Cosmos or Polaris…online…you just pretty much know the color is a best guess.

Three tubes of bead colors that are very hard to use: yellow, yellow-orange, and red-orange.
The frosted orange in the center, may make it into some work. The others…???

I have a set of four vials which are likely not to make it into any work, though. Three look like they’re colored with Cadmium salts (opaque yellow, orange, and red-orange [see right]). I got them because I realized that my own color gamut did not include these colors, and hence I was limiting my own creative options by not including an entire spectrum. I can somewhat see why I don’t use these colors now, though: they’re just too basic.

Also, I should let you know that the above photo of those opaque beads between yellow and red, didn’t turn out with true color…I am not entirely sure why (if it was because they were too bright, or the background fooled my camera), but I don’t feel like tinkering with the settings right now.

The fourth vial, I suspect I have used before, and that it faded (Aqua, Gold-Lined). I do have photos of it, but none turned out too well, as I didn’t unwrap them (I could use store credit, but then again, it costs money to ship them back. There’s always the Center for Creative Re-Use).

While looking for someone else’s repair projects, I did find a number of stashes of beaded jewelry I made while a child and teen…which had some seed beads included which are a pale, translucent bluish grey, now. I do see that it appears they were matte; also silver-lined. I don’t know if I should settle for glass jewelry being pretty in the moment and not lasting, or if I should really avoid things I know might fade.

However, the set of beads I was using at the time (from the fabric/craft store or the bead store), I no longer recall. For years, into high school, even, I played around with Darice seed beads (which I wouldn’t recommend for professional work…but as I was a teen just experimenting, that was something else).

I doubt that I was thoroughly using the more quality stuff from the bead store, at that time, given that I recall being in 9th grade and having a necklace made of Darice beads, dental floss, and a lampwork pendant from the bead store, explode from around my neck one day in the locker room. (This was after it had hit me in my teeth, which is where I think a mysteriously missing chip from a front tooth may have gone.)

I knew fabric-store seed beads to have color that rubbed off on my fingertips; which is probably why I have a (likely unfortunate) bias against dyed glass, at this point. Yes, I know the lilac (a.k.a. Silver-Lined Milky Amethyst) in the fourth image above is likely dyed. I also suspect those beautiful Gold Luster Raspberry beads above them to be dyed. I just like them too much to care.

I should say that Darice isn’t all bad. They have some storage solutions which I do appreciate. And certainly, they are an inexpensive entryway into the craft, which in my case was invaluable — at least because I’ve continued to do this for 25 years. It’s just one of those things where once you get your sea legs as a beadworker, you find other options, and learn ways to gauge benefits and drawbacks.

This is a greyish necklace I made when I was young, with highlights of violet and blue from Amethyst, Labradorite, dyed pearls, and Swarovski Crystal.
I made this as a child. Apologies for the poor lighting and color inaccuracies.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out what to do with this little necklace (see above) — keep it as a keepsake? Give it to someone little but over 14 years of age? ;) (All of this stuff says not to deal with it if you’re under 14 years old, likely because it could interfere with a child’s development…though I have been using these since I was 11 or 12. Not to say that anyone should.) This thing is basically Amethyst, Labradorite (a flecked grey stone with blue internal flashes), Hematite (gunmetal grey), dyed freshwater pearl, and Swarovski Crystal, in a Y-necklace form. It’s only 14″ long. I don’t remember if I used Sterling wire or craft wire, but it’s still shiny (the clasp is not).

I’m still not sure about whether it would mean more to me to keep it, or to someone else, should I gift it. The deal with the latter is that if I give it up, it could easily be destroyed (or pawned), and I’ve got to grapple with whether I’d be okay with that. I’m thinking the answer is, “no,” which tells me what to do, there.

Anyhow, creating this entry has been a nice thing for me, if a bit of an obsessive project: I haven’t used my camera or image-editing software, in a while. It’s nice to know the computer is of more use than as a notepad. :)

Speaking of which, I did find my old project journal. I needed to make more drawings than I did. When the earliest entry is in 2010, maybe — back in 2010 — I could have remembered what the project looked like. But. In 2019, almost a full decade later? It doesn’t do me a great deal of good to note which beads I used, without images to show the way in which I used them.

That…could be a good use of this blog. Photographs are easier to work than design sketches; I’d just have to remember that this is public, and that I am showing my process.

Yeah. That could be nice!

beading, beadwork, color, glass beads, jewelry design, seed beads

A very long beading design post…

I actually have been able to get some design work done, recently. Essentially, I was able to visit a bead store — like a real-life, in-person bead store. I’ve said before that I have hesitated to work with natural stones because things can get very expensive, very fast. That’s still true.

There’s also the fact that as I’m working, I realize that it isn’t entirely worth it to make things to sell…unless, that is, I’m using some leftovers of other projects that I otherwise would not. Because of the time it takes to design things, and the time it takes to construct things, and then unmake and remake projects as I revise the design…it costs me so much in time that what I make becomes prohibitively expensive, if I’m charging by the hour. I’d rather not be designing against the clock, especially when I could regain the money lost in design more easily, simply by going to work more.

In any case…I have an Amazonite puffed square cabochon that I got at a recent convention. It’s a pastel green with blue overtones, white-streaked, glossy, with a hairline fracture. I’ve decided to pair it with some Aquamarine 8mm rounds (pale green-blue, displaying some silver internal reflections; mostly otherwise opaque), and some Pink Botswana Agate 6mm rounds (pale salmon-pink, mauve and white, opaque). These are now the center, anchoring elements of this piece.

So essentially…I’m designing around a cabochon; particularly where it comes to color and texture. I am echoing the color and gloss of the Amazonite cabochon with the Aquamarine (which is slightly paler than the Amazonite), and contrasting that with a secondary supporting point in the Botswana Agate. That’s why the Agates are smaller than the Aquamarines. When working with natural stones, it can be hard to find them in usable shapes (other than rounds)…

When I got these home, I did start looking through my project box to weed out some beads that were too warm. I know that “warm” when it comes to blues, means “violet” tending (as violet is closer to red — green is considered a “cooler” color, though that’s counterintuitive to me); in this case, I weeded violets which were closer to Cobalt Blue (a deep, intense blue-violet when in glass). I kept greens and blues which were substantially greener, ranging more towards yellow. I also added a good amount of pinks, warm white ranging to pale gold, violet which is closer to red, ambers, and browns (“Smokey [sic] Topaz”, “Crystal Celsian”).

This was a generative task, not a selection task. It is, however, much more stimulating and inspiring than what I had before. The next task is to try putting some of these together; most of the designs that I’ve made which really made leaps in innovative construction, have occurred when I’ve just tried to assemble things in any way I could (keeping in mind that threads need protection, and that bugle beads, unless something is done to stop them, will easily shear thread in two: these are practical constraints). There has been a basic idea of what I’ve been going for, but it has often been abandoned as I found better ways to do what I’m trying to do…or an alternate path to success.

I decided to go for stranding as a possibility, as I’ve realized that a more complicated design is not necessarily a better design.

And the seed beads…

Having said that, I still want to try St. Petersburg Chain. I’ve been looking for some excuse to try it; I’m just not sure if this is the right project for it. I’ve separated out some colors of Czech seed beads which echo the Botswana Agate…but to be honest, they’re a little dull against the Japanese ones. For instance, I have an old tube of “Ceylon Lt Peach” (unknown brand, likely Japanese) 11/0 seed beads, which are just…brighter, than my Cheyenne Pink 8/0 Czech seed beads. I could still use them together, but I should not overuse anything too dull.

No, I don’t know why the half-hanks of Czech seed beads I have, are duller than the Czech fire-polished crystals I have…and the Czech pressed-glass SuperDuos and MiniDuos. When I got them, I was looking for a solid color throughout the glass, which is normally more resistant to fading, while sacrificing some of the bright colors of surface-dyed or color-lined beads (which are known to be more often susceptible to fading or other color change).

Note that I don’t consider surface dyeing (like the use of Sol-Gel) to be the same thing as a surface treatment such as Aurora Borealis (AB), Luster, Iris, Vitrail, Capri (I have some opinions about Capri’s durability…but, later), or Ceylon. At least, that’s not what I mean by it. I also realize that my Light Peach Ceylon beads may indeed be surface-dyed. It was so long ago that I didn’t think to mark the vial as permanent or possibly prone to fading. I probably also didn’t think that I’d be trying to remember any cautions at the store, 10 or more years later.

But no, I did not expect to find a clean, bright pink or a clean mauve-grey in an affordable stone, either. These both match the Japanese beads better.

There is, still, a range of quality, here…it’s important when buying stranded beads, to look for size uniformity (at minimum), unless you aren’t doing anything (like a beading stitch/weave) that depends on things being even. That is: not all “Czech” seed beads are the same quality. I’ve even seen half-hanks of beads with other beads of the same color stuck to their outsides, which look like there was paint that dried with two beads touching. (I don’t particularly like glass beads which look like they have paint on them…it’s a reason I don’t use a lot of the newer multi-hole beads.)

The only way that I really can even tell that they’re Czech (or from someone trying to pass themselves off as Czech) is either through the catalog description (when purchased online), or through the method of sale. Czech seed beads are generally sold stranded and tied together in bundles of 6 or 12 strands. Japanese seed beads are generally sold loose, in vials or bags. They have different brands, sizing regulations and shape standards…and apparently, at least somewhat different methods of attaining their colors, or a different aesthetic which causes the companies to aim to produce different palettes.

In buying beads at conventions, however…you may not know who made what, unless you ask. Vendors may also not recall their sourcing, on top of it (especially if they’re a Mom-and-Pop operation). Right now, I only know one rocaille (round, uncut seed bead) manufacturer from the Czech Republic, which is Preciosa Ornela. (I’m not counting manufacturers of shaped seed beads.) However, I am very sure that they aren’t the only game in town.

I also wouldn’t put it past other manufacturers to try and pass their material off as though it has the quality that “Czech” beads are known for. Though I intend only to use Japanese and Czech seed beads in my work, that doesn’t mean that my suppliers are paying attention to how their customers think about quality.

I’m thinking that some people would rather get a low price than a quality product. The problem with that: low-priced products can also easily be low-quality products, and I don’t know that anyone on the receiving end is overtly asking for anything more. Raised prices for low-quality products would mean that the higher-quality products win out because they are higher-quality (and then there is no reason not to buy the higher quality instead). You can see how that works.

I did, once, buy a terrifyingly expensive half-hank of Dark Copper (I’ll just call them that) 8/0s: $17 for 6 strands. Very even in width; uniform, beautiful finish. They get higher than that — for instance, when there’s a special metallic coating which requires gold — but in the majority of cases, they don’t range higher than $15-$20 per half-hank. My low end of the 8/0s is currently $4.25 for six strands of something that looks like Sleeping Beauty Turquoise, just in glass. Keep in mind, though, I don’t have a sample of Sleeping Beauty Turquoise here to compare and see if it’s any more intense; the beads just bring it to mind.

I got the 8/0s to make knotted bracelets. More on that another time, hopefully.

So, the half-hank of Cheyenne Pink 8/0s ($7.50 for 6 strands) are beautiful on their own. The only thing is, the Pink Botswana Agate outshines them and makes them look dull in comparison. With too many of the glass beads, I could also unintentionally dull down the stones. The colors in the stones are just much cleaner. Why? I really don’t know. I might have to be a chemist to know. I have seen at least one text on the chemistry of glass colors…and I am not interested enough in how they’re made, to go back into a hard science.

That’s another reason to buy stones that you can see in-person, before purchase, though. It’s much easier to mix-and-match a dominant stone against a wall of other stones and find a perfect complement, than it is to flip back and forth between online windows, or bring up multiple windows showing multiple products (and then hope the photography is reasonably true-to-life).

I’ve delayed posting this because I have wanted to add images…it would be of use to me to remember what this particular project box looks like. There’s a lot of information, that is, in just seeing what I’m dealing with (and how it differs from what I was dealing with before — which I did not photograph, because it was that uninspiring). Adding the pink and violet, along with that pale green, it helps a lot. They’re all unified, in a design sense, because they’re all pastel tones.

However, because I’m still in training at my job, I’ve been working a lot of the time, and studying, eating, and sleeping for a lot of the rest of the time. That is: I haven’t had a lot of time to write, much less to take and optimize photos. I was lucky I had time enough to go out on the weekend…

This current writing, I began on Sunday. I’ll get beyond the point of relevance, if I delay for much longer. The obvious choice would be to hold off on posting until Friday or Saturday…but this is aging in my consciousness, and nagging me and causing me to waste time filling it out further. I should post.

color, craft, design, glass beads, macrame, occupational hazards, seed beads, spirituality

Beaded micromacrame yearnings

It’s early Sunday morning for me, now, and I’m coming off of a day of food shopping and eating, mostly. I feel like I should get back to the binder of training materials, but I haven’t wanted to spoil the day by filling an extended session of free time with work concerns which have taken up the majority of the week.

So…I just haven’t. I’ve actually been forcing myself away from dealing with it. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do.

I’ve wanted to get back to my beadwork/macramé, but there are a couple of things I know I need to address: 1) the fact that I might need to set up my easel to work (my macramé ergonomics are not great: I’ve been propping the board on my thigh), and 2) I feel like it would be time wasted. Though I guess I’ve earned the privilege of wasting some time.

I think there’s also a third level of something here, which is either trepidation or fear, and I can’t immediately tell why it’s there (except for the fact that I used to spiritualize the majority of my creativity, and just worked through it while freaking myself out).

I did spend some time, though, looking up what the colorants are in glass. Apparently, if I try looking for such online in regard to beads, I can’t immediately find much that’s useful, but once I start looking up stained glass, I start to get hits. It actually mirrors what I’ve been seeing in regard to crystal colorations.

It’s interesting. It also makes me wonder whether I actually have been working with serious “art supplies” all this time: metal salts, oxides, and sulfides are apparently widely used. I found some stuff on transition elements and rare earth metals. But I couldn’t get a good hit on this as it refers to beads. Seed beads are what I’m particularly after: most of these materials are intended for people 14 years of age and older…which obviously begs the question, “why?” (I think it may be linked to developmental concerns, which is why I didn’t make a bracelet for a small relative when she asked.)

However, apparently this information is hard to find because the glass formulations and treatments and coatings are trade secrets. So…yes. I can use the materials, it’s just maybe I’ll want to not eat while using the materials, and to wash my hands before eating, afterward. Even though the risk seems minimal. After all, the compounds are likely mostly locked in the glass, and I am usually not grinding the glass or inhaling it or swallowing it. If I did, I’d have more immediate concerns than poisoning.

I had been hoping that working with colored glass beads was in some way better for the environment than mining for stones, but at this point in time, I’m not sure that’s the case. Not least, because the components of glass have to be gathered and refined. It’s basically chemistry.

And I really, really so bad want to use the little Toho beads I got a really long time ago. I’m just having trouble in breaking out of the safety of an analogous color scheme.

It’s easy enough just to try. Why I’m afraid to, I’m not sure; especially when I can cut the work apart and recover the beads. The only thing I lose, then, is time and cord. And organization, I guess.

But, one step at a time. I need to get back to my handwork first, before I start criticizing myself about not taking enough risks. Over time, I’ve gradually taken more risks with color. My color sense should develop further as I work, though. When I first started out, I was really into hematite — grey and silver — which is not at all where I’m at, now. I do feel a little stuck, but I also need to start where I am.

beading, beadweaving, beadwork, color, craft, glass beads, jewelry design

Brainstorming a new design

I’m back into jewelry design and beadwork! :D I was playing around with some cabochons last night and came up with a couple of designs. Right now I’m busy still collecting parts that I might be able to use for a necklace. By chance, I found a set of faceted glass rice beads from a really long time ago, that I ended up not using because they were too large and glittery. They might work well for the back of this necklace, though, at least so if I space them out. I’ve also thought of using beaded beads (beadwoven beads made out of smaller beads). Though that hasn’t gone anywhere yet, it’s still a possibility.

The alternative is utilizing a set of Amazonite beads which I haven’t bought, yet. Minimum size, 8mm in one direction, looking for a fluted oval (this is an oval with a square cross-section which twists). I’ve been looking around online, though unfortunately I don’t have a great catalog of stone suppliers, as I primarily work with seed beads. Most of the stones I have were bought a long time ago, with the exception of several cabochons. That, in turn, is due to the relatively high cost of quality natural stones, plus the fact that if I use one stone I often have to pair it with metal and other natural stones and crystals — as versus synthetic material like glass. That multiplies the cost of a piece, several times over.

Though I could use inexpensive suppliers from overseas…it’s really hard to trust mail-order. Especially mail-order from the other side of the world. I’d be looking at local bead stores and local conventions, first.

Also an issue here is the fact that with buying things like stones and pearls online, I don’t get to examine the goods before purchasing them…which affects quality significantly. It’s also a reason I’ve told myself that I am not going to buy any more (grubby) pearls online. And a reason not to buy cabochons online (I can’t tell if the base is all the way flat and if the shoulders are even, even if I can see the patterning in the stone via an individual listing). Even if stones look like they’re cut well, small unseen irregularities can appear through the sense of touch.

I still need to design the bezels for the main two stones, though I’ve worked out that I want to have multiple threads leading away from the upper one. I also know what the base row should look like, and that I’ll need to cement down the cab before beginning work (which I am extremely reluctant to do, especially as one is translucent, and I don’t know if E-6000 will cleanly release from a mirror-polished surface).

The upper cabochon is an aqua-blue puffed square Amazonite, and the lower is a pear-shaped Moonstone, which I feel is too valuable to glue down to something…but the alternative is to create a custom bezel out of Fine silver, which requires the use of fire. If also done for the upper cabochon, it also complicates the process of attaching that cab to the rest of the necklace.

I’m going to practice my beaded bezels on a couple of mail-order cabs I will likely not use for actual jewelry, because they look too much like googly eyes. I should try gluing down and releasing one, to see if I even can separate them. I don’t want to use 2-part epoxy. It sounds like heresy to do that to a Moonstone (and most of the time, I don’t care about heresy). I would really hate it — unless, it worked; or unless I could undo it, if it didn’t.

Right now the palette for the potential necklace heavily depends on Capri Blue, playing off of the schiller (rainbow) in the Moonstone and the aqua blue of the Amazonite. I’m also using white/Crystal (clear: I need to see if Rock Crystal [quartz] has a different refraction index than glass, and if so, do I want to use it instead [a quick lookup says yes]), Light Topaz (light yellow — which also appears in the Moonstone), and green (the latter, if the design needs a slight contrast — though I’m hoping it would be very slight).

I haven’t continued the design writ large from last night, given that I was busy earlier and needed to rest afterward. I also only remembered that I had Japanese size 15/0 beads in Capri Blue and Light Topaz, last night in bed. I find in my stash, limited amounts of size 13/0 Czech seed beads in Galvanized (metallic) gold, iris green, and a half-hank in pale pink; another in Galvanized copper. I might need those for the bezels.

I’m really not sure anymore that I want to continue using copper, as it tarnishes so easily…and I’m pretty much over nickel-free Antique Brass (although I have a project in-process that uses it). I should note as well that Galvanized colors often have issues with wear, where the metal rubs off. There are newer variants of it which sometimes do also contain the word “Galvanized”, but which are longer-lasting. The thing is, their names are brand-specific, so as with anything, do your research.

Last night I cleaned off all the earwires of my old earrings which I took in to a showing, due to concerns about the cleanliness of the venue, and to guard against too many bacteria getting into my piercings. I’ve decided — at this point — not to install the heavier-gauge earwires into my own ears. That’s largely due to realizing that I can go “alternative” with my jewelry in other ways, such as through the use of anodized niobium earwires (I found a good source), or the use of unusual color combinations. If I put in the heavy earrings, I’ll only be able to wear what other people make, or things that are like what other people make…and spirals seem to be becoming a bit cliché.

I have 12 pairs of earrings that I’ve made over time, that I consider successful. I also have a few more pairs which can be deconstructed and redesigned into other things. Getting them out of my jewelry drawer felt (actually) good.

One of those sets of earrings have what I believe are Bali sterling silver cones (they were sold by the Troy ounce, which likely wouldn’t have been the case if they were only silver-plated). They’ve never been the most convenient things to wear, because they’re heavy. I had been thinking of using them for this necklace, but right now — I’m thinking about a different transition between the front and back of the necklace (like buttons). Particularly, as they would be some of the only silver pieces on this necklace (aside from silver-lined beads).

Bali silver — last I saw — was notoriously expensive, but very recognizable, and very beautiful. The hard part is trying to find Bali silver beads without having to buy in bulk (by the strand…which, given the fact that they’re individually heavy, on strands about 18″ long, and sold by weight, obviously infers their expense).

AND…I’ve just realized that I have some white pearls here that I can use! They’re pretty old; I took them from a pearl and rock-crystal necklace I didn’t often wear (it was too formal). The pearls themselves might (still) be too formal, but there’s at least that possibility of use. I had also separated out some tiny green pearls last night (they’re about 3mm long), but I forgot about them until just now. There are also at least 12 slightly-green pear-shaped pearls I can use, but (unless I also undo my practice stringing, which I probably should) that will be the last of them.

I went through my (limited collection of) bugle beads, today. I’m not sure that I want to use them; bugles are notorious for cutting through thread (I would have to use Fireline or C-Lon). They also lend a geometric look to whatever they’re used in, which isn’t what I’m aiming for at all (it’s also a reason I shied away from Miyuki brand, this last time I bought beads: I just don’t like the machined look). They are in the right colors, though: Capri, Light Topaz, a warm green (though I may need a cool green, if I use green at all: I’m thinking, ocean, sky, sand, seaweed: in that order). I basically got them out so I wouldn’t narrow down my design options too much, at this beginning stage.

And…I need to get to bed. You didn’t think I’d say that, did you? ;)

beading, beadweaving, beadwork, craft, glass beads, jewelry

Art Jewelry vs. Craft Jewelry

OR, is Art really superior to Craft? About a decade ago, I recall reading something in one of my beading or jewelry magazines, about the differences between Art, Craft, Fine, and Fashion Jewelry. At this point, I would add in Body Jewelry to the mix — it was likely still fringe, at the time.

Exactly which magazine title it was, and which issue, is something that will take manual lookup — though I may have xeroxed the relevant pages out of a Library copy. I should really go through my archives. (Well — “archives” — they aren’t really incredibly organized or cataloged, just notes, records, and other things that I’ve considered worth saving over the years, as regards beadwork.)

I’ve started looking through my backlog, but I know it was in a magazine, and I have over ten pounds’ worth of magazines here (actually, about 13 lbs., if my scale is correct). I’m not entirely up to looking for it, right now.

What I do with beads, beadweaving, wire, and micro-macramé with seed beads, would be considered “craft jewelry”. Although it can range into “art jewelry”, which is generally more about one-of-a-kind pieces, stones (often including individual unique stones), and metalwork (for example: Designing From the Stone by Lisa Barth), I haven’t reached the point in my development where I can yet bezel a cabochon using a beaded method, and have the cabochon still show through to my satisfaction.

I do have some (as yet unimplemented) help in making beaded bezels, though. Jamie Cloud Eakin has a really nice book out called Dimensional Bead Embroidery, which clearly shows a number of methods of making beaded bezels. She also has another book out (Bead Embroidery Techniques: Bezels) which goes a little more deeply into bezels in specific, though it isn’t the only one of hers to mention the topic. Because of the nature of her type of work, which uses unique stones and unique designs, I’d say it does range into art jewelry.

I don’t know where I got this idea, but somehow there is this thought in my mind about art being “better than” craft. This was challenged, however, by a recent episode of A Craftsman’s Legacy, where the host (Eric Gorges) was interviewing an armorer (James Arlen) who said that armor made as “art” was generally less functional than armor made as “craft”. It’s not often that I hear someone defend craft in its own right (usually it is assumed that “art” is superior — I don’t fully know why, though I suspect it has to do with historically gendered practices and gender politics), so I do remember it. I also know that “Art Jewelry” is sometimes considered as “wearable art,” though not all of it is something one would want to wear.

As I’m writing this, I recall hearing about the Arts & Crafts Movement in my Art classes. I don’t remember all the information, but I know that those in this movement aspired to high-quality workmanship. This was in contrast, and likely in protest to, the advent of mass production after the Industrial Revolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if art jewelry is a continuation of this idea, though at present it is difficult to avoid working with mass-produced sheet and wire, unless you’re on the level of a traditionally-trained goldsmith and cast your own ingots.

I’m not entirely sure where the idea of, “art being better than craft,” came from…though I wouldn’t be surprised if it had to do with certain large craft stores stocking predominantly inexpensive (“cheap”) products. Charles Lewton-Brain has an article up on Ganoksin about the difference between art and craft. Lewton-Brain is a well-regarded authority where it comes to jeweling, and Ganoksin is a standard jeweling resource.

In any case, making jewelry out of pre-made components — like beads, and thread or cord — generally qualifies as craft (although, right now, I am coming to the realization that most if not all jewelry-making is craft, even if qualified by also being art). When I was in my silversmithing class, the work I was doing in this vein (a Dutch Spiral chain) wasn’t taken seriously by my instructor, even though it ended up being an integral part of my final design.

She didn’t say why — whether it was because she had no reference for it, whether it was because she couldn’t grade it, whether it was a safety hazard (broken beads on a concrete floor are crushed glass), or whether it was straight-out elitism. (I did, however, get people asking how I made it, and I could respond that it was a well-known technique, not a proprietary one.)

After all, it’s not like beaded jewelry, isn’t jewelry (regardless of the fact that the term, “jewelry,” used in the Jewelry field, typically refers to the products of metalwork). It performs the same function: to decorate someone’s body. I’m not sure the method of that decoration’s construction (in beadwork, at least) is really negatively judged by the people I would sell to.

It’s also a bit hypocritical to state that beaders or handcrafters rely on pre-made components (and that they thus are not as creative as jewelers), when I doubt that most jewelers find and hand-cut their own stones, or refine and process their own metals (normally into sheet, wire, or casting grain). I can’t pretend that there isn’t a lot of work put into finishing and polishing a metal piece, or that there isn’t more creative freedom in metalwork. However: it’s false to state that beaders are uncreative relative to jewelers, because of the materials or processes they work with.

There are also major differences in aesthetic relative to the different branches.

For instance, a lot of Fine Jewelry uses glittery cut gemstones that are not likely to show up in Art Jewelry to such a degree. The value of Fine Jewelry also in part rests in the perceived value of its materials (often gold or silver and gems, which allow a higher profit margin). As a Craft Jeweler, I can’t say the same to the latter; though I know at the same time that I am not a Fashion Jeweler. Fashion Jewelry is mostly inexpensive, mass-produced, on-trend jewelry which — like a lot of on-trend fashion clothing marketed to women — is not made to last. This is likely why so many cabochons (“cabs”) are glued into their settings, instead of actually set by rolling and smoothing the edge of the bezel over the cab. When something is just held in by glue, it tends to fall out.

In my own work, I’ve needed to look for more durable materials — given that threads are the most vulnerable part of any beadwoven work. For years, I used Nymo, which used to be industry-standard — until I saw one of my pieces fuzz out after two years of heavy wear — wear which I never expected and could not have predicted. Right now I’m using K.O./Miyuki thread for beadwoven items, and C-Lon for micro-macramé. We’ll see if they last.

A key reason I am as interested in beadwork as I am, are the colors and shapes available in beads, particularly glass seed beads. This is not something that I can easily attain in metalwork unless I 1) use reactive metals, 2) heavily use colored stones, or 3) use enamels. The use of colored stones is fairly self-evident, so I’ll move on to the other two.

Reactive metals are metals like titanium and niobium, which change color when subjected to certain processes like anodization. Although other metals can also change color when exposed to certain processes (like what results in a “fire patina” on copper), it’s fairly certain that color is not a central component of metalsmithing. Enameling is something I’ve considered, but there are two hazards I know of: 1) radiation from the kiln, and 2) harmful vapors from molten colored glass.

One of my friends works near a stained-glass supply, and has noted that people working with stained glass tend to get sick. I’m thinking that this has to do not only with glass dust, but also with glass colorants. Vapor of colored glass is likely another level of potential harm — and I say that having seen some of the potential of enamel. It can really be gorgeous. However, enameling requires the use of either a torch or a kiln…and as you may recognize from my past posts, I’m not too eager to use fire.

There is also the danger of burning out one’s retinas from staring into a hot kiln (this is the “radiation” problem)…if I’m correct and that is a risk with enamel, as well as with lampwork. There are protective goggles one can get; but that still won’t protect one’s lungs (I would suspect a danger of silicosis); and kilns are expensive, so I should be sure I want to enamel, before I invest in one.

Though I do like working with glass beads, we do still have a long way to go, where it comes to glass colorants. There are some colors, that is, that are just difficult (or prohibitively expensive) to create. Colorants can extend all the way through the glass, be added on to the outside of a bead as a coating (these have various levels of quality and durability, and range from what looks like paint, to metallics, to some gorgeous specialty coatings), be applied as a dye, or be applied to the inside of a bead hole, allowing color to show through to the outside (these are called “color-lined” beads).

Unfortunately, for example, it’s difficult to create a base color of violet for glass, so many violet beads are actually dyed or color-lined. (Both of these methods have problems with longevity.) However, with the new coatings that are being developed for use with glass, it’s possible to have a bead with a base color of blue or brown, and have an iridescent sheen on the surface which causes the bead to appear as violet, even a reddish violet. (I’m not entirely sure of the optical explanation for this; I just know it happens.)

There are also glass colors which are apparently really easy to make, and very common and beautiful. Teal is one of these colors, as is (yellow) topaz. Cobalt Blue is another representative color, which is close to an uncoated blue-violet. Reds and pinks contain gold as part of their formulation and so are relatively expensive, but are an interesting example in how glass colors are made. Though I can speculate, I don’t know the chemistry of glass formulations yet. Maybe if I got into lampwork, I could; though I don’t use many lampwork beads.

The fact also remains that those who are making jewelry out of beads, are depending on the prior work of crafters and manufacturers, and it would be arrogant to ignore that. The problem, I see, is that “craft” connotes low quality, whereas “art” implies something valuable and refined. There is also the issue of interdependence with others, and creation as a collective task, as versus the American myth of total and complete individualism.

At this point, having written, seen, and read all this (and in addition what I reference below), I do feel better about calling what I do, “craft work,” especially considering that I’ve realized that on a level — at least in handmade jewelry, as a decorative art — all art work is also craft work.

There is also the fact that, in Japanese society (I’ve been studying this and have Japanese influence in my cultural background), there is value and pride placed in being (and excelling as) a craftsperson; and as I read at Britannica.com, the distinction between fine art, and, “decorative art,” is a recent one. See the second paragraph of, “High and low art,” which may shed some initial light on the history (if, that is, it is accurate). This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone speak to the source of this, as occurring in the 18th century.

It would be interesting to research the history of this categorization of fine art as versus craft, and compare it with the timing of the Industrial Revolution and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which according to Wikipedia (accessed July 31st, 2019), flourished in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The question for me at this point, though possibly a misled and irrelevant one, is what differentiates craft which is also art, from craft which is simply craft: a deeper message? an emotional response? liberated (or ineffectual) design? For that matter: I never really considered myself a decorative artist. I don’t think it would help, though maybe if I subtracted my feelings on the mildly pejorative “decorative” (as though jewelry is only for aesthetic pleasure; not identity, or message, or the enhancement of beauty; and then what is the aesthetic, why does it have value, and are beauty, identity, communications, and aesthetics frivolous; and if so, on what grounds) from the title and kept the definition, it might.

At this point, it seems that the distinction between high art and decorative art is academic and irrelevant — to a crafter. It’s more relevant if I’m trying to distinguish myself from being a crafter, though the major gains from that would be monetary.

The fact remains that in my own work, I’ve chosen to deal with creating things, regardless of whether that leads me to work with fiber, or beads, or paint, or pens and graphite, or digital media, or the written word.

Of course, there are still some media I prefer over others, for reasons I’m not entirely aware of (other than my knowledge that I value precision). I’m just going to have to let these reasons show themselves, as I continue working…

beading, beadweaving, beadwork, craft, design, glass beads, jewelry design, seed beads

Design work: Tri Stitch using C-Lon Micro Cord

For several hours, I worked last night on a design prototype for someone close to me. I got to use the new C-Lon Micro Cord that I got, not so long ago…and I’m honestly pretty amazed.

I was going to make an embellished Tri Stitch chain that is longer on the outside than at the core — when this is done, a ruffle or spiral should occur (the latter, if the twist is guided, instead of just left to bunch up). However, dealing with making the prototype out of the C-Lon Micro Cord, I found that it is really sturdy! That is, it’s really structurally more solid than when I use thread. It also doesn’t warp as easily. That said, I also have to watch my tension so that everything locks in, but so it’s still not too tight; there is a bit of stretch in the cord (even after pre-stretching) which can shrink up and distort the work. It’s reminiscent of Silamide (which I don’t use for this precise reason), but not as extreme.

What I didn’t realize until starting was that if I wanted to make a knotted or beaded bail at the center, I should do this at the center of the cord, before beginning the weave. Also, when using 8/0 beads, especially when using more than one color, it isn’t really necessary to embellish the chain.

Tri Stitch design work and experimentation. How much time would I have to do this if this were my main source of income?

I’ve switched from opaque turquoise and silverlined light topaz (left vertical portion), to silverlined teal and multiple colors of drop beads, ranging from chartreuse through green, to teal (diagonal right portion). Accidentally, I tested them out in a size gradation which was also a color gradation; right now I’m thinking of making the chain with that gradation as part of the design. The big thing is making it match a pendant that the recipient wanted to include. I think that if I make a beaded bail, I’ll want to loop back around the top of it with a drop spacer, in order to fix it into a V-position as regards the rest of the chain.

I’m not sure how much cord I’ll need to reserve in order to create something 16″-18″ long. Usually, in micromacramé, I use three armspans of cord (1.5 armspans for each doubled cord), but that’s for a bracelet — like 7″ long — with knotting, and plenty to spare. It would also be using standard size C-Lon, which is about 0.5 mm wide (from my own measurements). C-Lon Micro Cord is about 0.2 mm wide. Tri Stitch loops back on itself continually like a backstitch; it isn’t knotted, but I’m not sure of the amount of overlap, geometrically. It should also vary based on the length of the bead piercings.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been straight beadweaving!

Logically, I should be able to work the needed cord length out by weaving a measured amount (in Metric), then cutting the ends, undoing the work, and measuring the difference between the finished chain and the thread that went through it, then using the two measurements compared as a ratio. I would take the final desired length and compare that to the aforementioned ratio, leaving me free to solve for x, which would be the amount of cord I would need without additional handling length.

And yeah, I am kind of amazed at how I worked that out (I remember it from learning stoichiometry in Chemistry). It wouldn’t be as clean if I were using several different kinds of beads, though; I’d need to factor in extra room for play.

If I were doing this for money…it would have to be an addendum to my regular work. I couldn’t take this long to design in a micro-business environment where I were being timed, and I were trying to make a living off of it. (I could, however, do this if I were a commercial Designer and not an Artisan, though that’s a fine [negligible] distinction in my current setup.)

Right now, I’ve got to decide on overall length, color placement, and how I’m going to fit a wire bail onto the pendant I’ve got. Looking at it, it’s pretty evident that what’s on there now (a handmade open jump ring) can come off. Because of the pendant’s formation, I need to use an ice-pick bail style, which isn’t the most secure thing (but the pendant [which isn’t mine] isn’t the most sturdy thing, either). Because of this, I’ll want to make sure the pendant is not integrated into the chain, so that if the pendant breaks or is lost, my recipient will still be able to use the necklace portion.

I had thought of doing this an entirely different way, last night…but I realized today that to do what I had been planning on doing, I would need to weave half the chain, then put protective knotting at its base, and go back through the chain a second time to reinforce and hide the thread end. I am using 8/0s, but I have doubts about how many passes of this cord these beads can take. Given the heaviness of the cord, as well (which is still wider than most bead threads, including Power Pro), it’s sturdy enough as it is. Going through it twice would be overkill.

Alright, I’m posting this now. Time to get back to work!

craft, glass beads, seed beads

GAAAA…Washing beads.

So…in lieu of going to the Walnut Creek Bead & Design show this weekend, I found myself in San Francisco and took the opportunity to look inside General Bead, a store I’ve long known about and never visited. I have checked out their website, but I don’t remember having come away from it with a good feeling. I decided to look into their physical storefront today.

The store itself was on Minna, in the South of Market (SoMa) area. Minna in this area is kind of…run-down. The storefront almost seems to be off of an alley (the alley being Minna itself), in a way which very much reminded me of Mr. Zebra off of Telegraph in Berkeley (down to the spray-painted facade…and the local aroma, common to most urban areas here, which…anyone who lives here will know).

On going in, we were immediately greeted by an employee, who explained the method for ordering materials. This was kind. It was also nice that the store inside is not as modest as the storefront would suggest. In particular, they have a lot of Czech seed beads, in bags and in hanks. However, most of the stock is behind the counter and not accessible to the public. One fills out a form and the staff retrieve the items, which disallows close inspection prior to purchase.

It was noticeable that they had barely any multi-hole beads (though I did find some “Piggy” beads — just not in colors I would want), which is something that I can understand, as it’s difficult to tell which shape will be in demand at any one time (and new shapes are being continually introduced). I wouldn’t be surprised if trying to keep up with the multi-hole bead craze put some of the bead stores I’ve known (particularly Baubles & Beads, in Berkeley), out of business.

And, okay, I’m just going to put it out here right now: one of the packs of beads I got from them has what looks like part of the carapace of the abdomen, and two legs, of some kind of bug. I don’t want to post an image. I don’t want to remember it. At first I thought that it was a scale of a tiny pine cone. Then I identified two shed legs inside the package. So…thaaat is the gross part that I’ve been trying not to talk about so soon, but I might forget about it if I don’t mention it now.

But to be understanding, a lot of these beads came out of bulk packages behind the counter, in boxes, to be sealed up on exit in take-home packs…it would be incredibly easy for insects to live out their entire lives back there. Eating cardboard and stuff. Considering what the surrounding area looked like, I wasn’t entirely surprised…

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the experience, once inside the store. That’s to say that there are some bug issues, likely arising from the location.

I did take that hank of beads out (this was sealed at the store), and found a bunch of dust left behind inside the package. Then I went and got a fine plastic colander and bowl set that I purchased from the small Asian dollar store for $2 before it closed, and I used that as a large wash basin to wash the entire hank of beads. In Dawn dishwashing detergent. Twice.

I probably could have done more, but I passed the point of, “squeaky clean,” to the point that the oil from my hands began rubbing off on the beads. Because I am somewhat paranoid about germs…I didn’t want to wash these things until my hands cracked. There’s a fine line between being clean, and being so germ-phobic that one inadvertently exposes oneself to more than one has to.

These were rinsed many times, probably for about as long as I washed them, or longer.

Then I took them and put them in a little yogurt cup with some soft disposable hand towels, where they will be drying until at least tomorrow. I don’t recall having washed an entire hank of beads in this way in quite a long time, if I ever have at all. However, this is the third cup of beads I’ve washed, tonight.

Another was a set of what appear to be White Heart 4mm round druks from Michaels; that is, round beads with a white core (visible at the drill holes) and something red on the outside (red glass? a layer of dye?), which did bleed (brownish) a little. (Not all druks are white at the core; this is the first time I have bought a set like this, and it was accidental. I did buy actual solid-color transparent red druks, today. The thing is, it’s hard to tell that they’re red, because [as is my constant lament] the color is so intense. The White Hearts, on the other hand, are visibly red, which is why I got them.) I had set these aside primarily because I wasn’t sure if they were colorfast, but they’re seeming to hold up well.

The other wash round, this time, was two sets of Brown Iris Czech Ring beads (from General Bead), which I have since determined cannot be used with the inside of the hole, visible. This is largely because the beads themselves are not finished on the insides of the holes. The outside edges are fine. The inside edges are not. On top of that, I’ve noticed some crazing on the surface of most of these beads, probably from internal stress on the glass. They’ll just have to be used with that in mind. I have a use for them; I largely washed them because sometimes beads will just get dust on them, and it’s hard to see what they actually look like.

I’ve bought Ring beads on two other occasions, and can’t recall if they were similarly unfinished on the insides. The Olivine-color ones, which are 9.5x3mm and which I got a long time ago, are relatively fine on the outside and inside, and not crazed, though they also do look a little frosted and rough in the center. The Black ones I have, which are 8×2.5mm, look a little less finished on the inside edges, and I can’t tell if there is any crazing, because they’re black.

The ones I got this time, which are Brown Iris (basically a multicolored metallic finish, but more durable than Galvanized finishes at least were,at one time), are 7.5×2.5mm. Now that they’re drying, they don’t look too bad; rather like unfinished metal; but they still look unfinished, like the inside is not meant to be seen.

The big thing that I like about General Bead is its selection of size 6/0 Czech seed beads, which have been a bit difficult to find locally since Baubles & Beads went under. I believe the smallest pack of these available is 50 grams, which is about twice the size of a B&B vial (which I believe was 22 grams, though I’m not sure, especially as I don’t think it was noted at the store, and I don’t have a gram scale); the cost is also very decent, at around $3.50 for most of the 6/0 packs I bought. So that’s basically like paying $1.75 for a 25-gram tube (this could be the reason Yelp lists General Bead with only one “$” out of a possible “$$$$”).

The drawback I can see here is that a lot of their stock is either solid-color and opaque, or solid-color and transparent, without much funny surface treatment like Vitrail or Celsian or Apollo, or foil- or color-lining. Not that I miss the color-lining. :) However, transparent beads (even large ones) have a tendency to drop back in compositions. Solids tend to advance, as do metal-lined beads. But still, it is nice to have some subtle effects…like the Copper-Lined Rose Matte (Aurora Borealis?) beads I left there because I was pretty sure they were dyed.

I have read a lot of things about surface treatments not being permanent on Czech seed beads, however (and have had this issue before with Picasso beads, which are mottled from a surface treatment [some of which rubbed off, especially on my thread, while others did not]), so this could be a durability issue.

They did have some nice finds there, though, like bobbins of Super-Lon beading thread and Conso beading thread. I picked up a sample of each, to see if I like working with either. Also, there are odd sizes of Czech seed beads below size 6/0, almost down to the size of freakin’ sand; where you go, “how does anyone see these/fit a needle through these?” Their selection of druks and Fire-Polished beads is decent. They also have — man! — glass cabochons! In different colors! I picked up a few of these, just to practice bead embroidered bezels.

With that, I think I’m gonna go, for now. I realize I haven’t put up photos…I will either post a separate entry with photos, or come back to this entry and insert photos, later. I should have time tomorrow, before the sun sets.