Friday, 2 February 2018


I don't often shop for stones at the type of bead and gem shows we have in Sydney. These are aimed more at collectors of specimens rather than craftspeople, making it difficult to find good quality cabochons at reasonable prices. But I was visiting one with a friend and came across some black kyanite shards. I found them intriguing - I'd heard of blue and green kyanite but did not know that a black variety existed. They were matte with a jagged appearance. They possessed a quality of menace, like some dark, unnatural blade. However, they had no holes (and looked like they would sheer if I attempted to drill into them), they were not flat backed so they couldn't be sewn or glued and their jagged nature meant that bezelling around them would not be possible. I needed a challenge. Right?

Just as we were leaving we came upon a stand selling a single strand of the most luscious, ridiculously oversized and contorted baroque pearls. They were dyed a blackberry colour - black with hints of pink. I loved the contrasts - shiny and matte, smooth and jagged, sinuous and sharp - that they provided to the kyanite. If I used them together I could create something that evoked my dark aesthetic and love of monochrome but with enough textural contrast to be visually appealing. The pearlescent sheen would allow me to introduce some pale pink beads, providing tonal interest and preventing the composition from becoming too dark and morose.

Textural contrast 


To me, pale pink is synonymous with flowers, so I must have had that in my head when I sat down to design this piece. The kyanite shards made me think of the black basalt columns formed when a thick body of lava cools slowly, resulting in columnar joints. These rock formations can be found on nearly every continent of the world creating formidable ocean-side cliffs like those at Reynisfjara Beach in Iceland or Los Organos in the Canary Islands, places that look alien and inhospitable. 

Los Organos, La Gomera, Canary Islands

I wondered how, even in environments as harsh as a desert, life manages to find a way of asserting itself. I wondered what sort of things might grow in these craggy, windblown cliffs. Some sort of wildflowers perhaps? Small and unaproachabley spiky, like their surroundings. I decided to weave some tiny pink herringbone flowers and dark grey leaves to tuck in amongst the crevices formed by the pearls and kyanite - as though sheltering from a howling wind. I also selected some 39ss Swarovski chatons in Crystal Rainbow Dark, adding tiny splashes of dark, oil-slick colour - they picked up nicely on the pink of the flowers and the barely there green in the tips of the leaves.


I wanted the kyanite shards to be the heroes of the piece so I decided they'd go in the centre front with the pearls and leaves and flowers worked in a thin curve behind them in a kind of torque shape, perhaps inspired by thoughts of Iceland and Vikings. 

Before I decided on the flowers and chatons
At the beginning of a project I'm always in a rush to get started so approaching the design in a way that allows the piece to develop organically, requiring very little planning or sketching, is my favourite way to work. I had made a few collars with a similar shape incorporating beadwoven leaves before, I was afraid this might end up look derivative so I trialled a different type of herringbone leaf.

It took a few goes to get them just right!


I used Apoxy Clay - a 2 part clay-like adhesive combining the features of a sculpting clay with the adhesive power of epoxy - to secure the kyanite shards and proceeded to bead embroider the leaves and pearls, working backwards from the front, on either side. I'd lay out a few centimetres worth of components at a time, take a photo and then secure each component individually, tying of the thread ends before repeating the process, filling the small spaces in between the pearls and flowers with an assortment of black crystal and gemstone beads:

Process photos

Although the apoxy clay is very strong I was concerned that the shards might not be secured well enough so I created some 'straps' made from beading foundation covered in the leaves, flowers and beads, sewed them over the tips of the shards, securing them to the foundation below,  cupping the kyanite in place.

The finished piece - 'Wildflowers'


An instalment of 'let my life serve as a cautionary tale': 

You get what you pay for...I should have known that AU$10 for a strand of giant baroque pearls was too good to be true. In the time it took to finish this piece I was very busy and it lay out on my studio desk for about a fortnight. The blinds were down, but not completely. As the sun moved across the sky, a tiny sliver of direct sunlight passed over a few of the pearls each day. They were not colourfast (insert crying emoji here!!) and some of them were bleached from deep blackberry to bronze - a colour that in no way complemented the existing colour scheme! Fortunately only one that was already incorporated into the work was badly affected and I had enough undamaged pearls to complete the piece. However, knowing that those pearls are not colourfast means that I can not in good conscience sell this pearls make for a very poor investment!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Raised Bead Embroidery

A Drift of Pearls and Coral Forms

Perhaps there's something in the air. Lately I've been experimenting a little with RAISED bead embroidery and judging from the response I got on All About Beadweaving when I posted a progress photo of my recent efforts, many others are also interested in trying this technique. So despite my limited experience I thought I'd share a little of my process in case it might inspire someone else to try it too.

This is the finished cuff. For want of a more inspired name (suggestions are more than welcome!) I've called it A Drift of Pearls and Coral Forms.

The thing that I am most curious about the work of others is the thought process behind a design. I figure if  I'm interested in that sort of thing others must be as well, so if I'm wrong and you are not, bear with me while I explain mine...Usually I use pearls as accent beads, a few here and there but recently I went on a bit of a shopping spree when I found some on sale so I was feeling flush and wanted to do something 'en mass' with them. I had one strand called 'pewter'. A lustrous deep grey with a golden sheen and flashes of blue and mauve. I tipped the strand out on my bead mat and played. They arranged themselves in a sinuous, organic drift. Which made me think of the way ocean tides push and pull sand and shell particles into drifts, which lead me to think of macro photos of coral formations I'd seen and noted would be perfect to try with raised bead embroidery. I quickly sketched it out on some white foundation and dove for the beads...

I wanted to keep it monochrome so the colours of the beads didn't compete with the beauty of the pearls. I found some Gold-Lined Black Diamond AB seed beads which were a perfect match for the pearls, added some Swarovski 8mm rivoli in Crystal AB because the purple/blue flash of the AB coating picked up nicely on the colours in the pearls as well as adding light and sparkle to the palette of dark pearls.


Before I tried it, I was a little intimidated by raised bead embroidery. So far I've found it quite easy as a novice to get reasonable results. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that it is laborious, if you're looking for something low effort don't try it (or any other form of bead embroidery for that matter!) However, if you get into a good rhythm it can be quite meditative. The trick is to not think about how long its taking. Otherwise it does get frustrating. The upside is that once the padding is down there is no backstitching to do at all. 

First you have to create the padding for the beads to sit on. I do this with layers of ordinary felt from the craft shop cut into pads that are sewn down with small stab stitches in ever increasing sizes until they are covered with a final layer, the actual size and shape of the object you are creating. It would be quicker, but you cannot glue the felt layers. Stitching them down creates a nice, smooth domed edge for the beads to seamlessly roll down off. Use as many layers as required to achieve the desired height. Most of the 'corals' in my cuff have only three layers.

Fig 1.

You can see two corals (they look more like donuts at the moment!) covered with felt in the photo above. The one on the right is complete and the one on the left has only two layers applied so far. Hopefully this illustrates what I mean about each subsequent layer being bigger in circumference than the previous one. When making the stab stitches, come up from the underside of the foundation outside the felt and come down into the felt, not the other way around and try to match your felt to blend with the beads you will be using in case of gaps. Although I have used permanent marker in the past to colour the felt when I've changed my mind about colours.

Fig 2.

Figure 2 shows all the corals covered with felt and one is already clad in beads. When applying the beads, come up from the underside of the foundation just far enough outside the felt to accommodate for one bead width, whichever size you are using, pick up enough beads to span across the felt and come down on the other side, again, just outside the felt. Because my shapes were round the outer circumference was much larger than the inner one. To allow for this I started by picking up a few size 11 beads then switching to size 15's. This was still not enough to accommodate for the change in radius so in some places I had to come up from the outer edge with shorter lengths of beads and sew down into the padded donuts themselves. This is no problem, just watch your tension that you don't pull to tightly and distort the padded shape. The important thing is to get the beads to lie close enough to each other that no felt shows through. I also find it helpful to draw guidelines marking the direction that I want the strands of beads to lie in - you'd be surprised how easy it is to veer off course. You can see I've done this on the central donut just above and to the right of the one already covered in beads.

That's really all there is to it. It's pretty simple, it just requires patience. I am pleased with how this cuff turned out and hope to revisit the coral forms again in a future work.

I hope someone finds this useful and if any of you do end up giving raised bead embroidery a go I hope you'll share the results with me!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016


What's in a name?

Do you name your work? I always name my pieces. Even if it is something as small as a ring I feel compelled to name my work. To me this is a reflection of the care I've put in to creating the piece. But its not always easy. On the rare (joyful) occasion I'll already have a name in mind before I even pull out the first beads. Sometimes I'll finish a piece and still not know who or what it is. Typically this happens with smaller pieces and I'll leave them sitting on a bust in my studio until a name comes to me or until I want to list the item in my Etsy shop. When things get desperate I'll look at the piece and try to assess what kind of mood or vibe it is projecting and then pick a girl's name that reflects that. So an angular, masculine looking piece might get a unisex sounding name like Terry and a floral inspired ring with a violet Charoite cabochon becomes Viola.

Usually though, the name will come to me whilst I'm working on a piece even if I'm not sure at the start what its going to be. Like with Pangaea. All I knew was that I was making a collar using a technique I'd already tried several times before combining lots of rivolis with a beadwoven leaf shape I'd developed. This time I wanted to incorporate some focal cabochons amongst the rivolis.

I played around with a couple of options and the grey and copper really spoke to me. I realised that the three focal stones I'd chosen were all fossils - a beautiful fossilised palmwood cabochon from Gary Wilson and two Orthoceras fossil cabs from Cabochons Galore. I liked that! There was a theme developing...I added some oval Crinoid fossil beads I'd had for years that worked in perfectly. Then I got really excited because I remembered I still had some adorable little copper toned metal leaf shaped findings - an assortment of fossils and leaves!

Here is a collage of my progress. By the time I got to the last shot I still had no idea what I was going to call it.

Then the universe provided...leafing through an interior design magazine I saw an article about a flooring company that was called Pangaea. The name was really familiar but I couldn't remember why, so I googled (as you do) and discovered that Pangaea was the last supercontinent that formed around 299 million years ago. It incorporated nearly all the landmasses on earth that became today's continents. Immediately I thought of the piece I was working on, of the fossilised flora and fauna in my cabochons - orthoceras are prehistoric squid, crinoid are ancient see lilies...fossilised palmwood... What sort of plant life would have inhabited Pangaea? Even the rivolis nestled tight one against the other made me think of the continents all pressed in together to form this supercontinent - a 'supercollar'! And there was the name of my piece, handed to me by a company that made concrete floors. 

 Originally I was going to call it The Fauna and Flora of Pangaea but decided that that sounded a bit pompous so it became just Pangaea.

And you? How do you name your creations?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Tale of Two Colours - part two

Blue Green

Like I said, I like all colours equally but a quick look in my bead drawers will reveal the truth...more than any other colour, I am drawn to blue-green. My largest collection of seed beads is in the shades of turquoise, teal, aqua and seafoam. Amazonite, turquoise and chrysocolla are the gemstones I seem to collect compulsively. There's something about that combination of calming and tranquil light blue, the balance and sense of growth you get from green with a touch of the uplifting energy of yellow that I find irresistible.

A lot of my work is quite monochrome and I've found that incorporating a metallic colour adds visual interest and imbues the work with a sense of luxury. I can't remember the last time I made anything that didn't incorporate at least one metallic! The fact that bluish greens are a mix of warm (yellow) and cool (blue) means that they pair well with any kind of metallic. Here's a collage of some of the ways I've used them in combination with gold, bronze, silver and even hematite.

Atlantis Series

Some of my most recent blue-green pieces form a mini collection using turquoise gemstones and copper seed beads. They were inspired by a series of findings I discovered on Etsy called 'Mykonos beads' - ceramic beads in all shapes and sizes coated in a metallic paint that's been treated with an ageing finish. They have the most wonderful patina of weathered copper and instantly made me think of sunken treasure brought up from the deep and the name ATLANTIS. The bluish bloom over metallic copper was the bridge that made me think of combining turquoise with copper (something I'd never considered before) and thinking about sunken treasure lead me to consider the way rope is patinated with weed and algae when it is submerged underwater and the way everything submerged becomes encrusted with barnacles.

The contents of my purchase consisted of two filigreed round drops, four wavy spikes, five small hexagonal drops and a small handful of irregular shaped spacer beads which I used down to the very last spacer to create a pendant suspended from a spiral rope to represent the covering of weeds that collect on a ships rope, a convertible pendant/brooch with a fringe of spiral rope glistening with tiny 2mm Swarovski Crystal AB droplets like a dock rope pulled wet from the sea, a cuff redolent with the encrustations of something long submerged and a collar using turquoise cabochons for the blue of the Mediterranean Sea and turritella cabochons and faceted Czech firepolish representative of the barnacles encrusting my sunken treasure.

I'm especially pleased with the way the collar turned out...the combination of copper and bronze seed beads, the small pops of bright turquoise jumping out from the shadows of the dark turritella cabochons reminds me of deep shadows created by bright sunlight like you would find in a Mediterranean summer port and the way I've used sections of bead weaving to create a visually lighter piece. All these things came to me because I had the name Atlantis ringing in my head and that informed all my decisions after I had the initial layout. I always find it interesting how a project develops and what is dropped and added...can you see the changes?

Creating a mini collection was a good way of scratching my blue-green itch and after it was finished I was very happy to move on to other least for a while as I haven't totally depleted my stock of turquoise cabochons. Oh that's right! one must stopping buying more of something before it can be depleted!

Is it only me or do you too have a colour bias that makes you helpless in resisting a purchase of seed beads or stones in that particular colour?

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Tale of Two Colours


Have you ever been asked 'What's your favourite colour?' As an interior designer I was asked that quite often, to which I would tactfully reply 'I love them all!'

Which was not strictly speaking true...I was harbouring a secret...a deep, dark colour loathing secret... As far as a colour that one wore on their person be it clothing, jewellery, footwear or handbag I loved all colours - but one...brown.

 Ask someone what their favourite colour is and no one will tell you its brown. In the early naughties when brown was the interior design colour de jour, we'd call it chocolate, coffee, umber, wood tone, tawny, hazel anything except for what it really was - brown. Lets face it - brown is boring, dependable, stodgy. As Winston Churchill (who can always be relied on for a good quote, even when it isn't his) said "I cannot pretend to feel impartial about colours. I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns".

You can't really blame me though. In Australia, everyone wears a school uniform and my brown ban began in high school when I was burdened with the twin indignities of a brown, box pleat tunic. The school colours were brown and yellow - a truly heinous colour combination and if that wasn't bad enough compound that with a 'box pleat' which, as the name implies, made even the willowy-est of girls look like brown boxes. The other kids, safe in their ivory towers of navy and burgundy uniform superiority called us 'The Turds'. The humiliation! There wasn't enough therapy in the world to cure me of my loathing for brown.

Then I discovered seed beads and I loved all colours even more, and I made lots of beautiful wearable things in all the colours of the rainbow (even pink, a colour which I also never wear) except, of course, brown. Until I discovered Miyuki colour 458 - otherwise known as Metallic Brown Iris. This colour is better than therapy! This is a brown I can love. Firstly its metallic so it has to be good, it also has glorious iris flashes of violet and electric blue and its great if you need a really dark 'shadow' colour that won't deaden other colours around it like black can. I've used it in lots of pieces that I wouldn't call brown...

For example, in the pendant and chain (left) titled Incandescent, I wanted the entire piece to have an antique gold appearance which is quite bright in terms of its tone. I added just a scattering of the low key, dark 458 beads to contrast with the golds and create visual interest whilst still keeping it 'gold'.

For my 2014 Bead Dreams entry (right) called Through a Glass, Darkly I wanted the whole piece to be black but was worried all black beads would make it look flat and boring. Adding the 458 beads gave it a nice overall bronze sheen 
without changing the colour.

My new found appreciation for colour 458 made me open to the beauty found in other brown coloured things that I could use in my bead work, like smokey quartz and simbircite so I decided to go all the way and make a 'brown' piece. To ensure my monochrome piece didn't wind up too 'how now brown cow' I thought I'd try to incorporate a variety of textures with the use of the smokey quartz chips for their chunky, nugget like appearance and a random placement of beads inside the outline of leaves which created an almost dotted effect which I quite liked, throwing in some pops of colour with Swarovski's Scarabaeus Green and highlights of pyrite coloured seed beads. Here's the result:

I called it Skye because half way through making it I went travelling in the UK and when I came back the colours really reminded me of the colours of the landscape on the Isle of Skye. I like it. I think I can now truly say: I love ALL colours!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences is a term used in the social sciences and popularised by sociologist Robert K Merton in the twentieth century to describe 'outcomes that are not the ones foreseen and intended by a purposeful action'.

We get them in beading circles in the twenty-first century too! Usually they appear in the form of a face, alien or otherwise. Occasionally the consequences are more dire and other parts of the human anatomy materialise out of the bead work in question! Frustratingly their presence is never apparent until said bead work is COMPLETELY finished and often not even then. Perhaps not until ones vision is focused through the lens of a camera...

Precisely what happened to me when I tried to photograph this piece. No need to tell you which part of the human anatomy accidentally made its way into this collar! How did I not see that the whole time I worked on it? Of course once I'd seen IT there was no unseeing it.

Many of you would have seen it too. I posted photos of it on social media where it got a lot of comment and garnered some good natured teasing. Despite its unfortunate resemblance many people liked it, and said that I should still put it into the gallery where I sell my work and market it as a fertility piece. Advice that I did consider because despite the appendage I really quite liked it myself. In the end I decided against it, mostly because the gallery is in the heart of Sydney's historic centre and many of our visitors come from overseas, from countries with more modest and conservative views, whom I did not want to offend.

So I put it away, intending to one day wear it myself with an LBD and a knowing smile. However both the right occasion and the right dress failed to present themselves, and because there were still a lot of things like the use of cane toad leather, the colours and the contrast of the rounded natural jaspers with the rectilinear geometry of the rest of the bead work (which is some of the neatest beading I've ever done!) that I liked about the collar I decided to rework it. This proved to be a much more difficult task than I anticipated. I'd used a lot of glue to adhere the various layers, there was no way to separate them without damaging the bead work so ultimately the alterations were limited to what I could cut off and re-edge, resulting in this:

I called it Calliope, after the gender switching central character in Jeffrey Eugenides' prize winning novel Middlesex and delivered it for sale to the gallery. To be honest I was a little indifferent about the end result - I think I liked the original better, but it taught me some very valuable lessons that I recall every time I make a new piece: I always check my layout at the design stage for resemblance to faces and body parts and when I glue my backing and/or stabilizer to my foundation I use a very thin layer of glue and keep it well away from the edges in the event that I need to separate them later. Also, if I'm unsure about the end result I'm mindful of making a quick decision because as time elapses the bond becomes stronger and stronger until it resembles concrete and the only way of getting the backing off is with a wrecking ball.

I also learnt, not for the first time, that even though a piece did not live up to my original vision of it, others would still find it worthy. And so it was... on the weekend Calliope was sold to a beautiful young lady visiting from Yunnan Province, China who very kindly agreed to pose for a picture. I love that my work gets to go home with someone with so much style and confidence. I'm guessing she's wearing traditional regional clothing but I think that skirt is really cool! Actually the whole outfit is...

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Blowin' Bubbles

Designing to a Theme

What do you think about designing to a theme? Occasionally it has been suggested that competitions have a theme or a design brief. From what I've seen most people are against it because they say it's too limiting or think the results will be boring because all the submissions will look similar.

Personally, I like the idea. With my background in interior design I am very accustomed to designing to 'a brief". I would even venture to say that, usually, it makes things easier - gives me a starting point, narrows the parameters, provides a series of guidelines that I return to every time I need to make a decision throughout the creation process.

During my studies we were issued with a weekly assignment that was supposed to reinforce a particular design concept. It was handed out in the form of a design brief with quite limiting parameters, at the end of the week we would all pin up our work for critique. That was my favourite part. There were no two images that looked the same, the design solutions were as diverse as the students who created them and although we never picked 'winners' like we do in beading competitions, you could rationalise why one work was more successful than another based not only on its aesthetic qualities, but also on how well it answered the design brief.

I did say usually. This year's Australian Beading Competition was titled 'Fun and Laughter'. Now, anyone who knows me would tell you that fun and laughter could not possibly describe my design sensibilities. In real life I am fun, I promise! But creatively speaking, I am the antithesis of fun and laughter - I like dark, creepy, Disney movie, happily ever after version for me! I'm all about the Brothers Grimm, the children were eaten by the witch version... I was stumped! For a long time! I had to have words with myself: "If you keep saying this is too hard, it will prove to be beyond your capabilities - that's a loser-ish attitude. Think! What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear fun and laughter?"

Easy! No one knows how to laugh and have fun more than kids. I thought about the joy of my kids giggling when they were little...what made them giggle?? They loved chasing soap bubbles in the back yard. Delighted in the 'pop' when one hit their body, squealed when the breeze lifted the trail of bubbles out of their reach and couldn't wait for the hose to go on when it was time to wash the suds off their chubby little fingers.

In the halcyon bubble blowing days of my memory it was always early summer - the grass was a verdant green and carpet soft underfoot, the skies were crisp, blue and cloudless and the bubbles were oil-slick perfect every time. And there was my colour scheme on a platter - the new Swarovki Ultra AB rivolis in Blue, Green and Emerald that I'd first thought were too psychadelic in their brightness, larger rivolis in White Patina and transparent white AB seed beads shimmering with the colours of the rainbow exactly like a soap bubble. Next, the form...for the competition we were restricted to a medium sized bust because of the cabinet size so I wanted to make something wearable-y modest in size and concentrate on trying to make it exquisite. I googled images of bubbles...the image above provided the form - it made me think of the exquisite artisan hemispheres of Anna Chernykh that I'd always longed to incorporate in my work and a trail of soap suds that I knew instantly how I'd create.

And there it was, that moment of know the one that you actually feel as a current of electricity runs through your body and you see a complete image in your head? It doesn't happen often for me, but when it does the piece is always a joy to make.

And it was! I thought I might struggle a little because the colours are totally out of my comfort zone but because the concept was so fully fleshed out in my mind, I just enjoyed the process. I didn't even mind all the time it took to individually weave all those little bubbles (based on Nancy Cain's wonderful design for a hollow beaded bead from Beadwork December 2010/January 2011).

Sadly, the Australian Bead Show was cancelled (not for the want of trying but due to the tyrannies of bringing a very small population of beaders and vendors together across a very large country) and along with it went the 2016 Beading Competition. But I still had a piece that I was really proud of. I felt I'd met the design challenge (and for me it really was a 'challenge') and because I'd once again experienced that perfect state of being that Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book Big Magic (Bloomsbury, 2015)  thus '...the highest degree of human happiness is eudaimonia, which basically means "well-daemoned" - that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide...'. That very rare sensation you get when you see in your head exactly what you're going to make rather than getting there by trial and error. It had been so long since I'd felt it, that I'd begun to think that I had imagined ever experiencing it.

There is a also a happy postscript to this story. Since I'd been an early bird and made it well before the publicised submission date I took the opportunity to enter it into Bead Dreams instead. Happily it has been juried in as a finalist, so Blowin' Bubbles still gets to compete!