Sunday, 6 September 2015

Making a Winner out of a Mistake

Earlier this month the winner of the inaugural Inspired Colours Beading Competition (Australia's only beading competition) was announced and to my delight my entry, Sea Dragon, was chosen!

But my winning piece might have never been.

It started as an experiment - I was attempting to recreate a vaguely floral component made with herringbone stitch that I'd incorporated into a larger piece which had sold over a year ago. I couldn't remember quite how I'd done it but I did recall that it had been a continuous circle of herringbone coming off the edge beads of a finished bead embroidered base. I was generally happy with the flower but remember thinking at the time that the 'petals' buckled in on themselves a little too much making it require occasional readjustment so it sat perfectly flat. I thought that this time, to reduce some of the fullness, it would be a good idea to divide the circumference into equal parts like the petals on a flower. Pretty soon it became evident that it wasn't going to look like a flower (who picks green for the petals of a flower anyway) but I pressed on and ended up with something...resembling seaweed.

As the herringbone 'petals' were woven off the edge beads it was practically a completed piece. All that was required to save it from becoming a UFO was some way of hanging it from a ribbon or cord. A herringbone strap running vertically between edge beads completed it and I left the pendant sitting at my work station, from where it stared at me balefully - a reminder of my inadequacy.

Later that week I went to my local bead store to buy some beads for another project. They didn't have what I needed, but does anyone ever come home empty handed from their LBS? I placed my purchases on my workstation and stared...the mauve-y coloured pearls I'd bought picked up on the purples in the seaweed flower. I liked the way the purple and yellow-green I'd originally chosen for no other reason than having these colours in both size 15 and 11 seed beads hit a slightly discordant colour note - almost, but not quite complementary. And then I had a light bulb moment...ding! I remembered the lemon chrysoprase pebbles I'd purchased from Gary Wilson at last year's Bead and Button. Feverishly I selected a supporting cast of beads and crystals (the Crystal AB rivolis I'd had lying around for years because they never went with anything were perfect!).

The eye, its colour and seaweed-like petals, brought to mind the elusive Leafy Sea Dragon. A resident of Australia's southern waters it masquerades itself with long leaf-like protrusions coming from all over its body giving it the appearance of a piece of floating seaweed.

The eye was a perfect representation of a Leafy Sea Dragon peaking out from behind its camouflage of seaweed, the chrysoprase pebbles were stones in the ocean worn smooth by currents. The large lilac pearls were smaller pebbles, boulders bleached and diminished by time. And just like that, my inadequacy became an exciting possibility. The leafy eye was already backed and edged. Ding! Another light bulb - this could add a layer of complexity, a Russian doll of a necklace where the larger one reveals a smaller treasure. Of course I hadn't planned for this so I had to work out how I could temporarily, yet securely, attach the eye focal and what I would do to fill its place when it was removed - even though I didn't necessarily want to make the larger piece wearable without the leafy eye it still had to have a quality finish. There was also the layout to decide upon, I wanted it to look organic, like a glimpse into the ocean so I thought it best that the eye focal sat off-centre.

Eventually I settled on this composition and began to work on the problem of the removable pendant.

My solution was to cover an area the same diameter as the finished back of the pendant with a piece of edged Ultrasuede off of which I wove two horizontal straps ending with hooks. These straps are threaded between the vertical strap that already exists at the back of the pendant and the back of the pendant itself. It worked pretty well but sank down a little more than I was expecting, exposing too much of the concentric beading around the Ultrasuede. I resolved this by stitching in a small magnet (you can see it - a white circle glinting to the left of the rice-shaped pearl near the centre top of the photo above) amongst the concentric beading and in a corresponding spot hidden within the folds of the fronds of the seaweed (which you can also see just above the V of the ribbon in the back view of the first photo). This also had the added benefit of conferring an extra layer of protection should the straps come undone. After that was resolved the rest was pure fun and when I was finished I loved it (especially the little tail at the back!)!

And it loved me back by winning a competition!

What did I learn from this? I learnt that, like I suspect many creative types, I can get really down about my abilities when something doesn't work out - I start thinking I'll never have another good idea again and I've come to realise that this negative mindset is the real failure because the little failures, with the right beads, can become successes.

Most importantly, I learned that when you're at a bead show and you fall in love with a pair of weird chartreuse pebbles that you have no idea how you could possibly attach to a bead embroidery piece you should not agonise over buying them, even for one second because one day, they might just be the perfect thing you need to turn a mistake into a winner!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Perils of Too Many Competition Pieces

And a Free Russian Leaves Tutorial!

At the beginning of the year I got a little carried away and made three back to back competition pieces. One was my Bead Dreams piece which made it as a finalist and the other two, results are still pending so stay tuned...

I love making these large, elaborate pieces but creating them can be exhausting and after three in a row I found that my creative well had run dry. I couldn't seem to find my place. Found it hard to start a project, abandoned projects not even half way through, was devoid of any ideas... So I decided that I needed to give myself a break. Not from beading, heavens no, but from the pressure I placed on myself to create something 'worthy'. No expectations, just play and see where it took me.

My favourite kind of play is to go into my gemstone cab and crystal rivoli stash and lose myself in combinations of colours and shapes until something speaks to me and I know what kind of jewellery item it will be. So I did that and found myself making things with leaves and not just one piece I went on a bit of a leaf binge...first there was Bagni San Filippo which I blogged about last time, then I made a cuff... 

then I made a collar...

and finally...just one more tiny leaf...

Making these reminded me of the first time I tried making Russian Leaves, otherwise known as diagonal peyote. I struggled finding instructions online and since I'm learning how to use an illustrating programme I thought I might try my hand at drawing my own instructions and use you all as guinea pigs!

STEP 1:  

Pick up 1 x A (brown) , 7 x B (blue), 1 x A and 1 x B, centre the beads in the middle of a wingspan's length of thread and reversing the direction of the needle, sew into the sixth B bead picked up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Allow the last three beads picked up to form a picot (see diagram Step 2)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

The second A bead picked up will form the tip of the leaf and the first A bead picked up becomes the inside centre of the leaf.                                                                             



Pick up 1 x B, skip the next B bead and sew into the following B bead (peyote stitch). 

Repeat twice except on the final repeat you will be sewing into an A bead (the first bead picked up in Step 1) 

I find it easier not to flip the work as I go, instead holding the work with the tail facing away from my body at all times and reversing the direction of the needle.


{Reverse direction, so the needle points towards the tip of the leaf and peyote stitch 1 x B bead, 3 times


Pick up 1 x A bead and reversing direction so the needle once again points toward the centre of the leaf sew into the last B bead added in Step 3.


{{Peyote 1 x B bead, twice 


Pick up 1 x B, 1 x A and 1 x B, reverse direction so the needle points back toward the tip of the leaf and sew into the first B bead picked up in this step. Try to keep the tension nice and tight in this step.

STEP 7: 

Peyote 1 x B bead, twice. 

STEP 8: 

Pick up 1 x A bead, reverse direction so the needle points towards the centre of the leaf and sew into the last B bead added in Step 7}} 

STEP 9: Continue, repeating from {{ to }} 6 times} 

STEP 10: Thread a needle onto the tail end of the thread and repeat from { to }

And there you have it! 

If you want to make a larger leaf, increase the number of B beads picked up in STEP 1 by increments of 2 (this will increase the number of B beads you peyote in the body of the leaf) and repeat from {{ to }} a few more times. 

This works in any size bead. All the leaves I made used size 15 seed beads (because I'm a masochist) but 11's would be better if you're trying this for the first time. They also work really nicely with cylinder beads for the B beads and size 15's for the A beads.

As always, I love hearing your feedback. This is my first attempt at pattern writing so I'd love to know how you found it and if there's anything I can improve.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Bagni San Filippo

A less literal interpretation of an inspiration...

It seems like only yesterday, but it was eight years ago now that we packed up the kids and some suitcases and went off to live la dolce vita for a year on a vineyard in the hills of Chianti.

Tuscany! At every turn a visual feast - driving the kids to school, a visit to a museum, going into Florence for Italian lessons or just waking up in the morning fed my creative spirit and made me want to capture those moments and interpret those visual experiences in my own voice but I lacked the artistic means. Years later I discovered beads, years later still a recollection of a late summer's outing to Bagni San Filippo.

Tuscany is dotted with natural hot springs bubbling out of the ground. Filled with minerals they have been in continual use for their curative properties since Roman times. As a tourist you're sign posted into the expensive resorts to wallow in square troughs but with a local's knowledge you keep your eyes peeled for the small wooden bridge that leads you into the woods and following a bronze path carpeted by fallen leaves you emerge onto a bucolic scene of rustling leaves, dappled light, and dragonflies darting above a series of natural pools cascading down the hillside. The minerals turn the water a milky white and on a sunny day the reflected sky turns the pools into a beautiful opaque aqua - the exact colour of Swarovski's Pacific Opal.

I'd long envisaged an asymmetrical neck piece of cascading curves and had collected what I thought were the perfect materials to represent the dappled light, dragonflies and milky blue water but every time I tried to compose the piece I was blocked. After yet another unsuccessful attempt to get started I looked at all my rejected sketches and sat back and just meditated on my memories of that day - the sights, sounds and mood. I realised that I was too hung up on getting a literal representation of the cascading curves of the pools. All the round elements were representative enough, I could layer the cabochons for a cascading effect, I needed some type of leaf in the composition and to truly represent the sense of peace and harmony the composition had to be symmetrical...and bam! the piece made itself and while it was nothing like what I'd originally imagined I am still pleased with the end result.

What I learnt making this piece? Firstly, to let go and not be so literal. Also, it reminded me to listen to my instincts because at the time I just went with what 'felt' right and only after it was done could I verbalise why it worked. Oh, and I learnt how to make leaves!

Monday, 25 May 2015

Bead Embroidery Forever!



You know that saying: 'If I had a dollar...'? Well, if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me  'I don't like bead embroidery BUT...' I wouldn't need an Etsy store! Usually it precedes a compliment but it leaves me with the lingering impression that they think bead embroidery is somehow too easy and therefore less worthy than other kinds of jewellery.

Granted, technically its not that difficult which is what I love about it - with a few basic techniques anybody can become a beady Monet or Pollock (whichever floats your boat). Bead embroidery allows me to express myself creatively, unbridled by too many technicalities. I can play with shape, colour, texture, proportion, line...the really fun stuff!
Having said that, construction is important. Bead embroidery is not just about painting a pretty picture. For any piece of jewellery to work you need to have an understanding of gravity and how things will sit on the body. The bigger an idea the more technical it gets. My latest work, a finalist in Bead Dreams 2015, would never have been realised without some significant engineering - most of it of the trail and error variety. 

Creating bead embroidered jewellery doesn't mean you're limited to only embroidery, you can incorporate bead weaving techniques too. For instance, edge stitch is a perfect vehicle to incorporate herringbone, netting or fringing. In this piece I used my newly acquired knowledge of St Petersburg stitch to create the beaded feathers as well as peyote and cubic right angle weave.

And best of all? You don't need to count! At least not all the time. With no counting of beads or rows, no keeping track of step ups, bead embroidery becomes a meditative process and a form of pure self expression.
That is why for me it will always be: