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!


  1. Very informative description and thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Very informative description of the processes in this stunning piece of work. Congratulations on your win and thank you for haring.