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!


  1. I am so sad about your pearls. This piece is just magnificent and so nicely engineered. It deserves to be worn. SMH. How can vendors sell stuff that does not work? I have one local bead shop, where they lave lots of things they tell me not to buy. I wonder why they stock them, lol.

  2. I guess they're trying to resolve the price v's quality dilemma. It's a symptom of our mass production culture, everyone wants everything cheap, cheap, cheap and vendors are probably just trying to accommodate consumer demands. I can't help wondering if she tells everyone tho, or just the regulars? Maybe I was caught in the same kind of trap, where the vendor didn't know I wasn't buying them for personal use. Or didn't care. At those weekend shows there's very little recourse if you find you've bought something not fit for purpose, after the weekend's over, they're gone. Anyway, lesson learnt but it does make me worry about how colourfast pearls really are? I've used them in a lot of my work!