Sunday, May 11, 2014

BSBP 2014 continued - It's getting a bit hairy...

To see my main reveal post, please either scroll down a little or click here.

I've been getting a lot of comments on the hair accessories when people have been doing the rounds, and it occurred to me that I actually hadn't even tried most of them on. This morning, therefore, I got my lovely husband Pete to take some quick photos. I'm not terribly good at doing my hair in a hurry so some of them are a bit wonky, but you should get the general idea.






I'm actually quite satisfied with all of these, although when I tried to put the slide in with the red glass headpins it became obvious I'd accidentlly made it for somebody left-handed (I'm not). On the other hand, I'd been convinced that the slide with the chains would rip the wearer's hair out by the roots, and it came in and out as smoothly as silk. I'm happy enough with all of these that I probably won't be selling, at least not unless I can find somebody left-handed for the barrette so I don't have to maul my shoulder any time I put it in.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bead Soup Blog Party 2014 - An Embarrassment of Riches

Hello, and welcome!

This post is going to get very long, very quickly, so I'll start with the really important stuff so it doesn't get lost along the way.

Firstly, the most important thing of all: my partners - Lynn Jobber of The Creative Klutz, and Jackie Ryan of Kydo Jewellery. They're both very talented, and I know they'll have come up with some beautiful pieces for you to admire. I honestly felt slightly overawed when we first got in touch, but now the dust has settled I'd like to think I've done justice to the gorgeous materials they gave me - you can see the original soups in the post below this one.

Two full soups is a lot of beads, and I made a lot of pieces. I know people have a bunch of blogs to get round today, so what I'm going to do is post a couple of group photographs to give a general idea of what I'm up to before I discuss each piece in more detail. That way, if anybody's short on time they can take a quick look, hopefully say hello and move on without having to hear about my design considerations for every pair of earrings.

So, without further ado...

This is the bulk of what I've made over the past however many weeks - I did make a few more sneaky pieces this morning after these photos had been taken, but they're on display further down. The top photo shows pieces made mostly from Lynn's soup and the bottom from Jackie's, although with so much nice stuff there was inevitably a bit of an overlap.

Want to know more? Keep reading.
 *****


This was the first piece I made for this year's challenge, and it may still be my favourite. In the fortnight or so leading up to me receiving my soup from Lynn, I'd fallen head-over-heels in love with hexagonal netting - it's simple, it's versatile and you can dress it up or down as much as you want. Oh, and it looks like flowers. What's not to adore?

Lynn's gorgeous ceramics were a million miles from anything I'd ever worked with before, but dammit, I wanted to live up to them. The big shapes and bold contrasts made me think about cartoons and tattoo designs, and I knew I was never going to get away with being timid on this one. Out came the hexagonal netting, therefore, in the form of fifteen individual flower links that eventually got stitched together with the ceramics, some glass druks and a silver-plated heart clasp to echo the focal.

When I look at this piece, I feel proud, I feel brave, I feel competent. It's a good feeling, and it's one that has permeated my entire BSBP experience this year.

*****


Lynn sent me a lot of handmade materials sourced from Etsy, including this beautiful copper toggle clasp. Once again, I ran into my usual problem - that of scale. Partly it's budgetary constraints, partly it's because I'm naturally quite self-effacing, but I'm not used to making the really big, showy pieces.

I knew more or less immediately that I wanted to use the clasp on a multi-strand piece; once I'd decided that, a lot of my subsequent design considerations were based around the fairly limited range of copper spacer bars on the market.

Oddly enough, in the end I dived right back into a couple of my beading happy places - gem chips and rainbows. Top to bottom, we have amethyst, apatite, jade, citrine and some of Jackie's gorgeous almandine garnets. It's stupidly heavy, was fiddly and frustrating to make up and requires a far more elegant neck than mine.

I still kind of love it, though.

*****


Since I was introduced to Jackie, we've been in more or less daily contact. I love her outlook on life, and I love the way our beading styles are poles apart in some ways but remarkably similar in others. I love Swarovski pearls and gem chips, and I feel on comfortably familiar territory with them.  I teamed Jackie's pearls and aquamarine chips with aventurine, malachite, silver plated spacers and about half a reel of loom thread, and this was the result. After the design challenges I faced with the previous two necklaces, this 54" long piece was a reminder to myself that sometimes it's okay to just relax and do my thing.

*****





The beautiful blue-green leaf here was made by Jackie's daughter Lara, and as usual, I found myself suffering from horrendous focal anxiety. Not really much to say about that; I dithered, obviously, and worried, and took the leaf and the lampwork beads to Hobbycraft to pick seed beads that I thought would match and then decided didn't match and then concluded probably did match after all. It only really came together when I decided to surround the pink Swarovski pearls with blue topaz chips, and the colour scheme seemed to fall into place. 

I finished it off with the handsome gold-plated S-clasp Jackie sent, and I like the final result - I think it would make a nice addition to a fairy costume, maybe.

*****




One final necklace - I made the pendant last week using an opalite round and the blue lamp glass heart Lynn sent, but couldn't for the life of me work out what to do with it. Inspiration struck early this morning, when I snatched up some of Jackie's hand-dyed silk ribbon and eventually found a suitable clasp. Simple, I know, but I'm not sure it needs to be anything else.

*****




One quick bracelet made from the Ugandan paper beads Jackie sent, plus some little serpentine rounds and Tibetan silver tubes taken from the charity shop necklace I dismantled to send Jackie her tree agates.

*****

Hair accessories now, and there's a lot of them; give me something that looks as though it has to belong on a necklace, and nine times out of ten I'll try and put it on a hair accessory. To reiterate: this is because focals make me nervous. First, a couple of hairpins made from focals donated by Lynn and Jackie respectively.





Not the best-lit photos in the world, unfortunately, but both of these were stitched into place. The top one features a Swarovski fire opal round, while the bottom one has amethyst and goldstone accents - I was forced to resort to Superglue and I feel like such a cheater! Either of these would tuck in nicely at the top of a bun, I think.

*****




I adored the lampwork headpins Lynn sent me from the moment I saw them, and I thought they might look nice as decoration on a gem chip barrette. Here I've used smoky quartz to highlight the rich reds of the glass, and added a bit of copper scrollwork made on my trusty but woefully-underused wire jig.

Wrapping and trimming the headpins was the single most terrifying part of my Bead Soup experience this year, hands-down; I knew if I messed it up they'd be unusable. In the end, all I could do was control my breathing and press on through the fear.

...I've bought myself more lampwork headpins as my post-party beady treat.

*****




Jackie sent me some gorgeous vintage brass chain; it's heavy, it's handsome and it's ludicrously tactile, so I had it on my desk and was playing with it a lot. Chain is yet another material that's outside my usual beading repertoire; I'm dimly aware that you can attach it to clasps and focals and hang stuff off it, but the subtleties escape me entirely. 

Mucking about with stuff, though? I can do that, no problem. Which is what got me dangling the chain through a barrette blank and liking the way the metals felt together in my hand, and then wrapping the chain around a couple of times and deciding it looked okay, too. Hmm. Maybe I was onto something.

This one was actually harder to make than it might look. The main problem was attaching the chain to the barrette at either end. Luckily, the blanks have holes but the placement isn't ideal. Once I had the chain in place, I then used brass wire and chrome diopside chips to wrap either end to add a splash of colour. The shiny steel of the base still shows through, which I think gives it a kind of steampunk vibe.

*****




One last hairpin, which I finished Friday morning. I loved the coral rondelles Lynn sent me, but I just couldn't find the right project for them. Eventually I came up with the idea of using them with tiger's eye rounds to make the base for a beaded flower, as a sort of larger-scale version of what I'd been doing with seed beads and o-beads. Once I had the base in place, however, I realized there was no way thread would ever hold things stiffly enough.

Cue one trial-and-error lesson in what can and cannot be done with copper wire. I made the base ring first, then the glass pearl petals (thanks, Jackie!) before adding a centrepiece of Swarovski pearls and a faceted garnet. After that, it was just a question of deciding a hairpin would make a suitable base and then wrapping it into position. 

I'm still trying to work out whether it might be worth replicating for my sales table at the local craft fairs. This one, however, is staying firmly with me.

*****
Finally, the earrings. Not really a lot to say about these other than that they're mostly drop earrings, some designed to go with various necklaces, some not. They were quick, they were fun, and they showcase a bunch of beads I couldn't fit in anywhere else. Oh, and some of them feature hexagonal netting because I've now reached the point where I pretty much always have a few spare netted flowers laying about the place.









In conclusion: If I had to pick one word to describe the way I've felt about my bead soup experience this year, it would have to be exhilarated. I've worked with materials I'd never normally be able to access, and used some old favourites in very different ways. I've made use of familiar techniques, learned new ones and generally jumped in and out of my comfort zones like a kid splashing in puddles. In short, it's been a blast - huge thanks to Lori for making it all happen, and most especially to Jackie and Lynn for sharing the journey with me.

Click here for Lori's blog and the full list of participants!





















Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Soup season...

So, it's that time of year again - Bead Soup Blog Party time! The packages have already been sent and received, and this year I've been lucky enough to have not one but two fantastic partners! Here are the beautiful soups they sent me, photographed by my equally beautiful husband, Pete.

First up is the super-talented Lynn Jobber, the Creative Klutz. She's sent me a bunch of glorious stuff mostly sourced from Etsy:
Lots of ceramics here, lots of copper and a lot of real statement beads.

Because I'm a lousy, lazy blogger, I've already started working with these and I have to say the ceramic is a total revelation; it's glossy and shiny and colourful like glass and stone but with only a fraction of the weight! How did I never realise this before?

That package felt like all my Christmases coming at once, so when I stepped in to help Jackie Ryan of Kydo Jewellery I wasn't expecting anything in return. Jackie was kind enough to send me another beautiful soup, though, with more wonderful surprises, as shown below:

I've been talking to Jackie a lot over the past few days and she feels like something of a kindred spirit in terms of materials and colour palettes. I think we both feel something of an affinity with the natural world, and the combination of greens and pinks here has absolutely bowled me over. Again, there's lots of unfamiliar stuff but I'm really looking forward to seeing how I can make it all work together.

And that's it from me, possibly until May - I have a lot of work to do! If you're interested in my experiments and detours along the way, I tend to post quick pictures at my Tumblr.

Thanks again!


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Rainbow Connection

Some days, life seems too big and scary and overwhelming to contemplate. Some days, I worry that I'll never feel like a proper, functional adult. Sometimes, curling up in bed only serves as a reminder of the monsters that lurk underneath.

These are the days when I make rainbows.

I'd been wanting to do something with foil glass for a while, but it's tricky stuff - the hypersaturated colours mean it doesn't combine terribly well with other materials. Yesterday, though, was one of those dark days, so I tipped my entire bag into a bowl just for the joy of looking at them and waited to see whether anything would spark.

Picking out a rainbow sequence was sort of inevitable. True, I didn't have any yellows, but copper-bronze made for a passable orange, and the transition from green to blue to purple to pink to red was beautifully smooth. The only problem was, what to do with the beads once I'd selected them. I wasn't entirely sure I just wanted to string them in line, and while I considered hanging them as a dangle, by the time I'd added spacers it would be prohibitively long. I thought for a long time about picking up a big clear Swarovski pendant and using rainbow sequences for the straps - that's still on my to-do list, but I wasn't sure how I'd attach it and besides, I wanted to get something made that day.

In the end, I looped them into a circle on a long length of tiger-tail, then added opalite accents and strung the straps with haematite rounds before finishing it with a nice shiny silver-plated heart toggle. One strap is slightly longer than the other because of the cut-price second-grade rounds I use, but it still hangs nicely enough. In any case, sometimes the process is more important than the finished result.

Going to wear this one to work this afternoon in case the monsters decide to try and follow me.

Finding my flow...

Whilst I'm really looking forward to this year's Bead Soup Blog Party, I'm still reaping the rewards from last year. Because of the fun I had working with materials I hadn't chosen, I decided that rather than sell the pieces I made, I'd trade them for beads. I've received a lot of absolutely fascinating stuff in return, and now I have my mojo back I've made a start on making use of them.

The purple faceted rounds in this set come from Liz, creator of the webcomic Adrastus, and I fell in love with them the second I saw them. I mean, the shape is fantastic and the purple/white/red colour combination is usual and classic at once - what's not to get excited about? So when I was thinking about a purple piece and rummaging through my beading bag, they were a natural choice. I made the earrings first, intending them to stand alone, but then I decided I liked the combination of the colourful glass and smooth Swarovski pearls too much to just stop there.

I've been experimenting a lot with memory wire chokers lately, largely because I bought a job lot of fifty a few years back for an event that never happened and they've been taking up space ever since. As necklace bases, they carry heavy limitations, mostly because limitations are the only heavy thing they will carry. All-round colour coverage, therefore, requires a lot of seed beads and a certain amount of gritting of teeth.

While I'm not a seed beader in the classic sense, I like to have a decent range in stock for spacers and accents, and nothing hangs quite so nicely or feels quite so tactile as long strings of Delicas double strung on loom thread. Here, I used metallic aubergine faceted Delicas with lilac and red accents to echo the colours of the focals. To stop it getting too monotonous, I used a few more Swarovski pearls for texture. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with the focals, but by the time I got close to the centre it felt obvious - I do like the 3-3-3 symmetry of it, though.

I knew how I wanted to complete the set long before I finished the necklace - I knew the conventional third part would be a bracelet, but something about the colour combination and the lines seemed to beg for a hair accessory. I can really visualise the silver-plated comb tucked into an elegant up-do or a dark, curly bob. This time, I accompanied the focal and pearls with some of the pretty crystal rondelles that came with the focals for a little extra sparkle.

All in all, it made for a fun afternoon's work, and I'm really starting to feel like a designer again.


Post-bead-declutter head declutter

So, the de-clutter has been completed, at least to the point where I can access everything I want again. I have two big bags of stuff ready for Ebay or donation whenever I can find the impetus, but that was never the point - I wanted to get back to enjoying myself again.

At some point during the process, however, I realized that the clutter wasn't the only problem. For the past couple of years I've been picking my projects according to saleability - how they'd fit on the stall, and whether they'd pay for themselves in terms of time spent and materials used.

I've always sworn that my beading is a hobby and not a business, and I'm still not sure when I lost sight of that, but it makes me rather sad to think about all the time I spent on safe, pedestrian designs rather than the pieces I actually wanted to make. For the past month or so, therefore, I've put all thoughts of profitability to the back of my mind and given myself the time and space to experiment.

Possibly the most gratifying part has been rediscovering the joy of glass beads. Half the people on the local craft circuit make jewellery, so everybody has to find their niche. For me, that was semiprecious stones. Don't get me wrong, I still love these, but there's a definite pleasure in being able to use vividly-coloured, decently-sized glass beads without having to spend half a day's wages for the privilege or being limited to chips and small rounds.

I've made a lot of pieces over the past few weeks, but not all of them have photographed decently. I'll be writing about some of those that have in the posts that follow, but in the meantime, here's the first one that really made me smile. I made it up in about fifteen minutes from my big bag of miscellaneous freshwater pearls, and I actually think it's pretty damned classy.





The colours and shapes are all over the place, of course, but that's half the fun of it. I'm allowing myself to play again, and having a great time.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy New Year! ...And very nearly happy new February.

It's been a strange few months in terms of creative endeavours; blame it on stress in the day job, perhaps, or the fact that a few of my usual craft fair gigs have stopped running. Sales have been down, and while the sensible thing to do would be to go online and start pushing, I think I lack the self-promotion gene. Talking to people about the jewellery when it's there in front of them and they're picking it up and experiencing it is one thing, but actually putting it out there in their faces via social media feels wrong on a very fundamental level. Without wishing to turn this into a therapy post, self esteem has never exactly been my forte. Therefore, if the pieces aren't selling then I usually land up concluding that it's because they're rubbish and that this has nothing at all to do with the fact that nobody's actually seeing them.

The perceived solution? Buy more beads so I could make better pieces. Except that all this did was create a huge mountain of beads that I was ashamed to look at because it was a reminder that not only was I creatively dead inside, I was also a spendthrift. Every time inspiration hit, I'd spend 30 minutes looking for the beads I wanted before the guilt set in at my own uselessness and I'd slouch off to play Candy Crush instead.

It's all been rather wretched, to be honest.

Fortunately, Lori Anderson's Bead Soup Blog Party appears to have come around to rescue me. I had an amazing time participating last year, so with a date set for the 8th party sign-ups I knew I had to get in proper beady shape beforehand.

Drastic measures were called for.

Step 1: Identify the problem. Easy enough: too many beads, making it too hard to find what I wanted.
Step 2: Decide on a course of action. Again, fairly simple: streamline and organize my stash so it felt manageable again.
Step 3: Implementation. Well, thinking about implementation and then wondering if there was any possible way I could just carry on doing what I was doing whilst getting back to having fun and making new pieces.
Step 4: Accepting that no, implementation was actually necessary and resolving that no further beading would be attempted until the stash was under control.
Step 5: Implementation. No, really.

A week on, and I'm most of the way there.The real dreck has been thrown out and the rest is in two big piles - one to keep, and one to re-home. It's been a journey, too; memories have surfaced along with beads I haven't seen in years. The best part has been feeling my impatience grow as the flashes of inspiration have started to hit again - can't wait to have everything done and tidy so I can start trying all the new projects I have planned.

Besides, with all the space I've created, think of all the new beads I'll have room to buy!

******************

Finally, a couple of photos, because the creative well never dried up entirely...

Over the past few months I've been having a lot of fun making beaded dodecahedra, so when I was looking for a showstopper piece to draw attention to my stall at the Christmas craft fairs, I decided to use them as a starting point. This piece was originally going to have a triangular centrepiece, but after putting the beaded beads in my trusty cereal bowl the flower centrepiece formed itself and I realised I'd found something a bit special:

I used opalite rounds and Swarovski bicones for the flower petals; at some point I think the bicone petals will have to be replaced because they compress that little bit too easily under the weight of the rest of the piece. It proved to be a real eyecatcher on the stall, though, and I landed up putting the price right up when I realised I liked it too much to want to let it go.

Beaded dodecahedra also make great cat toys if you make them with chunky wooden pony beads and hardwearing acrylic yarn.



Bead bloggers also often like to post photos of their cats under very flimsy pretences indeed.




Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bead Soup Blog Party 2013 - Polychromatic Spree

So, this is my first year participating in Lori Anderson's Bead Soup Blog Party, and it's been a real adventure. I've encountered new materials, colour schemes and textures, and adapted a bunch of old favourite tricks and techniques.

Agata, my partner this year, is a polymer clay genius, and she sent me a couple of truly gorgeous handmade focals. Faced with these, I did what I did best and panicked: I'd known I'd be working with a focal bead, but my normal technique of attaching a jump ring to one end and threading it onto a chain obviously wasn't going to cut it for a project like this. Okay, that was fine. I could cope. Yeah.

Ideas for each of the focals hit me more or less immediately and more or less simultaneously, but several weeks of dithering about the materials and worrying about the details ensued. I looked, I shopped, I worried, I shopped some more, I made at least six pieces utterly unrelated to the challenge and then I pulled my head out of my backside and got on with it.

Here are the finished pieces: I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed making them.

The yellow teardrop focal practically screamed to be a pendant, but I had a couple of concerns: firstly, that the light weight of the polymer clay would affect the drape, and secondly that it was just too obvious. I've always loved making big elaborate hair accessories, and this seemed like a natural alternative. I've teamed it with the faceted pink stone Agata sent me (I know these as Brazilian rubies, but they seem to have a lot of names) and aragonite, which I bought in specially as I wanted something relatively matte so the textures wouldn't war. To get neat edges on the barrette, I used glass magatamas which have since become my go-to bead for finishing hair accessories. Oh, and there's matching pink and citrine earrings that remind me of the rhubarb and custard-flavoured sweets you used to get when I was a kid.


Next up: the indigo doughnut and the Tibetan silver clasp. The clasp design is a favourite - I actually sent Agata an identical one, which led to a few moments of cognitive dissonance when I unwrapped my parcel! The choker is comprised of a double row of dyed amethysts (I deliberately sought out dyed beads for evenness of colour) held in position by frosted red Miyuki Tilas. I experimented a lot with different band designs for this, but in the end I decided to keep it simple and let the focal sing. Aren't those tiny leaves adorable? They remind me a little of the Black Rabbit scene in Watership Down, except, um, without the graphically-animated rabbit death, obviously.

...Moving swiftly onwards...

Finally, a bonus piece. The most perplexing items Agata sent me were a couple of three-ring silvertone connectors. It honestly wouldn't be a lie to say I lost sleep over what to do with these - the holes seemed to run the wrong way, and no matter how often I looked at them I didn't have any idea of how to make them useful. It's one thing not to particularly like a bead or component, but these were actively taunting me. In the end inspiration struck at 6am, in the form of the question I wonder whether they'd tessellate? Three hours and some unladylike language later (threading seed beads into hoops on wire is always rage-inducing), the answer was an emphatic yes. Of all the pieces I've made, I suppose this one is closest to my normal style - the haematite/amethyst/opalite combination is something of a staple for me, and I felt able to use neutrals and metallics in a way that might not have worked with the other pieces. As with the others, however, it was still a learning experience and still felt like a creative step forwards.

To see what Agata made from the beads I sent, check out her blog. I've been there already, and as always, I'm in awe of her creativity and technical skills.

Thanks to Agata and to Lori, and I hope to see you all next year!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Teardrops (In my eyes)

I'll be honest here; I don't often visit the local craft superstore. My official line on this is that prices are high and that they'd rather sell you a pre-designed project than inspire genuine creativity, but the main reason is that I'm too lazy to walk half a mile uphill out of town to the industrial estate by the railway station. Normally, therefore, I only make the hike when I'm feeling creatively stagnant and need to actively look for materials that inspire me. Continuing in the confessional theme: I'm also a materials snob. There, said it. I like my semiprecious stones, and barring seed beads and spacers everything else tends to seem just that little bit inferior. With all this in mind, here's a series of four necklaces I made from Gutermann Czech glass teardrops I bought from the Hobbycraft clearance bin at a pound a piece. The colours are luminous, they make up quickly and easily and they've drawn more compliments at work than anything else I've made in ages. They're around 17" long each, so they sit nicely on the collarbone where their relative delicacy works in their favour. Hopefully they'll do well as cheaper pieces on my craft fair table, but if not, they'll make great gifts or nice additions to my work wardrobe.