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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Oceanaire, Magic Numbers, and Square Bezels

I am never very successful when I set out to create something that I imagine other people might like to make.  All around me, my beady friends are creating tutorials for their designs and selling them.  I am torn by this.  I have very little time available to spend with beads, given I have a demanding full time job.  I really enjoy the design and engineering aspects of beadweaving.  I want to maximize my time with those things.  But I also feel selfish for not sharing my ideas.  So every so often, I take a little stab at designing something that I think might be a decent tutorial.

Usually, I ask myself, what do I do that I see others either NOT doing, or struggling with.  I am a very competent bezeler.  And I can manage any shape, scale, and proportion with relative ease.  So I decided I would bezel a popular and recent cab, a lunasoft, in a shape that people seem to struggle with, and create something from it. 

I owned some of these, purchased from my friend Doris Coghill, in a lovely ocean blue and since the Etsy Beadweavers theme for August was "Ocean Adventures" is seemed a good fit.

As I worked out the bezel bead counts and decreases I took pictures.  I thought that the tutorial might include general informaton about how to create bezels for geometrtic shapes as well as this particular one.  So... generally, NUMBERS MATTER,  when creating bezels.  Your base row must be an even number.  And some numbers are just better than others, like any number with multiple even divisiors, like for example, 24 (12, 6, 3)  is better than any even number that can only be evenly divided once, before an odd number appears, like 30 (15).  This is because bezels look best if they are balanced side to side.  On a round bezel, this is less important, and ovals can be cheated as well, but to get to the point, geometric shapes demand even base row numbers that are divisible by the number of sides of the shape.  So my choices for base row numbers for any square must be divisible by four.   

I strung delicas until I had about the right number of delica beads to encircle my lunasoft cab.  In this particular case, I wanted to create a color shift in my bezel, so I alternated a dark (1285) and lighter blue (0863) bead.  Then, I hunted for the perfect number.  The number of beads has to be divisible by 4, and the ring of beads cannot be loose on the cab.  Your base row can be a little too tight, or a little too loose.  For me, the perfect number in this case was 64.  It divided SO nicely!  64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2.  64 is one of the magical numbers in bezel beading!   And it was just a tiny bit too tight, when pulled up snugly, to fit entirely around my cabochon.  Lucky me!  My Lunasoft cab is 20x20mm, so this magic number 64 would work beautifully for any cab that size as a base row. I will later enlarge it at the corners enough to fit.

When I bezel, I start differently, depending on my purpose.  In this case, I wanted the front of the bezel to create a white cap effect, so I worked the front of the cab first. I strung my beads on a 60" length of fireline, waxed my thread to help with the first row tension, and stitched through the first bead again. Then I clamped the thread about an inch past the ring of beads. Holding the beads flat on my fingers, and in place with my thumb, I began to peyote stitch the first row on the outside of the ring, with the dark blue.

I keep the clamp under my hand, out of the way of the thread, like this.  The weight of the clamp, and my fingers held together keep my tension snug on the first row of peyote, but this works best of you have waxed with either beeswax, or microcrystaline wax, to improve grip.  I think of shaping the beads as I go, in to the shape I am trying to create, so when I was done with this step, I had a rough, rounded looking square.

Then I stepped up into the middle row, and again into the center of the rounded square of beads.  Notice I am in the middle of a side here.  I think that is much easier than starting at a corner.

Since I have 4 sides, and my magical 64 beads divide by 4 into four sides of 16 base row beads, I know that I would have eight delica beads on each side of my square.  But now it is time to begin shaping my square more precisely.  So instead of stitching 8 delicas on each side, I will only stitch seven, and skip a bead at each corner, pulling the corner into a neat right angle.

I stitched three light blue delicas, added a lighter blue satin delica and then took a stitch without adding a bead when I got to my intended corner.  In this picture, I have put my satin bead on and taken a stitch and then taken a second stitch, without a bead.  Could have been a clearer picture had I done each step separately.  :)  I did the color switch in the interest of my white caps, but if you are just wanting the nice square bezel, no need to change colors.  Snug up your corner before proceeding.

Then for my next side, I stitched one satin delica, five light blue delicas, one more satin delica, The seven beads for the side, and skipped adding a bead on the 8th stitch again. I repeated this until I got back to my starting point, and my square was complete.  Each side has 7 delicas, one satin, 5 light blue, and one satin, and a stitch without a bead.

So here is the finished square, wiht my needle demonstrating the step up into the next row of peyote bezel.

In my next row, I stitched two light blue satin delicas, one pearl white delica, and a 15/0 white pearl rocaille at the corner. As you continue around the bezel, each row in this round will have a white pearl delica, four satin delicas, a white pearl delica, and a 15/0 pearl rocaille in the corner.  This could be a stopping point for a nice square bezel, and you might also be able to use 15/0 rocailles in each stitch, but keep your tension relaxed if you do not want your bezel to tighten excessively.

In my particular bezel, in the next row, we will decrease again, and we will also begin adding our white seafoam droplets.  So we will peyote stitch two satin delicas, one white pearl delica, and at the corner, stitch in a small white pearl drop bead.  Each repeating row in this round will have a white pearl delica, three light blue satin delicas, a white pearl delica and a small drop at the corner.

The next row is a little trickier, because it includes a step down into the previous row at the corners.  Begin by stepping up into the new row, and stitching one white pearl delica, and one small pearl drop.  Then step down into the previous row and move into the next side through the corner pearl drop, and step back up into the new row.  Each row in this round will contain the step up you just did, a small white pearl drop, two white pearl delicas, a small white pearl drop and the step down into the previous row to pass the corner. 

With the last side of this round finished, your bezel looks like this:

Now for the final row, which also includes a corner step down, this time through two rows.  Step up into the white delica, and add a three 15/0 pearl bead picot, which you should push out, over the finished portion of the bezel.  Step down two rows and pass the corner through the first small pearl drop again, and step back up two rows and add another picot, pushed out, and a large pearl drop, laying in over the top of the bezel, followed by another pushed out picot, and a step down, the process repeating to finish the final row of the bezel.  Here you see me stepping down to the outside edge of the bezel, and most of the picots and drops are sitting where they should be, but you must align them correctly when you are done.  There is only room for them to sit where they should, but you have to show them where that is.  I have not correctly oriented the last side of the last row in this picture. As you step past the original thread tail, make sure it stays on the outside of the beadwork, so you can stitch it back in and trim it off at your convenience.

At the outside row, I added a final dark blue row of delicas, with an 8/0 bead at each corner to create an easy place to attach my components together and drape through them. These 8/0's also enlarge the frame enough to fit the cabochon easily.

After stitching this row, I popped in my cabochon, after painting the back of it with clear nail polish to protect it from wear, and allowing it to completely dry. 

Then I turned the thread so I could keep stitching counter-clockwise, as I am right handed and that is my strong preference.  I peyote stitched a row of delicas, with 15/0 rocailles at the corners to begin the tightening process and stitched an additional row of delicas to secure the cab.  You could continue with additional rows if you liked, but the cab is secure with this row. 

I did stitch one final row of 15/0 on one bezel, and two on the other two, which you can see in the image of the finished back of the work.

Now, since this little necklace has been poorly received, I will not continue with the rest of the necklace, and probably, if anyone actually uses this bezel advice, they will stop at the square frame work many steps ago.  But the best information is the numeric info, and perhaps, I will show other shapes more simply in future posts. 

I personally like this piece, and I think it looks great with denim.  I really enjoyed embellishing the bezel centers in my Artichoke! piece, and wanted to explore that idea further here.  I think the intense matte blue color is off-putting to some, perhaps. I liked the absence of shine because it made it feel deep to me, like an ocean. And without any metal beads, beadwork looks less like legitimate jewelry.  I think my own feelings about the ocean might be off-putting as well.  I purposefully threw the squares into tumbling action, because I have terrible motion sickness, and just looking at the ocean makes me feel disoriented and dizzy.  I wanted the work to have a horizon line that would shift in wearing, rarely being perfectly horizontal, and it does that really well. :) I liked the fringy tassel for the same reason, and the curved drapes reminded me of waves. 

For me, a happy result.  For others, not so much, but the great thing about what I do with beads is, in my day job, where there is always a client to be interpreted, flattered, made beautiful, and pleased.

 At my beading bench, there is only me.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Wobbly Border Between Jewelry and Art, and Thoughts About BOTB'13

 This is something I have been considering now for quite a while, in the interest of providing an answer to the question, "What makes beadweaving something that belongs at the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts exhibit?"  I have a creepy feeling that it will come up during my day at the fair.  How in the world to answer??? 

What is art?  Who says?  I have decided it is much too big a question for one little beader to take on.  But some of my work does manage to get into this gallery, so if I will be asked to say why that happens, I think the only reasonable answer is to explain my process and show my results and let people draw their own conclusions.  Art and its appreciation is a very subjective business.  But if I had to put it in simple words that have meaning for me, I think that inspiration and purpose have something to do with it.  And maybe a dash of alchemy.  The idea that art is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

I want to write briefly about Battle of the Beadsmith, now that my battle is over.  I want to share some of the process photos that I was not allowed to share during battle. I do this partly for readers, who might have an interest in design process, and partly for myself, in the interest of being able to remember what decisions were made and why.  As you may know, I wanted to express in this work the beauty of a clear, crisp late fall (or maybe early winter) day at a marsh near my home.  I collected weeds and seed pods and fuzzy seed heads from that day, and then began collecting beads to use.

 I had a easy time of finding beads to love, and in retrospect wish I had used a wider range of what I found, as I suspect some of my detail was less visible than I might have preferred.  I knew I needed a restrained pallette, as I wanted the ombre of colors I was imagining to be the focus of the piece, the faded green seed heads and coppery leaves, against the clear blue sky and darker water, but I could have used the matte beads I put away to good advantage, in retrospect.

On the other hand, I am glad I put away all the flowers and leaves I collected.  Although my piece is titled "September Song" the time of year was late November, and there was nothing in bloom, all was bare, and the beauty was clean and simple.

It was also easy to put away the sparkly bits I collected in favor of the matte polished cabs in Citron Chrysoprase, Variscite, and Turquoise, (both stabilized and not) because they better portrayed the earthy groundedness, and simple beauty that I wanted the work to convey.  I began as I often like to do, by capturing my treasures in bezels, to give myself time to get to know them and to begin to play with layouts. 

I made a few drawings, and finally had a general idea of the over-all shape I wanted to use to try to express the bare-bones emptiness of the day.  I wanted clean, delicate shapes; almost silhouettes, like leafless trees.  I was influenced by the shapes in a piece of lace, and the embellishment on a gown I was workinng on at the time, and these curves found their way up the stairs to my beading bench.  Sometimes, I do not know whether my costumes influence my beadwork or vice versa.

Then I tried to figure out a means to connect my components into the simple clean shapes I wanted.  I tried several different connections of small sections of the whole and finaly found one that really held its shape but was still supple and flexible with nice drape.

The left side chunk was both wobbly and thick, one of my early efforts.  The right side version was my final one, compact, stable, and drapey, and works on the principle of keystoned arches, with thread paths reaching far into each bezel for structural support.  I assembled this piece in small sections to make it easier to work on, and below you see them all pinned in place on my neck form.

Once I had my primary shapes established, I embellished each individual chunk of the shape with tiny representations of the bronzy leaves, clinging berries, exposed thorns, and seed pods and heads.  This was where I could have used those matte beads, to separate my embellishment from my framework, and make is visible, without being distracting. You can see it all below, especially if you compare it to the un-embellished version above, but it blends in so well that unless you know it is there, I think it is pretty miss-able. 

Finally, it was time to design a neckstrap, or "yoke" as Warren Feld refers to it.  I wanted the yoke to represent the day as well; shapes and lines in sympathy to the focal piece, but in contrast as well, in the interest of the work not being all one idea; a symphony, rather than just melody repeating endlessly.  I looked at fall imagery and found spider webs I loved, and began to work out how that idea might be integrated into the work as a yoke. I also added a web to the center of the work, to further integrate the two separate ideas and to control the relationship between shapes at the bottom of the necklace structurally.
Then, since I do my own photography, I set out to take battle shots, which was a substantial challenge!  Since the piece was about the beauty of maturity, I wanted to use women with a beautiful maturity of their own to model the work.  I am very fortunate to have friends who are willing to generously share their time with me.  I first did a session with Donna, and made an unfortunate choice in clothing.  The color of this dress looked great with the necklace, but it was overwhelming to the delicate color of the work and make my camera sensors go entrely wacko. 

Subtle color?  Where???  So since Donna was traveling, I called Cathy, and she rushed to my rescue.  I was super pleased with the results!


I am not a very good photographer, and although I can get camera settings more or less correct, it takes me lots of trying and thinking to get what I am aiming for in terms of imagery.  I do not visualize photographic images well, so I can arrange and shoot them. I just have to open my shutter hundreds of times until what I had in mind magically appears.  But having pretty friends REALLY helps! They never look bad, so all I have to worry about is the camera, location, and jewerly.
I shot with Donna one more time too, and got several things I really liked, and these two, my favorites.

So, there, I have talked about process and preserved the ideas and images I wanted to preserve. 

Is it art?  I have no clue.  Could I have gotten it into the gallery at the fair?  Again, no idea.  I think it depends on who the judges are each year.  Some are sympathetic to beadweaving, and perhaps, some not.  Or perhaps some are moved by certain kinds of work and aesthetics, and some by others.  I choose to believe that any given media or theory of beauty is not an instant disqualification. But it never hurts to try, and in the Battle of the Beadsmith, it is always a growth experinece.  Unless you take rejection personally.  And in that respect, I am thankful for a background in theater.  You go to an audition.  You try out for a role.  You are exactly what the director and producers were looking for, or you are not.  But not being their vision of a role does not stop you from being an actress.

With respect to BotB, first and foremost, I was glad for the opportunity to make something that I might not ordinarily tackle, since it is not really something I will be wearing daily, or likely to sell. I was glad to be invited to submit work to this invitational tournament.  I do not mind falling in battle.  I love having the opportunity to see so much wonderful beadwork, some of which is certainly imbued with the alchemical magic that makes it more than the components it is created from, and full of life.  Maybe even... art.  What do you think?  Do you have a BotB'13 favorite?  What makes it art for you?