Regular followers will know that for a while now I’ve been playing with Pebeo paint effects, and working out how to use them to make my own cabochons.  Attempts to make successful resin pieces are still ongoing (and not going well), but I’m pleased to say that after a lot of experimentation (lasting over 6 months) I’ve got a stable technique for using clear glass cabochons.  I’ve spent a couple more months playing with the results, and making sure they are easy to work with and wear well, and now I’ve built up some experience with them I’ve put a subset up for sale in my Etsy shop.

Most are domed, so have that lovely magnifying effect, although some including the large 30mm squares are flat tiles.  All have flat backs, making them suitable for bead embroidery as well as beadweaving.  They come in a range of colours, and are sold both singly and in sets, and I’m happy to take commissions for sets or the larger individual ones (40 & 50mm).  I’ll hopefully be putting together some tutorials very soon to give you some ideas as to what to do with them, starting with my awesome brooch etched dagger brooch.


If you’re chomping at the bit though, and have some beading experience, then for a beadwoven bezel try doing an MRAW start in 11s with 32 repeats.  Then add one row of 11s using peyote, and one using 15s.  Sit the cab in front side down, and finish off the back with 2 rows of 11s and 2 of 15s.  And then embellish, embellish, embellish!




Marie Antoinette

Every year the lovely team at Stitch and Craft in Dorset hold a ‘Challenge’ Competition.  I’ve entered four times now, and every year I’ve found the process both challenging and useful – it’s the best way I know to push myself, using their topics and materials to explore new techniques and styles, and try to produce the best work I can.  It’s produced some of my most successful designs (both the Baroque Tape Measure and Space Needle Case started life as elements of my first entry, a Beader’s Chatelaine) with several more from other challenges just waiting to be written up.  Sometimes it’s a bit painful, sometimes it’s fun, and often as with this year I end up with something quite unexpected.

So this year the theme was ‘Fit for a Queen’.  We were sent three packs across the course of the year, each containing a brief and some Swarovski Elements which needed to be used.  That’s always a challenge – I knew early on that I wanted to produce a set, so not knowing what colour the elements would be made things very tricky, and effectively meant that the bulk of my work wasn’t done until I’d had the third set at the beginning of this year.  As I was busy on my pineapple this wasn’t a problem!

My palette was etched and matte vitrail, silver, light siam and light siam AB, a smattering of fuchsia, and crystal and crystal AB.  I also used some hand dyed and rolled habutai silk cord,  some vintage French velvet ribbon, a lot of Nicole’s Bead Backing, some foam board, cocktail sticks, some crinkled metallic silk organza, a metal hairband and a fair amount of glue.  If that sounds a bit Blue Peter, then I think the pictures of the final piece probably explain the odd ingredients.

The cuff is an MRAW bezel around the supplied Crystal AB Navette with added bicone fringe, mounted on a peyote band which allows it to slide sideways so you can access the hidden catch.  The antique velvet is appropriately French, the gathers onto the catch hopefully make it look like a bow as Marie Antoinette wore bows on absolutely everything.

The necklace is a Riviere – a late 18th century style which she might have worn (although I can’t find any pictures of her wearing anything other than a simple ribbon choker).  The graduated stones are a mix of the supplied Light Siam and some Light Siam AB, with a 3d netted bezel which uses the same pattern and thread path for every size of bezel – just with different sizes of the different types of beads.  I’m quite please with this as it’s lovely to be able to use the same pattern for so many different sizes (running from 8mm to 18mm), so I hope to get it written up and published reasonably soon.  To tie in the ribbon/bow element I used rolled silk habutai cord in the same shade as the velvet of the cuff as a tie instead of a catch, adding vitrail spike beaded beads to the ends for a nice finish.  The pictures below show the evolution of the layout and design (it started as a very different piece!):

And then finally there is the tiara.  In all honesty it doesn’t seem that Marie Antoinette wore tiaras – they weren’t really in vogue until a little later, with aristocratic French ladies of her time wearing ribbons, brooches and jewels in their enormous, elaborate ‘pouffe’ hairstyles.  And of course they also wore funny little models – the most famous of which were ships – frigates in full sail worn to commemorate the victory of ‘La Belle Poule’ in battle.  Completely barking, and I really, really just had to bead one, and somehow make it into a tiara.  After some pondering and in response to a rapidly approaching deadline (and slight competition fatigue) I abandoned my original plan to bead weave one (honestly what was I thinking) and switched to bead embroidery as although the beading side is not quicker, once I’d designed and cut out the structure I would know it would work – beadweaving is way too hard to predict and design on this scale.  I’d noticed that the Nicole’s Bead Backing I’ve started using is quite stiff, and wondered if I could use it for a 3d structure – so I made the hull of a frigate out of card, fiddled a bit and then got going.

This was very much a ‘just get on with it’ experiment – my first 3d bead embroidered structure, with everything other than the flat stitching entirely new to me and completely made up.  But I think in the end it worked.  It’s probably safe to say that it’s not my most polished work (the wire on the masts is particularly cringeworthy) but it is beyond a doubt my most favourite beaded piece ever.  Many of you have asked if it will be available as a tutorial and I can safely say absolutely definitely not – the chances of being able to recreate it in such a way that anyone else could repeat it are nil, and I think it will remain as a unique example of what trying to beat beader’s block late at night after too much wine can do.  But I will be doing more bead embroidery in the future and in will definitely not be in any way flat.

In the end I didn’t win (I did win last year so I think it was a bit much to hope to repeat that with such a very different entry, that was so very very bonkers), and neither did my little sister Susie Hoad (who entered the same class – we need to stop entering the same competitions for the good of family harmony).  All of the entries and most especially the winners were quite amazing – the theme generated some stunning work of incredible variety, which you can see on Stitch and Craft’s Facebook page,  and  I really enjoyed taking part.  All three pieces were great learning experiences, and two out of the three are very wearable.  I’m still not sure whether I will ever wear the third………………so it will join my pineapple in some kind of suitable display, and make me smile.

Pip beads

The lovely beady folk at Preciosa-Ornela are giving away beads every month this year and I was lucky enough to get some Pips in two colourways.

I’ve made some beaded beads with the first set – they are dodecahedrons made with Preciosa twin beads, and I’ve also made some twin only beads so you can see the structure used to make them. Essentially they are straight dodecahedrons inside (linked circles of 5 beads), and then I’ve used the outer hole of the twins as a base for a simple peyote embellishment using the Pips (in the large beads) and 11s (in the smaller). The Pip versions also have an extra 8 in the base to get the sizing right. Quite fun, and as it’s the first time I’ve tried making dodecahedrons with twin beads it’s given me lots of ideas for using multi-holed beads for 3d work in the future.

Pip 2 (1)

I was sent two packs of beads – the second were black/gold/silver tweedy, and I haven’t made anything with those.  The first were (I think) Crystal Transparent California Blue, and I paired those with some Preciosa twins in crystal/gold and black Miyuki seeds.  The California Blue coating meant that around half the beads were dark blue on both sides, and half blue on one side and gold on the other, so to show this off I beaded the first bead with the blue facing into the groups of 5, leaving the gold showing on the reverse, highlighting the trios you get at the join of every pentagon.  In the second version, I just had enough beads left to do all but one repeat in all blue, leaving the last repeat with a quintet of gold sides to look like a little flower.  Then because I wanted to show the geometry behind the design I made four more beaded beads with the same technique and 11s instead of the pips on the outside.  The first beaded bead joined these on some spun Indian sari silk cord to make a simple necklace, and the second has gone on one of the simple neck wires I often use to show off single feature beads like this.

Pip 1

It’s been a useful exercise for me to work on a design that highlights a specific bead shape, and also a bit of a push to work with three colours I rarely use – blue and gold are unusual for me, and I very rarely work in black because of the challenges of actually seeing what I am doing as I mainly bead under artificial light in the evenings.  If you’re on Facebook it’s worth following Preciosa as the giveaways continue and there is nothing nicer than free beads……!

Fascinating Carmen

Blogging seems to have taken a back seat lately, so I find myself with a large queue of things to tell you about.  I’ll try and work through them in order, which means starting with my entry for the 2017 Beadworker’s Guild Challenge.  I’ve been a member of the Guild for quite a few years now, but have never entered the Challenge – I’ve looked at the themes each year and started thinking through ideas, but have never instantly  come up with something I wanted to get going on.  This year was different – the theme ‘Totally Tropical’ instantly said ‘pineapple’ to me, and a long slog to create a beadwoven pineapple began.

The original plan was to create a beadwoven bag, lined with silk and with a drawstring amongst the leaves on top.  It was to be made with size 10 delicas (because life is too short to make handbags out of 11s).  So I ordered all the shades of yellow and lime size 10s I could get hold of (not many UK bead retailers sell size 10 delicas), and got going on making samples.


Several months, and many samples later I still didn’t have a viable framework.  I wanted the bag to be flexible, and feel like a fabric, with the lining showing through, but all of the structures I came up with were either so flexible and light that the pointy bits of the pineapple were lost or so solid and substantial that they lost their flexibility and space.  Sadly I didn’t take many pictures, this one I clearly felt need recording for its’ sheer awfulness!


So next I turned to my usual peyote plus herringbone combo, using the techniques I’ve learnt from Jean Power and the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork team.  A solid base followed, but I couldn’t get the pineapple body going from it – however whilst working on that I started to think about using increases and decreases in a more intensive way than the simple Rick-Rack.  So I did some more samples.  I’ve learnt with the sheets of geometric work that it’s a good idea to do a few segments, turning at either end, rather than a full circle whilst you are experimenting – that way you can play without the time commitment of a full circle, and then extrapolate up to the full size required, working out the number of repeats, units etc.  It tends to save time in the long run, especially if you are struggling with the basic technical design of the piece.  So finally I ended up with a working design, and then just had to work round and round and round to make the tube for the main body.


I then had to somehow decrease to make the top and bottom (thinking back I have no idea how I managed this – if I ever write this up as a pattern it will consequently simply be a bangle rather than the full fruit).  At this point I must confess I somewhat lost faith in the  design.  I had a pineapple, but it was too small to be a bag, and the decreased top meant it wouldn’t work as a box.  So somewhat disheartened I started using the technique to make a brand new cuff – with a plan to graduate in pinks at one end, and greens at the other to make  a kind of Tequila Sunrise/Pina Colada cross.  This was going swimmingly right until I checked the deadline for entries and realised I had very little time left – certainly not enough to do the amount of beading needed.  I nearly gave up at this point but the sight of all those size 10 delicas and the thought of their cost on top of a certainty that another project using those colours was unlikely to come along spurred me on – and I think desperation gave me inspiration, because all of a sudden I was ordering millinery supplies with a view to making a Carmen Miranda style hat!  Whilst I waited for those to arrive I busied myself adding leaves (eventually replaced by feathers), and making  a variety of fruit and flowers.  For the fruit I used some fluorescent pink gumdrops I’ve been hoarding, and my own ‘Great Ball of Spikes’ design, and the flowers were very leggy Rick Racks (a technique developed by Jean Power), and I used the CGB exploding rounds technique to make those more quickly.

With the deadline looming, it was construction time.  As is often the case, less was more, and the fruit didn’t make it on.  The leaves I’d made for the top of the pineapple just weren’t big enough, so they were switched for some substantial feathers, and used under the flowers instead.  I also wanted to surround the whole affair with millinery net, to replicate the fabric turban used by Carmen Miranda as a base structure, but even I had to admit that was too much, and it would have made the finished piece tricky to display.  A few quick snaps, and then I packed it up carefully and sent it off the Guild.  Then I had to unlock all of the failed elements, and put the many, many beads I’d had pulled for nearly a year away.  I didn’t unpick the gumdrop beaded beads though, so I must dig them out and make something with them!


With such a difficult development, and so many experienced beaders in the same class, I wasn’t really expecting the piece to do well – entering competitions is always more about challenging myself to create something original rather than commercial, and pushing my creativity and techniques as far as I can.  This piece definitely hadn’t gone to plan, so it was a wonderful surprise to get a call from the Guild to let me know I’d won the Experienced category.  I wasn’t at the show where the results were announced, but my friends Penny Akester and Jean Power were, which was lovely, and it was fantastic to see the piece in the latest BWG  Journal.


I’ve now received my lovely prize of vouchers (to spend on beads of course).  Question is, do I buy a lovely kit from one of the super list of sellers, or do I spend it on beads for next year’s Challenge ‘Indian Summer’?