Making of Kākāpō Cape

This was my winning entry in the ‘Previous Winners’ class of the Beadworkers Guild annual challenge – you can learn a little more about the piece in my earlier blog post here.

I really loved making this piece – every year I try to challenge myself creatively during the winter months, usually working on something big and using new techniques or materials. Often it’s a Guild Challenge provided that the theme is one which chimes with me.

I’ve worked in most of my usual beadwork techniques into this piece – peyote bezels, a wide variety of bead embroidery stitches, goldwork smooth purl loops, scale like sequinned areas, but the ‘fur and feathers’ theme meant I also added some new to me materials, and perhaps new to the Challenge techniques – not too many though, as it does have to be beadwork based after all.

Tiny tufts of fur and a variety of feathers were taken from trimmings and individually cut down and stitched in place. I used punch needling on a separate fabric using hand dyed threads and fibres to make additional mossy fur patches, which were then stitched onto the main base, and also used needle felting and felt balls cut in half to add height under some sections, which were then bead embroidered.

Early on as a key part of the piece I created the lutrador and tyvek sections – hand painted then carefully heat shrunk, the tyvek gives the bubbles, and the lutrador the mossy textures. Both were tacked in place and then bead embroidered using simple stab stitches and a variety of bronze Miyuki beads. The tyvek had to be pre-pierced with a beader’s awl so I could attach it and add the beads, and with the lutrador the objective was to fill in all of the lacey holes.

I’d already bezelled the cabs onto hard felt, and stitched those in place at roughly the same time as the manipulated synthetics, starting to build the layout. The hard felt edges were then masked with stacked seed beads and sequins. Below you can see one section as it built over time – bear in mind I was building all three sections in parrallel to ensure I had the same look and feel on each, so I was constantly swapping as I then went on to build up the beadwork sections.

As you can see above, all the sections were worked onto soft felt which was mounted onto tough dress net – I needed to use soft rather than hard felt so the collar sections would drape on the body and move, but it wouldn’t have been strong enough then to support such heavy beading, so I added two layers of net beneath. The net was easy to work through, and as well as strengthening the felt once the stitching started, it of course provided the tensioned base to get the felt pieces onto an embroidery hoop (or in the case of the largest section, a quilting hoop as I had no embroidery hoops big enough!). More often I work bead embroidery on hard felt, which doesn’t require a frame, but with the soft felt you have to work under tension or it puckers (as well as flopping everywhere) – slower and bulkier but worth the extra effort.

Some parts of the base felt were also hand painted – bright green felt was the right colour at the beginning of the project but then the teal and bronze colours took over from the lime greens as I progressed, so I needed to use watered down acrylic inks to tone it down into the background – silly error but a useful new technique for me to perfect.

The beetle wings have been in my stash for about 15 years, and this was finally the perfect project for them – they’re carefully attached through tiny holes with give in the threads to allow them to move with the wearer, and had to go on just before backing.

And finally, each section has small ‘button holes’ for the toggles – the sections need to move independently in wear so each have just two joining points, and the Anna Bronze toggles can sometimes just be seen sitting snugly in the textures. Each of those button holes plus all of the edges have been finished using the standard bead embroidery ‘sunshine edge’ – fiddly (particularly round the peacock feathers on the neck edge) but an important strengthening step to marry together the strong ultrasuede with the softer felt (which I’d already reinforced with dress net either side) .

I’ve probably missed some techniques or materials in this list – this was a very long project (started in November ’22, finished in March ’23) but I will try to share more ‘in progress’ shots on my social media accounts so we can all see it grow and I can describe some more of the process – just follow me on Instagram or Facebook to see those.

With so many materials in one piece a definitive supplier list is tough, particularly as so much came from my stash, but here are some key suppliers:

  • The majority of the beads are Miyuki and from my stash, but I did need to bulk out some colours from a variety of bead sellers including Old Bicycle Shop, local to me Peppy Beads and the sadly now gone Stitch and Craft, and NataschaKralen rescued me when I needed lots more frosted silver lined teal in seeds and drops, as well as being the only place I could find the dark green Ultrasuede used to back it in a big enough quantity.
  • There are also Swarovski pearls and bicone crystals from my stash, plus other crystals from Peppy Beads, who also supplied the long uneven rice pearl used in the reinforced linking strings. The chatons are Aurora from Old Bicycle Shop.
  • The cabochons are Parrot’s Wing Chrysocolla from Designer Cabochons, actually partially purchased using a gift certificate from a previous Guild win – these were a great find and were the starting point for the whole piece and it was lovely to cycle the prize money back into the contest like this.
  • The other pearls were all from my stash and had been there for many years, as had the beetle wings, and the Anna Bronze toggles have been languishing for a while waiting for a special enough project.
  • Sequins again from my stash but also quite a few new ones from Fan New Trimmings in Soho’s Berwick Street (who sell them loose by weight – wow – pictures below), and they also provided the amazing feathers (plus a few of the peacock feathers had been collected on our annual trips to Brownsea Island, where the peacocks roam wild).
  • Hand dyed threads for the mossy furry punch needled sections came from my stash, and were originally from Hope Jacare as usual.
  • The tyvek and Lutrador came in a mixed pack from Molten Designs on Etsy- really useful for trying this out. I you want to have a go you’ll need a heat gun to melt and I used acrylic inks to colour them – you can use alcohol inks but they’re not as colour fast.
  • And the smooth purls used on the loops are (obviously) from my stock for my own Etsy shop – where else!?

Anyway, overall I did enjoy making this piece, and after 5 months of work still actually like it (not always the case with some pieces). I feel very happy and proud that it won it’s class in such an important competition. Thank you to the Guild for continuing to run the Challenge and for setting such an interesting theme (and for liking my work yet again!). A particular thank you has to go to all those who enter – whether you’re like me and have entered several times or it’s your first try we’re all contributing to stretching and promoting our wonderful art form and I’m jolly proud to be part of that.

Kākāpō Cape

Inspired by the rotund green endangered Kākāpō parrots of New Zealand, this feathered cape like collar celebrates Kākāpōs and their dark, moist forest floor habitat. 

Parrot’s wing chrysocolla is surrounded by seed beads, pheasant feathers, beetle wings, pearls, crystals and sequins.  Tufts of salvaged fur and peacock feathers replicate hairy tree fern trunks, and hand painted heat shrunk lutradur and tyvek add pebbly and mossy textures to the felt base, strengthened with net and backed with ultrasuede.  Displayed flat, when worn the cape sits comfortably on the shoulders, the three pieces linked by reinforced seed pearl strands and bronze toggles.

This was my winning entry in the ‘Previous Winners’ class of the Beadworkers Guild annual challenge. The theme this year was ‘Fur & Feathers’ and I’m looking forward to seeing all of the entries in the various classes soon. The cape will now go on tour with the Guild for a year, visiting shows and exhibitions, before it flies home here, at which point I will work out how and where to display it. Follow me here for some more posts on how this was made, and/or on Facebook and Instagram for more pictures and in progress shots.

Ice and a Slice

I know it’s been a long while, but I’ve finally had time to finish writing up a new tutorial which is now available in my Etsy shop. Ice and a Slice celebrates our love of Gin and Tonic with a variety of fruit adornments, each altering the flavour. It’s a bead embroidered component in three sizes which can be used separately or together to make a Pendant, Necklace, Brooch, Earrings or Ornament.

It uses a variety of bead embroidery embroidery techniques with optional goldwork, and will suit intermediate bead weavers, bead embroiderers, or embroiderers looking to learn some bead embroidery techniques.

The twenty six page tutorial contains a full materials list, with suggestions for suppliers, and as usual every step is fully illustrated with a detailed diagram showing thread paths etc, photos to show you what you are aiming for and every step is also written out clearly (in English). A detailed variations section covers a range of colour and final formations for a range of pieces, and the motif can be beaded in three different sizes, all covered. All of the different techniques used are covered in full, with tips as well as stepped out instructions, and you should finish this piece ready to use the techniques in your own designs.

Full requirements are available here, and the tutorial itself is available for instant download from my Etsy shop here.

Selling on Folksy

Did you know that I actually sell some of my finished beadwork and embroideries?

I have a little shop on the UK site Folksy with earrings, a couple of necklaces and some of my embroidered mini hoops – you can view it here. The range is deliberately small to keep it fresh and current, but I also run commissioned work through Folksy, so if you see something you like there or on my social media do feel free to contact me and request custom colours etc.

Folksy is a bit like Etsy but much smaller. They’re deliberately fussier about handmade only and it’s a sensible, easy to browse size as it is just for UK makers (although I can of course still ship worldwide from there). Best of all it has a small, caring, supportive and innovative management team and has a wonderful community of friendly makers which I love. That community take an active interest in promoting the site, spotting non-handmade shops and supporting other sellers with advice and help through the forums and Facebook group. The management team support makers with advice and help, and consult about improvements – Doug the IT guy is legend, and Camilla and her colleagues are experienced makers themselves who constantly feed us useful advice about selling and running our handmade businesses. They actively curate really lovely gift guides, themes of the day and highlight interesting pieces, and run a fascinating blog with ‘makers of the week’ (I was one back in 2014 – read the posts here – very out of date but fun to look back at where I came from).

I’ve been selling there for more years than I care to mention and it’s a lovely place to sell and shop for beautiful handmade items. I’ll probably always have my Etsy shop for supplies and tutorials but it’s very hard to be seen as a maker rather than a supplier there as it’s simply so huge and geographically diverse, so I find Folksy suits me really well for finished items.

Pop over and have a look at my works there using the link below, and do take time to browse some of the other lovely shops too. I’ve listed a few of my favourites below:

Susie West – stunning ‘travel posters’ – we have three of these already and are trying to collect one for everywhere we have lived (we have a little way to go!).

Claire Gent – amazing aluminium and silver jewellery. I’ve lusted after Claire’s work for years!

Holme & Moss – I’ve got one of their classic hairbands in my basket at the moment.

Eynonymous – I have a beautiful yellow silk hairband from Eddie which I wear a lot – she designs and prints beautiful textiles.

Clare Lloyd – modern polymer clay and silver jewellery.

Tanith Rouse – eye-catching contemporary coloured aluminium jewellery.

Jenny Newall – gorgeous stained glass birds and super cute egg earrings.

Sue Trevor – contemporary machine embroidery and fabric sculptures – I’ve bought lots of Sue’s work as gifts for the textile lovers in my family.

The Whimsical Marbler – lovely marbled papers, some in great bright colours for a more modern take.

Clare Buchanan – really eye-catching bright wovens.

Working with Colour

I’m often told ‘your colours are marvellous’ or words to that effect, and that’s lovely to hear as colour is incredibly important to me and I do work hard at it! I do have some specific methods I use to really get my colours to work whilst focussing on my designs, and I thought you’d like to hear a bit about my main one.

I’m sure many of you will have noticed that over the last few years you’ll see a run of pieces working through a similar colour theme being posted in sequence and may have wondered what I’m up to. This is a deliberate working method for me now – I focus on a set of colours for several months at a time, work them out, play with different combinations of finish, different juxtapositions, and get really comfortable with them. This saves time pulling and tidying beads, and allows me to focus on new designs without the endless distraction of playing with new colours and rooting around in drawers and drawers of beads.

This has become a standard working method for me of late and it started a while back when I used to pull sets of beads to take on holiday or for a large creative project. I pull a range of beads, threads, sequins, crystals, focals and basic supplies such as threads, findings and backing/foundation in a new set of colours. So for the seed beads that means a set of anything from three to many more colours in as many sizes as I have, plus corresponding delicas, then as standard I usually dig out whatever I have in 3mm and 4mm rounds, fire polisheds and bicones which gives me a really versatile working base. I’ll always add a complimentary metallic colour with matching findings, and then it’s time to rifle through my crystals, feature beads and growing collection of sequins. I’ll add drops (very useful) and then chuck in whatever I have in the right colours in shaped beads. If I have shrinkets or cabochons already made I’ll pull those out too or I’ll make more as I need them.

I’ll usually do some bead embroidery in one of these runs, but will grab foundation and backing as I need it, but I’ll get out the right shades of beading thread so I’m never tempted to use something less than ideal. These days I usually work with purls as well, so I’ll add smooth, pearl and textured purls, and if I’m also thinking of a hand embroidered piece, some linen, silk, tulle or organza and of course, stranded cottons, perles and treasured texture packs and hand dyed threads.

I can end up with anything from a small A5 box or bag to a big stack of A4 boxes, depending on how deep I want to go and how indecisive I’m feeling. So right now, I’ve deliberately picked a smaller set to work with, just beads, purls to complement a set of rainbow coated steel findings I want to work with. So far that’s just turned up one piece using a cab and set of shrink pieces I forgot I had made, but I’ve only been at it for a week. I’m already slightly off track as I didn’t use the rainbow findings yet but I’m quite happy nonetheless as can amble along trying out some ideas I have floating around without needing to root around for beads constantly. And when this is worked through, I’ll tidy them away and pull a new set.

My previous set was a box of beads the same size (A5) plus a similar size box of purls, findings and sequins and a bag of threads and fabrics – that lasted several months and resulted in these beaded pieces:

That set was inspired by a lovely yarn pack from Wild Floss Embroidery – ‘Sherbert Pastel’ colours on a dark teal base. I did an embroidered piece first, adding hand dyed threads from Hope Jacare and beads in similar colours, so once I’d completed the embroidery hoop I had a set of beads ready to go and had got the hang of how to use these colours – which aren’t my usual combo at all. As well as some pieces for myself (including the big embroidery hoop) some of the earrings are now available for sale in my Folksy Shop.

Looking back you’ll be able to see some other series of works which came about in a similar way – first some works which started with my big Egyptian piece for a Beadworker’s Guild Challenge a few years back and spawned several pieces:

And then my very long (over 6 month) pastel based marine inspired pieces – again coming from a winning Beadworker’s Guild Challenge piece ‘Where Corals Lie’.

Back to Nature

I’m please to be able to introduce ‘Back to Nature’, my entry in the ‘Previous Winner’s class of the Beadworkers Guild Annual Challenge 2020/21, and very happy to say that once again, I won.

The theme this year was ‘Save the Planet – Bead it Don’t Bin It’ and this was my Artist’s statement (which we send with our entries and is the only context we can supply to the judges):

‘Inspired by the layers and structure of soil profiles, this box explores the idea of nature taking over again, burying mankind’s waste and rubbish under layers of soil, moss and lichens.  Salvaged circuit boards surrounded by the digital bytes of beadwoven delicas, are slowly being covered by layers of soil –  beads, threads, pearls, reclaimed watch parts and recycled sequins. On the surface, embroidered and beaded mosses are cut through by Kintsugi repairs of bent and damaged scraps of leftover goldwork wires.  Bursting down into the soil below,  the gold brings new life and destroys what we’ve left behind. ‘ 

That’s the ‘public’ face of the piece, in reality it’s simply a really lovely embroidered fully hand made box, made by me over several months using only items from my stash, waste from my shop and household computer and packaging waste, and just about every technique I knew, could learn or could make up. I’ll try and get a blog post together in the next couple of days to tell you a little more here about how it came about.

Sunstar – Liberty Print

I was checking through my materials pack stock the other day and I remembered I had a spare Sunstar in yellow put aside for myself. The grey weather made me yearn for something cheerful and as it’s a lovely evening’s worth of beading (OK I do bead quite quickly and I’ve made a lot of these previously), I thought I’d curl up and make it.

Here it is – definitely cheerful!

Sunstar in Yellow Liberty Print

I still have some of these packs left, and some in different Liberty Print colourways in my Etsy Shop, and if you’d like to make your own with or without a pack the tutorial is here. If you’re not ready for florals yet this year, then I also have versions using my own hand painted cabochons and etched daggers here.

As with my packs I’ve used a combined brooch and pendant bail so I’ll be able to wear this as a brooch on more structured garments, or add a silk string to wear as a pendant and take my own bit of sunshine along with me. The bails are from the lovely Stitch N Craft beads – they’re included in my packs or you can of course buy direct from them. I use them on most big or heavy pendant pieces now as they actually give the firmest mount for a bail as well as the versatility of the brooch option.

I enjoyed making this so much I might steal another pack – I try to do as many colourways as I can mainly because I love putting the combinations together, but that does mean I’ve not always actually beaded every colourway (just spent ages trying different combinations of beads, backings and cabs). Which shall I pick…..?

Green Squidy

Thank you to all of the beaders who purchased the limited edition Blue Squidy component packs. Sadly they are now all gone and it looks like I can’t get the cabs again, so they’re even more unique than promised!

Fret not though, for now we have new Green and everso slightly bigger Squidy – gorgeous dyed agate cabs (once again you can select your own cab from the list), a new colourway of lovely Hope Jacare hand dyed silk ribbons, and superlush lime lacquer Swarovski chaton eyes, with matching goldwork wires and backings, so he’ll be even livelier than my sample (which has blue zircon eyes). These cabs are a teeny bit wider round the middle than the original cabs (although they claim to be the same size) so you’ll also get a revised paper template so you don’t run out of space for the beads!

Green Component Pack

I had two cabs from the blue batch left which were probably not bought because they’re a bit paler than the rest so didn’t work as well with the strong blues. I’ve now paired them with new ribbons in softer colours, using a different set for each cab so these two colourways are genuinely unique and can’t be repeated. One makes the most of the lovely soft heather colours which Clare at Hope Jacre is so good at, and the other has mossier blues and greens with hints of peach and lilac. Yummy – please buy them before I’m tempted to steal them for myself!

As with the previous component packs these just include the hard to find elements – you’ll need to add your own beads. Have a look here to see the exact requirements for beads, you’re sure to have them in your stash already, and you only need a tiny quantity of each, and can mix and match as you please. You will also need to purchase the tutorial. If you’re after the wires needed, then you’ll be happy to know I now also sell these in my Etsy shop too!

Goldwork embroidery

The eagle eyed among you may have spotted that I’m now selling Goldwork wires in my Etsy shop. I have a variety of colours of 1mm smooth purl, 1mm and 1.25mm pearl purl and some new and very pretty 1.5mm spiral purl. They’re all lovely quality enamelled copper wires from India, where they’re used in beautiful embroidered fabrics, and I use them myself in my bead embroidery work by employing a mix of goldwork and bead embroidery techniques, mainly (but not always) working on hard felt. Here are some examples:

I’ve also put together some 20g mixed bargain packs which are ideal for having a play with these wires . They contain a mix of different complimentary colours and textures/types of smooth, check, spiral and cut purl, so you’ll be able to work them into a range of goldwork techniques and styles, and hopefully are very good value tasters. If you purchase one then please add ‘BLOG’ to the ‘comments to seller’ section when you checkout on Etsy and I’ll throw in a free length of pearl purl for you to say ‘thank you’ for reading my blog.

Where Corals Lie

This trio of boxes were inspired by a beautiful poem by Richard Garnett, set to song by Elgar in his song cycle ‘Sea Pictures’. They were my entry in the Previous Winners category of this year’s Beadworker’s Guild Annual Challenge. The theme this year was ‘Fantasy’ and I’m happy to say that they won their class.

When I get some time I’ll tell you more about how I made them, and hopefully show some better pictures (these were taken in a tearing hurry one morning just before lockdown as I rushed to get them packed and sent before it became impossible) but for now here is the artist’s statement I submitted with the work to the judges, along with the text of the poem. To really understand though how as a singer Elgar‘s wonderful song inspired me to bead them, I’d recommend listening to it here.

A rose gold ship in the shallows betwixt shore and deep is joined by almost invisible sirens, whilst alongside a whale comes up from the depths to greet her ethereal friends, and the coral filled shallows are dotted with hidden holes for a mermaid’s treasures.

Techniques – bead embroidery, peyote, goldwork embroidery.

Materials – Miyuki and Czech beads; Swarovski crystals and pearls; vintage, new & hand cut sequins; goldwork wires; found coral; acrylic rods; hard felt; bentwood boxes.

Where Corals Lie – Richard Garnett

The deeps have music soft and low

When winds awake the airy spry,

It lures me, lures me on to go

And see the land where corals lie.

The land, the land, where corals lie.

By mount and mead, by lawn and rill,

When night is deep, and moon is high,

That music seeks and finds me still,

And tells me where the corals lie.

And tells me where the corals lie.

Yes, press my eyelids close, ’tis well,

Yes, press my eyelids close, ’tis well,

But far the rapid fancies fly

To rolling worlds of wave and shell,

And all the land where corals lie.

Thy lips are like a sunset glow,

Thy smile is like a morning sky,

Yet leave me, leave me, let me go

And see the land where corals lie.

The land, the land, where corals lie.