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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.

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Diva – more adventures with bead embroidery

Apologies (yet again) for the quietness here and in my shops.  I’m working on two separate competition pieces at the moment, which means I can’t really post about them, but in between doing and re-doing them, I’ve finished another piece which this post is all about.  It’s a necklace I made for a concert – as a soloist I had an opportunity to make something with all of the enormous crystals I’ve been hoarding and dress up the plain black velvet dress the piece (Faure’s beautiful Requiem) required.  The concert went really well, and the necklace gave me an extra confidence boost.  Sadly I forgot to take pictures on the night but I have been taking them as I made it, so I thought it would be interesting to describe that process.

So – how did it come about?  I’d bezelled several modern and vintage crystals from my stash already using my usual MRAW into Peyote bezel, as I’d intended to use them for another piece, but it didn’t work out so they were sat in my workbag.  When the solo came up it seemed like the perfect chance to use them, so they were my starting point and set the initial colour scheme of silver, light matte pewter and etched vitrail with plain crystals.

Grouped together the bezelled crystals didn’t seem big enough to occupy the very deep V shaped neckline of the wrap style dress, so I had a root around and found a huge labradorite cabochon.  I mounted that on some grey Nicole’s Bead Backing, and cut a rough shape, adding wings at the top to join to the crystals. I bezelled using back stitch and then peyote, alternating bead and no bead on the final row for textural interest.  A back stitched row of tiny 2mm etched granite fire polished beads finished that part.

Next I had to decide how to put the piece together.  Because I was making for one very specific occasion, and one dress I wanted to use the shape of the dress to really enhance the piece.  So amid much laughter from my long suffering husband I cut a section out of a piece of A4 paper to leave room for my neck, then stuffed it into the front of the dress and drew the outline of the dress’s neckline onto the paper.  I also added a rough sketch of what I though the ideal shape would be – following the lines of the dress but giving a gap so that the piece would be nicely fitted and framed – giving me a probable outline and an idea of the space I would be working with in case that outline had to evolve.

Then on that paper I tried lots of different layouts, placing the bezelled stones in different combinations and positions until I settled on one.  

Next I needed to form a base – I’m not really used to bead embroidery, and had bezelled all of the crystals with a peyote band off an MRAW starter – only the labradorite cabochon was mounted on backing, and the backing was very small (poor planning on my part – I should have just worked on the full sheet and cut down later).  I had intended originally to link the stones with beads, but I had a change of heart and decided to back them instead, so I tacked an additional bit of backing onto the cab piece.  I kept it quite narrow (about a third of the finished width, rather than the full width) as I wanted the bezelled crystals to sit independently of any base, and to avoid the breastplate look so beloved of some bead embroiderers, as it’s just not to my taste.  This was almost certainly extra work compared to bezelling straight onto a backing, but it did allow me to avoid issues around the crystals not being flat backed, and I think the end result looks good.  So anyway, eventually the bezelled crystals were stitched in place onto the backing.  

Next I covered some of the backing and added some edge interest by stitching on some faceted drops – I had bought these a while back and they seemed to pick out the blues and purples in the labradorite.  Then things seemed to be getting a bit too flat, so I wanted to add some height – I beaded some herringbone rope which I nestled between the asymetric crystals (they were starting to look a bit like leaves) and then twisted and twined above the central stones – again using etched vitrail, with 8s in the central section and 11s either end to nestle into the gaps.  A couple of matte vitrail etched spikes filled in some more gaps and gave more textural interest, and a gorgeous waterlilly chaton with a rather risky minimal bezel broke up the rope a bit.

I used stacking (one large bead caught down and through with a smaller bead – in this case a mix of 8s and 6s caught with 11s) to fill in the remaining backing – again in the etched vitrail which looks absolutely amazing on the large 6 seeds, and then I was ready to think about a strap.  

I had originally intended to use silver chain because I had expected it to be covered by the dress, but a quick check showed this wasn’t going to be the case, so I felt something which continued the textures round, but was still quite delicate would be a good idea.  Another herringbone rope seemed called for, but I don’t have much luck with preserving a perfectly even tension on these, and with the etched beads this would be even more challenging.  So I went through my bead books and found a lovely delicate spiral rope in a Marcia DeCoster necklace – a bit of substituting gave me a central core of silver 11s, with an outer spiral of etched 11s surrounding either an etched 3mm or an etched 8.  I haven’t used spiral rope for years, but I actually really enjoyed it (after all the experimentation and fiddly bezelling earlier it was quite a relief to have something straightforward and repetitive).

While this was going on I backed the main piece – I wanted to secure the ropes to both the bezelled crystals and the backing first, and then I decided to order some grey rather than using the black ultrasuede I already had – I think it was worth the wait.  That then allowed me to edge – I had planned an extravagent fancy edge, but once I’d put the first brick stitch edge in place that felt like enough for now.

One last quick try on set the length for the rope, and I then followed Marcia’s example and used a simple loop and a rivoli I’d bezelled earlier to form a catch.

Rope complete, it was finally time to mount my favourite crystal – an unbacked vintage stone, which I’d given the barest of netted bezels, and wanted to use free of backing to display the capturing beads and the transparency.  I had hoped to link sides and base with crystals, but wasn’t happy with the visible threads, so I came back to the fire polished etched beads, and then off to seeds.  Then I tried the necklace on and found that the unbacked crystal was digging into the base of my throat slightly, which would have been a real distraction when singing, so I snipped the whole thing off again.

That would be why you’re always told to start new threads to do attachments – makes it much easier to simply change your mind!  That left me with a rather boring top edge to the central area, so another bezelled chaton attached at an angle broke that up nicely, and hey presto ‘Diva’ (what else could you call a necklace for a soprano) was complete.

In case you’re wondering about materials, this was made almost entirely from my stash so I’m a bit vague, but here’s what I know:

  • 2mm fire polished etched- Spoilt Rotten Beads
  • 3 & 4mm fire polished, all sizes of seed in etched vitrail – Bead Stampede
  • Miyuki seeds and delicas – Stitch N Craft
  • Vintage crystals (coloured leaves, round) – Old Bicycle Shop
  • Labradorite cabochon – Mark Varah Fossils
  • Nicole’s bead backing & Ultrasuede – Jencel
  • Crystal drops – My Vintage Charms & Creative Beadcraft
  • Asymmetric crystals – small – Swarovski shop in London many years ago – I didn’t have the skill to bezel such awkward shapes then so they’ve sat in my stash
  • Large asymmetric crystal – cheap local bead shop which has since closed!

 

It’s a good long list – I do seem to get around a bit!

Happy Beading!!

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Crimson Frog Fish

Having been reminded of her gorgeous work in the recent Stitch and Craft  brochure, I googled Kinga Nichols to see if she offers kits or tutorials for those of us unable to get to classes.  She does, but her Etsy shop is a bit empty as she’s just been away – this is probably just as well given that I have far too many beads already, the pound is low, and postage from the States is horribly expensive.  However, further googling turned up her new video tutorial for Interweave.  I’ve used free video tutorials in the past to help with things like knitting and sewing, but never for beading, and to be honest, never paid for.  But it’s something I’d maybe like to try doing myself one day, and I’d just bought a fantastic eye cabochon from WingSmith and some red bead foundation from Jencel at the Big Bead Show, so it felt like the beady universe was saying ‘go on go on’,  so I splashed out the rather steep $19.99 and had a go.

We made a fish.  She is rather lovely, and ugly at the same time, and I really enjoyed making her.  I have learnt about glues, fabrics etc, drawn and cut out my base (the tutorial claims to be focussed on working with pre-cut foundation, but to be fair other than the fact that we are using one, it’s not about that, it’s really about making a lovely beaded fish).  I’ve at last sorted out my back stitch (which I’d never got to like previously), and I’ve added a bezel to the glued on eye, seeded on some Swarovski lochrosen (glass sequins), drops and best of all added some lentils to cover a huge space in no time at all!

The video is well structured, with good, clear explanations of the key stitches and techniques.  There is possibly a little too much of watching Kinga do back stitch, but one can always fast forward.  It’s certainly possible to watch and bead, and then just pause when you need to catch up, which works well so long as you have a device/PC next to your beading area (in my case this consists of an iPad on the arm of the sofa).  It’s certainly been the best bead embroidery technically that I’ve done, and I think Kinga deserves full credit for that.  The next test will be to see whether I can appy this to some designs of my own.

I enjoyed making the pink and red one so much that I’ve made a second fish in pink, green and purple – this time the correct size (I scaled the first up as the eye I had was huge), and I see more of these plus some other Kinga style bead embroidery in my future…….

Hints & Tips

  • Interweave sell this as either a single video ‘download’ (there is a second project available as well) or as a pair of projects on DVD.  The downloads are $19.99 each (so $39.98 the pair), the DVD pair $34.99.  I don’t know who does their accounting, but that feels like a rip off.  The downloads should cost significantly less to sell, and yet are more because you can’t buy the pair.  With the pound low this works out as at least twice what I would normally pay for a tutorial, and more than the price of a book for a single project.  If you are based in the US and can buy the DVD set then that will be a reasonable deal – otherwise for UK based beaders I’m not sure I can recommend based on price.  As I write it is reduced to $15.99, so if you live somewhere with a favourable dollar exchange rate, it may be worth a buy!
  • If you are using an iPad or iPhone, they are not even downloads – you are effectively buying access to stream the video, not to save it on your device.  Yes, I will when I have time download it onto my PC, but I’ll want to watch it on my iPad or iPhone so will have to get dear husband to transfer it on.  This is governed by the way that Apple run downloads onto iPads and iPhones, and is not something Interweave alone can change, but a more substantial warning before purchase would have been appreciated.
  • There’s a PDF included with a template of the fish to trace, which is great, but no materials list.  You have to work out as you go along what beads you will need, and for me, that was quite annoying – I like to pull together the right beads (or roughly the right beads) before I start, so that I know I can bead all of the way through without having to go hunt out or even buy additional beads.  A written tutorial or magazine project would always contain a list, so why not a digital download.  Even just talking through the materials required at the beginning of the film would have helped………hopefully though my list in the Recipe below will be of some use!
  • Coloured bead foundation is a must here – going back to the lack of materials list you’re going to be pretty disappointed as you can’t start without it.  Coincidentally I’d bought some red and pink Nicole’s Bead Backing from Jencel at the Big Bead Show, so was kitted up ready to go.  It’s the first time I’ve worked with it, rather than using white Lacey’s Stiff Stuff or Beadsmith Bead Backing and it was really, really liberating.  Using a backing that compliments or even contrasts with your beads, which you’re happy to show through makes everything easier, and means you can use larger beads with ease without having to fuss filling in the tiny gaps with seeds, spoiling the effect and multiplying the work! I’ve invested in some more colours now, and I feel that having a good backing colour will make me more confident and bold with my beads.
  • I didn’t really want to make a big, heavy cuff, and didn’t have the right materials to do that anyway – instead I had a look at the other fish pieces Kinga has done and spotted that sometimes she puts a hole in the upper fin and uses that to thread a cord through, making a pendant.  This was relatively easy to do, although I’m slightly worried about the strength of the loop – will it distort in use?  Another time I’m going to cut a piece of plastic (from some washed veg packaging or similar) to sit between the foundation and backing to provide additional strength.  I may even consider doing this for the whole piece as with so many heavy beads on it does feel like it could do with some extra stiffening.
  • I didn’t have the petals Kinga used for the scales – instead I used some lentils I’ve been sitting on for a while, and I think they also work really well.  As they are smaller than the petals I decided not to add seed bead stalks, as the holes are reasonably inconspicuous.  That meant I had to work from the tail inwards to get the layering of the scales right (Kinga is able to work the other way as her petals sit further off the foundation with their beaded stalks, so can be pushed aside).
  • Big eyes are better – the second fish I made has an eye closer to the outline provided (15mm), and I don’t think she is as fun as the first one, which has a much larger eye (25mm) in proportion to the rest of the piece.  If you’re working using the template, I would use a 20mm eye.
  • Dragon eyes (with a vertical slit for a pupil) don’t look as nice as ‘normal’ eyes.  Don’t know why, they just don’t look as friendly.
  • They’re pretty big and daring, even for me to wear.  They may take a turn on the Christmas tree this year………..

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Recipe

Creative Bead Embroidery 1 with Kinga Nichols: Working with Precut Foundations Video Download

Coloured beading foundation to tone with your main colours.  I used Nicole’s Bead Backing in red (red & pink fish) and fuchsia (pink & purple fish).

Backing – tone, contrast, compliment, whatever – I used Ultrasuede in fuchsia as it’s easy to work with and I had some, although Kinga suggests leather instead as it is more durable.

Glass eye cabochon – I used a 25mm from Wingsmith for the red/pink, and a 15mm from Kookeli for the purple/pink.  Next time I’ll use a 20mm (see Hints & Tips).

Seed Beads:
  • Size 11 in at least three colours (an outline colour, a main colour for the backstitched circles and one of the fin stripes, and a third colour to give some contrast round the eyes – you could work with more than two colours in this area).  I used Duracoat Zest 4205 as the outline and Silver Lined Fuchsia 1436 as the main for both, with Silver Lined Vermillion 1010 for the red/pink fish and Silver Lined Purple 1446 for the purple/pink.  All Miyuki of course.
  • Size 15s – just a few to close the eye bezel and for attaching the lochrosen – Duracoat Zest 4205 for both fish.
  • Size 11 delicas in a contrast to form the stripes on the fins.  I used Silver Lined Frosted Orange 682 for the red/pink fish, and Galvanised Dark Magenta 463 for the purple/pink.
Feature Beads:
  • For the belly, Swarovski Lochrosen in 4mm (Fuchsia & Light Siam) for the pink/red fish, and O-beads and Tri-beads in Magic Orchid for the pink/purple.  Kinga uses the Swarovski in two sizes, which would be lovely, but I don’t have them and they seem to be very difficult to get hold of at the moment.  Probably a Strictly Come Dancing induced shortage.  The O and Tri beads worked very well though, and are more economical.  If you’re using a ‘magic’ coating, make sure the coated side sits at the back, so that the transparent side sticks up giving you the sparkle.
  • Next along the belly, some 3.4mm Miyuki drops – ideally transparent, with optional colour lining rather than a frosted or opaque – they’ll look like glossy bubbles.  I used red lined topaz for the pink/red and a pink/green mix for the purple/pink.
  • And finally, some larger, flattish beads for the scales – Kinga uses Petals, but I didn’t have any so I tried Lentils and they worked well – Etched Crystal Full Marea for the red/pink, and Magic Orchid for the purple/pink.  Again make sure you use the beads the right way up to get the best from the coating.

All in all not the best value, but well explained and demonstrated, and a fantastic, enjoyable project which I plan to repeat. A lot.

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Fantasy Workshop shopping

Last week the Stitch and Craft workshop schedule for next year came out, and it got me really salivating.  Utter lushness, in the lovely Dorset countryside.  Bookings open on Thursday, and some workshops will go incredibly quickly because they are incredible designs from internationally renowned beaders.  Plus they are at the SnC Studio which in itself is a beader’s paradise, and frankly worth coming up with any excuse to visit (including ‘but I really need to learn how to make this so I have to go there’).  I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to any classes, family and work being what they are, but I’ve indulged myself with a little fantasy workshop selecting – perhaps one of you could go instead?

So, first to some of my beady friends, starting with the fabulous Jean Power.  I think I’d go for her ‘Iskra Box’, or possibly the ‘Tetra Star’, as I’ve seen elements of these in development and thought they were amazing.  Jean’s a great teacher, and really fun to bead with – we’d have a ball.

My new beady friend, Shona Bevan is teaching a few pieces – I loved her ‘CRAW Donut’ when I saw her wearing it a couple of months ago – it’s put together with such confidence and elegance, and yet it’s so daringly simple in terms of colour.  Then again, she was wearing one of her ‘Borgia Pendants’ last week and that was completely lovely.  Plus she is a scream in person so again we’d have a fab day.

When I met Sian Nolan for the first time on the Stitch and Craft stand at the Big Bead Show, she was I think wearing her ‘Flowers in the Snow’ – I couldn’t stop staring at it so I’d love to learn how to make one.  The use of I’m guessing lentils round the edges is inspired, and I have just the ones in my stash already…….

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Sabine Lippert – from her I’d go for either ‘Night and Day’ or ‘Charming’.  Laura McCabe is coming over, and although she’s not teaching her more avant garde pieces, I think her ‘Modern Medieval Bracelet’ would give a good insight into some of her techniques.

I’ve made a few of Heather Kingsley Heath’s designs, and really enjoyed them – her ‘Samarkand’ includes fabric which really intrigues me, but then again her ‘Bumble Bee’ is adorable.  And ‘Serpentine’ looks lovely……

I’ve been trying to up skill my bead embroidery lately, and luckily my newest obsession (kicked off by the arrival of this very brochure) is the bead embroidery of Kinga Nichols.  I’ve just splashed out on her Interweave video featuring a fantastic fish (and started beading it), so I wouldn’t pick that class even though it really appeals – instead I think I’d love to learn how she achieves such lovely textures and shapes in her abstract pieces, so would go for the ‘Bees Knees’ pendant – very wearable as well.

Looking at some of the other classes, ‘Nuts & Bolts’ by Heather Collin (taught by Lynn Firth) caught my eye.  It looks like an intriguing construction with an opportunity to play with colour, which is obviously a plus for me, and very wearable.  Then the lovely Lynn is also teaching some of her own pieces as well…….  There’s a bead crochet class with Gillian Lamb which might be a good idea (I really cannot get the hang of it on my own), and then there are classes from the incredibly elegant Maggie Meister, and exploration class using Hubble Stitch with Melanie de Miguel, and oh the list goes on, so it’s just as well I don’t have to choose.  If you can though, do, and you will definitely have a lovely time.

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Completion

I’m not great at finishing things – as well as the usual UFO box of failed projects I even have a box full of nearly finished projects. Brooches needing brooch pins, pendants needing only a jump ring, and of course tutorial pieces needing writing up.
Seeing so much bead embroidery in the Battle of the Beadsmith reminded me that about 3 years ago I had a go at it, and had an almost finished piece cluttering up my beading cupboard. So I girded my loins, dug out my bead embroidery book (Jamie Cloud Eakin’s dimensional Bead Embroidery) and worked out how to finish it. And finish it I have.

I’m quite pleased with it, but made a couple of errors which mean it will be staying with me rather than going into the shop………….

  • I made a booboo when I was cutting out the backing, forgetting the remnants of a sticky label.  Which doesn’t look great.
  • I looked at the big roll of heavy interfacing in my sewing drawer and said ‘ I can use that, not this ridiculously expensive beading stiffener’.  This might have worked for a flat piece, but didn’t work for a bracelet as the interfacing has folded slightly, so I don’t have a smooth curve.

On the bright side, the faux suede upholstery fabric I used (I started this so long ago I hadn’t heard of ultrasuede) does seem to be fine – it’s nice to work with and hasn’t frayed at all.  Since it’s one of a large wad of samples I bought at a fabric sale I’m quite pleased since I now have a huge range of colours of backing to choose from.

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So here it is, my first completed bead embroidery piece – beads from my stash, a polaris clasp from Stitch N Craft and backing from my overstuffed fabric drawer.  I’ve enjoyed the process more than I thought I would – I have always perhaps slightly looked down on bead embroidery, feeling it doesn’t have the engineering and construction challenges of the 3D beadweaving I’m more used to, but it does give an opportunity to paint with beads, and really make the most of the finishes and colours.  Since finishing this I’ve made two more pieces, more about them soon (once they make it out of the nearly finished box!).