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Monet’s Garden at Giverny

This year for the Stitch n Craft challenge the theme was ‘Anything Goes’ – so no theme, no packs, no requirements, just enter something you’ve worked on this year that you’re proud of.  So I beaded away at a particular thread of an idea, and was getting really pleased with it when I realised it didn’t really meet a key requirement to use some beads bought from them.  Yes the core of the work used their beads, but the flashy bits, the visible bits were all from elsewhere.  So this didn’t really feel to me like it was entering into the spirit of the competition, so although I ‘d already paid the entry fee I decided to pause for a little think.

Whilst I was thinking (OK procrastinating) the theme was announced for another competition that fit my nearly complete piece perfectly.  In every other way that competition seemed like a better fit for it, so I decided to enter something else at Stitch and Craft instead – another one of my big bead embroidered necklaces perhaps, using beads that were definitely from them and some of my own cabochons?

Digging around I found a set of experimental cabs that I made in the early days using the left over paint mess from a salad spinner painting session with the boys.  Surreal but true.  The drips and dribbles gave an acrylic pour effect, and I’d even tried mopping up the excess paint from the side of the spinner by blotting, giving a lovely blotchy effect which I’d then used to make a huge 50mm cab.

The large cab made me think of Monet’s waterlily paintings, particularly those in the Orangery in Paris, where if you stand close the beautiful paints form gorgeous abstract patterns.  In turn that made me think of water, with silvery bubbles and that got me to my base colour scheme of silver, etched vitrail and metallic mint green (Miyuki 4214 and 4214F), and I started my usual process of pulling out a big range of beads to kick start the design process.  A stash search unearthed some vitrail ridged back cabs from The Old Bicycle Shop, and a wonderful crumple backed oval Crystal Electra geode cabochon from Stitch n Craft themselves.  The colours though were still a bit subtle, and I needed to call on more of the contrasting colours in the cabs and crystals, so I added some pink – not my usual fuchsia though, but a more subtle Swarovski Crsytal Peony Pink (again from Stitch N Craft).  And finally I spent some of my Beadworker’s Guild Founder’s Award prize money on some gorgeous Anna Bronze findings, this time in an antique silver finish, but repeating some of the organic shapes I’d used in that piece.  Then I got stuck in, using what is becoming a standard process for these type of pieces.

First I did a rough layout and photographed it, then rather than bezelling onto a single backing I bezelled each of the flat backed hand made cabs onto a separate piece of backing.  I do this because I find that adding the bezel changes the shape, size and overall appearance of the cab, and usually means I want to alter the layout significantly (usually to add more space).  I used a simple backstitch/peyote bezel – quick and secure, adding a picot to some but not all.  If you want to learn how to do a basic back stitch/peyote bezel then take a look at my SunStar tutorial which takes you through this technique.

Then I did the beadwoven bezels for the crystals and other cabochons – biggest first, then using a variant of whatever bezel I came up with for that one (with less repeats, or smaller beads) on the smaller ones to give a sense of continuity, and a repeat of the method I used on my Great Dixter necklace for the chatons.

Then I looked at layout again, adding the metal pieces, and did my trick of deciding on a shape based on a specific neckline – in this case I’m really glad because the original layouts had been for quite a shallow ‘v’ which wouldn’t have been great in wear.  Then I was ready to start attaching the bead embroidered cabs to a fresh base, using both glue and stitching (these are big cabs so it’ important to be secure, particularly if there is any flex in the finished piece as this could break the glue bond on bending).

Then I checked the layout yet again, working out how I would attach the bead woven cabochons (which sit up above the base and bead embroidered cabs, and where and how to attach the metal pieces.  This showed me what space to leave free, and where I needed to cover the base with bead embroidery – which I then did using simple stack stitch, and supplemented with some lovely Backlit Spectrum and Etched Vitrail 2 hole cab beads (in my head these were the bubbles in the water).  Next the attachment points for the straps (I didn’t complete the whole strap, as I wanted to check the length with the finished centrepiece, but I chose the beads, got it started and reinforced it repeatedly), and then finally I was able to secure the metal pieces and crystals.

At this point it was becoming apparent that the 50mm cabochon was pretty heavy.  Inevitably the bead backing is weakened as well when you stitch into it, so it was time for some serious reinforcement, sandwiching, glueing and stitching on additional sheets of backing, and even some flexible plastic cocktail sticks.

Of course those are hidden by the beading above, and the ultrasuede behind, so once that was on I worked on the edging, adding a picot to the focal cab and a simple sunshine edge to the remainder.

The neck strap of backlit 2 hole cabs was completed with simple loop and a vitrail Czech button from Snoochy, and then the whole thing was posted off to Dorset.

You can see all of the entries here on the Stitch n Craft website – in the end I was beaten on the day by Chloe Menage’s gorgeous bead embroidered headpiece, which she’d made for her own wedding.  However that’s not really why I enter competitions – it’s to stretch and challenge myself to do something original and ‘me’, and  I’m still really very pleased with this piece.  It’s the third I’ve made using this process (the first was my ‘Diva’, the second ‘Great Dixter), and each time it gets a bit easier, and a bit more enjoyable.  It was the last Stitch N Craft Beady picnic (and probably the last challenge) as they’re closing the studio to focus on mail order only, so as I’ve enjoyed them so much over the years I was really glad to be able to enter again this year, and I’ve got a lovely necklace to show for it too.

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Beadworker’s Guild Challenge 2018 – Indian Summer

Last year I finally managed to enter a Beadworker’s Guild Annual Challenge, and was lucky enough to win in my category of ‘professional’ with my Pineapple Rick Rack Fascinator ‘ Fascinating Carmen’. As soon as I heard the topic for this year was to be ‘Indian Summer’ I knew I needed to enter again – although now I have to be in the ‘Previous Winners’ category so that was even more daunting than being with the Pros.

I started work in late autumn last year, and knowing that I wanted to make something inspired by a late summer English ‘hot border’, pulled beads in Fuchsia, Orange, Purple and Bronze.

 

And boy do I have a lot of beads in that set – it felt like I’d been collecting treasures for years with this challenge in mind. I then started to bead, beginning with my favourite etched sliperit Czech beads, working through an idea for beading concentric circles to form a dahlia, working towards a huge set of flowers, and also working on some large beaded beads.

But then I discovered the wonderful work of Anna Bronze, a Russian artist working with lost wax castings to form beautiful natural forms. She had a beautiful range of seed pods and spices which played perfectly to the late summer theme, so I took a deep breath and ordered some (hand made work of this quality understandably does not come cheap). And when they arrived that of course threw the whole plan up in the air. The dark bronze was very striking, but didn’t work at all with the etched beads. It needed something deeper and richer, and I needed to get some crystals into play. And then I thought of the ‘Diva’ necklace I’d loved making earlier in the year, and started playing with putting together a collection of bezelled cabochons with the castings in a similar way.

On the huge tray of pulled beads I had some amazing ‘Crystal Astral Pink’ Swarovski stones which I’ve been hoarding forever, and looked amazing against the bronze. They also looked great with some lunasoft fuchsia cabochons, but that gave me a little too much pink, so I knocked up some cabochons of my own using orange Pebeo Prisme to balance them out. With the largest Astral Pink stone in the centre I was starting to get a bunch of stones that worked, but for a necklace I like to reflect the shape of the ‘decolletage’, so I needed something to basically point downwards into the chest! After a couple of failed attempts to make a marquise shaped cab myself I turned to Designer Cabochons and found a lovely dark marmalade agate drusy cab, and I had my set.

So I bezelled away, using bead embroidery for the pieces which would sit flat against the backing, with a backstich starter continuing into a peyote bezel, some with some picot or similar embellishments. For the large Swarovski stone which would sit in the centre I wanted a beadwoven bezel so that it could sit up above everything else, giving dimensional interest, so I used netting, and featured some lovely dyed agate faceted beads I’ve been hoarding forever, along with sparkly crystals.  And I also beaded some similar bezels around some rivolis to form more ‘flowers’, and a different variant for some chatons – again these would add height, textural interest and of course sparkle.

As I beaded I checked the layout continually, taking pictures as I worked so I could assess (and remind myself of my plan later!).

Once I’d finished all the bezelling and finalised the layout I glued the flat backed bezels onto another piece of bead backing, and where needed, added more rows of bead embroidery. I added the bronze pieces, and then before adding the final bezelled rivolis and crystals, filled in all of the visible backing with seed beads, crystals and groups of fuchsia agate berries.

And then I beaded a simple spiral rope which was attached through the largest bronze piece on one side, and behind a rivoli on the other, and added a lovely Anna Bronze seed pod toggle clasp.

By the time I’d done all that the main piece was getting a little floppy – both from the weight of the pieces, and from the amount of stitching (as this will inevitably make the backing less rigid), so I added another slightly smaller layer of Nicole’s Bead backing before adding a fuchsia Ultrasuede backing fabric and beading round a simple ‘sunshine’ edge. I had planned to do a fancier edging but at this point I realised that I needed to stop and not overdo things!

So, the finished piece was ready, and I posted it off to the lovely Denise at the Guild, who runs the challenges. And this was my description ‘Inspired by the work of the late Christopher Lloyd I planted a ‘hot’ bed. Filled with dahlias, cannas, bananas and tropical beauties in hot and rich shades, and with bronzed foliage and interesting seed heads, it would look its very best in the balmy ‘Indian Summer’ of early autumn. Unfortunately the English weather combined with an appalling number of snails means the crucial dahlias keep drying out or getting eaten, so this piece represents how it looks in my imagination rather than in reality. It includes my own hand painted cabochons, wonderful Anna Bronze findings, Swarovski crystals and much more.’

That was several months ago, and although I knew the judging was last weekend, it was a lovely suprise to get a phone call from Denise on Sunday morning to say that I’d won their ‘Founder’s Award’ – which as well as £100 and a trophy conveys the honour of making the piece ‘which the Judges select for the quality and imaginative use of beading stitches to enhance the design of the piece’.  As per last year the necklace will now embark on a tour with the Guild, visiting shows around the country on the Guild’s stand, and hopefully generating some interest and new beaders.  Again as per last year I didn’t take any particularly good pictures before I posted the piece off as I thought it would be back soon, so until we see some professional images in the next Beadworker’s Guild Journal these are all I can share!  If you fancy a look at the other entries, they are available in here on the Guild site.

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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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Our Solar System

One of the best bits of winning an Etsy Beadweavers Challenge is that you get to choose a future challenge topic.  The first time I won (with my Nasturtium Ring) I chose ‘Architecture’, which prompted some lovely entries.  My second win, with my Wings Bangle for the ‘Abstract Painting’ challenge was last October and my space mad family chose ‘Our Solar System’ as a theme.  Because we don’t run a challenge in December, and because January is always ‘Rising Star’ (for new members and those who haven’t won a challenge), the team have had plenty of thinking and beading time, and there have been a huge number of really fabulous entries.  I’ve not entered because I did a Planets necklace a while back and was a bit stumped for a new idea – looking at the entries I wouldn’t have stood a chance anyway!

So, the brief I gave them was:

The Solar System

In our house at the moment we are completely obsessed with our Solar System. My husband has a new telescope which we’ve been using to look at the moon and planets, so he’s constantly coming up with new activities (last week we all watched the International Space Station whizz over us). Recently we saw a wonderful harvest moon, followed the same night by the lunar eclipse (so much better than last year’s cloud covered solar eclipse), and last week I opened my newspaper to see some extraordinary new images of Jupiter’s storms from the Hubble Space Telescope, so when it came to choosing a theme it seemed like the whole universe was shouting at me!

Anyway, our Solar System seems like wonderful inspiration for beaders – how about beaded beads making a necklace of  planets, a scatter of rough natural crystals captured in freeform beadwork forming the Asteroid belt, or some bead embroidery inspired by the twisting stripes of Jupiter’s storms? And if you get stuck you can always watch our favourite song for inspiration, or if you are feeling more sensible have a look at the Hubble website’s gallery (don’t get distracted by the far off nebulae though, please stick to our own Solar System).

I gave them a link to Thomas (5) & Oscar’s (2) favourite song:

And to the Hubble Gallery.

And this is what they produced – extraordinary!

Etsy Beadweavers Feb 16 Solar System entries

Here are links to the Etsy listings:

Thomas (5) is completely in love with Kris’ Rocket (no.2) – who wouldn’t be, and dear husband loves the other Chris’ spiral galaxy (no.9).  Apparently the fact that our solar system is shown in red is astronomically significant and that (as well as its’ loveliness) pleases his pedantic heart.  Oscar (2) is far too young to choose a favourite (he just says ‘beads’), and I can’t really say because it would be a bit inappropriate (although I think those of you who know me could probably narrow it down to three based on past beady fawning).  I’ll tell you all when the voting is over…………….

Anyway please, please do have a proper look through and then swing by the team blog before February 16th and cast your vote for your favourite – it only takes a second, and there is something for everyone.   Follow us on Facebook or via the blog to keep up to date with all of our shops and to be inspired by the challenges (next month’s is ‘Masquerade’), and if you really love one of these fantastic pieces, why not buy it and have it forever?

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Success

Well my very first attempt at an Etsy Beadweavers Team Challenge was a success – the Nasturtium Ring came joint first!  Even more amazing was realising that the two other winners are really very good, serious beaders – Chris Maj (Etsy Shop here) and Hannah Rosner (Etsy Shop here).  So good, that they are both so busy with their Battle of the Beadsmith entries that they asked me to suggest the next challenge theme on my own.  Yes, that’s right, real Battlers and me, corresponding and beading!  What’s really lovely is that I’ve been feeling a bit stuck beading wise lately – I don’t really have  enough time or energy to tackle as much new original work as I’d like, so to sit down and bead an entirely new piece in one weekend and be so pleased with it is great.

Anyway, I’ve chosen ‘Architecture’ as the next challenge theme – participants have until July 5th to list their pieces on Etsy, so keep an eye on the EBW blog to see what everyone comes up with.  I have a feeling that it will produce a good wide ranging set of pieces, which will be very interesting.  As for myself, I’ve been pinning away here but haven’t quite decided what to do yet –  I do have some amazing beads which I ordered before I knew I’d won which look just like the ‘Gherkin’ (the Swiss Re Tower here in London), so maybe something London themed…….then again I also bought a darling little Eiffel Tower from the same seller so who knows?

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Finished in the nick of time.

Why is it that I work so much better under pressure?  Or is it that I just think I do because I am a hideous procrastinator and it makes a good excuse?  Either way I have had nearly a year to get my four pieces done for this years Stitch ‘n’ Craft Four Seasons challenge, but with a week to go I was still faffing around with the construction of Autumn.  Pretty fundamental stuff…..

Anyway, I gave up at about 10.30 on Friday night, and in the cold light of day (OK the very warm and humid light of yesterday) I’m reasonably content with the pieces as a whole and my final work on Autumn is just fine.  I can’t show you any of them properly as that would spoil things, but there is a taster above.  All peyote pretty much (have reverted to my beadweaving roots), and only one piece using delicas (so running away from my roots there).  I labeled them up last night while dear husband was at a glamorous party, so tomorrow morning I need to scribble a quick note about presentation (‘please put necklace on bust, looks a bit odd otherwise, don’t really mind about the rest’), and then pack them up ready for posting.   And then I am free – at least for a couple of days and then back to prepping for the Folksy featured shop and coping with the school holidays.

So for this year at least I can bid a fond farewell to the four pieces that took over my beading life – adieu to ‘Crystal Garland’; ‘Tumbling Leaves’; ‘A ********* for Oscar ‘ (sorry, can’t give you the full name because it spoils it); and ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’.   Bye Bye.

PS I rather suspect dearest husband would rather I didn’t enter next year – something to do with stress, obsession – not sure?  He may be right because it does rather completely take over, but I’m reserving judgement until I know what next year’s challenge is……….sorry darling, and happy 7th wedding anniversary my sweet.  XXX