Saturday, 14 March 2015

Craft I love :: Bead weaving


I selected crochet as my first featured 'craft of the month' because it is probably my favourite craft of the moment. For my current 'craft of the month' I've picked my first serious crafty love - bead weaving.

Once again I've cast my mind back (this time over half a life time ago) to when I first picked up a bead loom ...


How I learned the basics 
This goes back to a time when I enjoyed those long and endless school summer holidays, I was about 12. Anyway my parents were obviously looking for things to keep me occupied and I was asked if I wanted to go to a bead weaving class at the museum in the next town

So I went along and learned the basics and came home with a little knowledge, lots of enthusiasm (and a bead loom). This is the first project I made at home with my own design. I love its simplicity!


Over the months and years I craved more knowledge (and beads). As this was pre-Internet it wasn't particularly easy to get my hands on a range of either. 

My knowledge was fuelled by borrowing every bead related book from our library (and from across the whole county). 

I sourced my beads from a little local gift shop that had a separate bead shop, as well as from Creative Beadcraft. Back then ordering beads mail order involved buying a catalogue with samples in such as this and sending off an order form in the post (wow things have really changed in the past 20 years thanks to the internet!)


Making design for bead loom projects is best done by drawing the design out on graph paper. Although I was still at school and taking maths (so had graph paper about) I got through graph paper quite rapidly and that stuff is pricey when you are purchasing it out of your pocket money. Luckily one of my friends Dad's was an examiner and was often issued graph papers for use in writing or marking exams and I got his surplus!

Soon I started making bracelets to sell on  a corner of my Mum's stall at craft fairs she went to. I don't recall being wildly successful but I sold enough to keep me busy inbetween doing homework. 

The most successful I've been at selling my wares was what I will term the 'football bracelet craze' that swept through my year group at school. I don't recall exactly how it started but I believe I made a beaded bracelet for one of my friends birthday. Another friend saw it and asked if I could make one for her with the initials of her favourite football team on it, which I did. Then others around the school started seeing them and wanting them and the orders started flooding in. 
Each bracelet cost pennies to make and I charges £1 and I remember having made about £90 out of the whole craze. But as with every fad eventually people didn't want them any more :-(


Where I got my inspiration
When I was sixteen we went on a family holiday to Western Canada and I visited the most wonderful museum - University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthology (do have a browse of the online catalogue).
I ended up buying a brilliant book on Native American bead work which I devoured (I'll be posting about my beading book bookshelf soon if you want the details).

Travel after university further inspired my interest in beads and traditional forms of bead work. My travels took me to the east and west coasts of North America as well as the Antipodes. And I spent many an hour on that trip in museums making sketches.


I haven't got out my bead loom for a while. I'm not sure why I don't bead as much as I used to - I think it's something as simple as I can't easily pick it up and do in front of the telly like I can crochet and knitting. But featuring it as one of my craft of the months is a great excuse to start up again. 


My favourite projects
I've made so many pieces over the years, I don't have photos of all of them (because I started beading before cameras went digial) but here are a few pieces I have kept.

Loom woven

Top row from left to right:
A range of my different bead loom bracelet patterns
Rose inspired piece of beadwork
Traditional Native American style design  that I remember I spent ages copying from a book onto graph paper

Bottom row from left to right:
This collage doesn't do this piece justice - it is a necklace with beads strung onto the extra long warp threads - I saw something similar in fashion magazine and set myself a challenge of figuring out how it was made
This red rose pattern I took from a cross stitch magazine, added a border and turned it into a little bag. Cross stitch patterns are great for turning into bead loom designs as long as there aren't too many half stitches in the design as you can't have half a bead.
Another bag this time with gaps in the beadwork to let the lining show through. Although it looks fairly simple this is actually quite complex to construct as you have to keep doubling back or rejoining the weft threads to cover all the horizontal and vertical elements.

Off loom bead weaving


Top row from left to right:
Very intricate off loom bead weaving of a Victorian style choker (it was the 90s chokers were in)
Similar style of bead weaving to the first piece but with the added complication of a) colours and b) no pattern just a picture in a book to work from
Another more straightforward Victorian style choker - I sold a few of these in my tentative craft fair days.

Bottom row from left to right:
This is bead weaving worked with two needles, Daisy necklaces were a popular pocket money purchase from my craft fairs
Peyote stitch bracelet - peyote stitch is great for patterns with little flowers like this because of the way the beads are stepped between each row.
Leather and bead bracelet - a great way to weave with bigger beads using leather cord as the warp thread - you don't need a loom for this one.


So that's how I got started with bead weaving (and crafting in general). What's your story?

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