For reasons too complex to go into, my work requires that I do a fair amount of arts & crafts.  I know: production editor playing with clay and beads and paper airplanes?  Coming home with fingernails painted with palm trees, flip-flops, and sharks?  Please believe that it’s part of the job (I have to test directions to make sure they’re clear and say exactly what they mean.  Which means I have to make that bracelet or fold that Star Wars paper X-Wing). My daughter is amused, and wonders how I managed to get paid for playing.*

The unintended consequence of all this is that I have become a crafter.  I’m beginning to play around with polymer clay, beads, ribbon-weaving…  This on top of my occasional sewing or knitting.  I am not at the point of taking out subscriptions to craft magazines, or haunting Michael’s or Hobby Lobby.  But I can see how this could become expensive and more than a little obsessive. It’s not something I come to via my family: my mother did just enough needlepoint to have some nice pieces to show for it, but disdained anything more plebeian.  Thus, I was sent for weaving lessons when I was a kid, when most of my peers were taking ballet or flute.  Don’t get me wrong.  I really loved weaving. But telling people you couldn’t play because you were going to your weaving lesson was just… my life.

Last summer I was asked, during some down time, to organize the office’s bead collection.  We have huge numbers of beads, and to organize them usefully I needed to learn about beads.  You would think there was nothing much to know: a bead has a hole in the middle you can run a thread through; what else do you need?  But there are all different sorts of beads: glass or plastic or wood or ceramic or polymer; round or faceted or pebbled; “novelty” or seed or cylinder; 15/0 or 11/0 or 8/0 or 6/0, or…  It took me months to get all the beads organized.  And in the process I became sort of hooked on beading.

Now: I am not a jeweler. I have friends who are jewelers; they go through rock shows knowledgeably separating the coprolite from the chrysoprase, they pore over bits of agate in interesting shapes, with visions of tiaras and statement necklaces dancing in their heads; they spin wire into intricate, astonishing shapes.  They make jewelry, and I am not one of them.  But give me a needle, some thread, and a bunch of 11/0 beads, and I’m happy (beading is much more portable than a four-hettle floor loom, I’ll tell you).  I have learned the ins and outs of the St. Petersburg stitch and the St. Petersburg double; peyote, brick, and ndebele stitches, circular and tubular…  Okay, maybe a little obsessive.  There’s something remarkably calming about beading.  As is often my wont, I fall in love with a project and go ahead and do it regardless of whether it’s my skill level or not. And what draws my eye is not, as far as I can tell, what draws the interest of other beaders.  I’m not really one for lots of sparkly faceted crystals.  I don’t much care for beading that makes pictures (“Oh, look, it’s Washington crossing the Delaware done in 11/0 silver-lined glass beads!”) and there are a lot of beading projects out there that just look something my grandma would have worn. I don’t do those.  I like the stitch-work, and making baskets or flowers or moebius strips (my latest project is a moebius strip bracelet…).  I make tiny daffodils and massive roses, and I’ve just started knitting with 8/0 beads and hemp cord.

If this all sounds a little insane, likely it is.  I am not aiming to become a professional (it’s astonishing how many professional crafters there are.  I had no idea!).  But it’s always nice, of an evening, when the dog is trying to infiltrate the couch and the Spouse is snoring gently as the TV plays in the background, to have some work to do.  For the moment, it’s beading.  Next month? Who knows.


*I do not mention to her that they also pay me for copyediting, proof-reading, clearing permissions, trying to keep projects on schedule… The world of work is a complex place, which she will learn soon enough.

Posted in Lifestyle Tagged , permalink

About Madeleine E. Robins

Madeleine Robins is the author of The Stone War, Point of Honour, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner (the third Sarah Tolerance mystery, available from Plus One Press). Her Regency romances, Althea, My Dear Jenny, The Heiress Companion, Lady John, and The Spanish Marriage are now available from Book View Café. Sold for Endless Rue , an historical novel set in medieval Italy, was published in May 2013 by Forge Books


Crafty — 12 Comments

  1. And you’re going to post PICTURES somewhere, right? Right? I want to see this gigantic beaded rose. (Mounted on a pin back, used as a hat ornament, think about it…) What on earth can you knit with beads and hemp? Is this the macrame-weight cord? A suggestion: tuffets. Very trendy. If I could get my hands on a sufficiently large quantity of cordage in a congenial color I would knit a tuffet.

  2. You’re going to suck me back in. I have a large box of beads somewhere in all these boxes, but I gave it up when my hands wouldn’t bend anymore. Now that they’re bending again, the designing urge has hit — and a lovely yard long strand I have needs re-stringing.

    Oh, for some time for distractions….

  3. Vonda: I remember your beaded sea creatures very well. They are wonderful.

    Oddly, this is not a particularly artistic impulse for me, as much as a makery impulse (if one can say such a thing). I love knowing how to do things–often knowing how is enough to scratch the itch, and having done, I have no interest in refining my technique. But beading turns out to be a perfect “something to do with my hands” activity. Until my eyes fall out, anyway. I spent last night loading a spool of #5 cotton thread with 5 yards of 11/0 midnight blue silver-lined beads, preparatory to knitting with them, and boy, are my eyes not loving me this morning.

    Sorry, Cat! Didn’t mean to cause trouble. **evil grin**

  4. Hi Mad — I hear you. Some techniques are interesting to learn but don’t scratch my fiddly hobby itch. Bead crocheting (similar to bead knitting in preparation) makes my brain ache. Having to string the beads in the right order (if there’s any pattern) made me crazy, and fixing them if I made a mistake made me crazier.

    Bead creatures are loops on loops with more beads on the top of the loop than on the bottom of the loop, and you scoop up the number of beads you need from the skein right when you’re sewing them. So you don’t have to load a lot of thread with a lot of beads before you even get started, and you don’t have to think about the pattern. Most bead creatures consist of a body that’s mostly one color, with a border of another color to show off the frill. The interest is in the structure rather than in a color pattern. Does that make sense?


    • Vonda–in fact it does.

      French-style beaded flowers are one of the techniques that involve stringing vast numbers of beads (sometimes in patterns, most often not) on wire; after the prep, the crafting itself is pretty simple. I found the process deeply not-as-interesting-as-I’d-hoped; it’s more for the end-result oriented than the process-oriented. There are some ways to speed up the bead-stringing process (bead spinners! transferring beads from skeins) but it is, overall, a huge bore.

  5. In JANE EYRE, the heroine is making a bead purse. How do you think she is doing it? If you were in the sitting room while a grand party was going on, surely it was not one of those ‘string all the beads in a specific order’ kind of patterns.

    • Hi Brenda,

      She would have to string the beads before she went to the party, I’d think. (That’s what Mad was talking about when she mentioned loading beads onto a particular kind of thread.) Then you can crochet (or knit) along without worrying that loose beads will spill all over the dance floor.

      But if you make a mistake in the order of the beads when you string them, which is how you create the pattern in bead crocheting, it’s a pain to correct. Of course if you have no pattern — if the object is all one color — then that’s a lot easier.

      And she might be making a beaded purse using some technique of which I’m entirely unaware.

      I can imagine taking regular crochet to a party (sometimes I do), but not beadwork. It’s too fiddly and your substrate is always trying to escape.


  6. Madeleine — Yeah, for a fiddly hobby to satisfy my fiddly-hobby needs, it has to be repetitive and not require much brain power. Usually I’m using my brain for something else while I’m working at a fiddly hobby. Somebody did a study of hobbies and discovered that repetitive-and-kind-of-mindless was a requirement for some people, including a subset of writers. (Running also satisfied the requirement.)

    And of course there are lots and lots for folks for whom repetitive and mindless fiddly hobbies are the exact definition of hell on earth.