How Does the Busy, Busy Bead

IMG_0743Until last August, I was a production editor at a publisher who does craft and activity books for kids; sometimes, alas, there was not sufficient production-editorial work to do on a given day. So I did other things: create an archive. Write copy. And over a several-month period, I wound up creating a “library” of sorts for the company’s extensive bead collection. A number of our craft books over the years had used beads, and when you’re creating such a book, you need more beads than the average person would imagine: beads to test for color and finish, beads to use in creating and testing projects, beads used to make final versions for photography–and to make step-by-step photos as well.

Over the years, the company had amassed a large, disorganized, scattered collection of beads, and I got to sort them (yeah, this is the sort of task that appeals to my latent librarianism). I learned a lot about beads: how they’re sized, how they’re made, their finishes and materials. And I wound up doing what I would call developmental beading: trying different beading techniques to see if any of them would lend themselves to a future craft book. None of the techniques I fiddled with were turned into books, but I learned to bead.

And now, in the evening when I am too crispy from the day to do much of anything else, that’s what I’ve been FullSizeRender-2doing: creating jewelry of various types with thread and seed beads, I always get inspiration online, I love to check out to see their creations. I am not a wire-and-bead jewelry maker like my friend Elise, who made the Tiptree tiara, and whose work is a thing of wonder and sparkle. Nor do I make big chunky statement pieces out of big chunky beads (Ann Leckie, author of Ancillary Justice, has a stunning black and red necklace she made with big chunky geometric beads). Me, I like seed beads, particularly the small ones, size 11/0, and I use stitches like peyote and ndebele and various spiral stitches.

My favorite stitch is one of the basics: even-count peyote. This creates an almost fabric-like strip (I imagine, with sufficient reach, thousands and thousands of beads, and a skein of magically untangling thread, you could make a bolt of peyote-stitch “fabric”, but it wouldn’t tailor well). I use it to make bracelets (I love the one on the far-right, made with a mix of left-over 6/0 beads in no pattern at all) and earrings, even the odd ring. The bracelet in the center is done with pale green and ivory 11/0 seed beads in stripes–it’s a wrap-around, which is why it’s so long (it’s not quite long enough for a necklace). Peyote looks more daunting than it is–once you’ve got it started you can pretty much go on forever–but it’s very bead-intensive.

FullSizeRender-1I love doing spirals because, while they can be a little tricky to start, once you get going they’re easy to keep going, and they look so cool. The green and blue one, on the far left, is made with ndebele (also called herringbone) stitch with beads all of the same size (and hopefully the same shape–the less expensive your beads, the more variance in shape and the more, um, creative the spacing and tension gets).  ndebelesmallWith ndebele you wind up with columns of two-bead sets that lean toward each other, and in the case of this bracelet, the columns also spiral gradually. It’s a very sturdy stitch, and depending on what sort of beads you use, can be kind of exotic looking.

The red and black bracelet is a plain Russian spiral. This one is kind of chunky, because I used a lot of beads per row, but it’s a remarkably flexible rope, and comfortable to wear. The other two are both Dutch spiral, which can be very elaborate or pretty simple, depending on the kinds of beads you use. I’m also a fan of Dutch spiral, which depends on using at least two different sizes of beads for its variation. And here’s a Cellini spiral I’m currently working on:



Eventually it will twist around and I’ll join the two ends and it will be a bangle. That’s the plan, anyway.


FullSizeRender-3Spirals also make nice necklaces. While I love seed beads, sometimes throwing some long, skinny bugle beads or teardrop shaped beads in can mix things up to good effect. I also kind of like the mix of shiny and matte, which saves the necklaces (to my mind) from being too sparkly.

The only problem with all this beading is that I now have tons of the stuff. Earrings. Bracelets. Necklaces. I’ve even made myself a bead lanyard from which to hang convention badges (if I remember to pack it when I go to a convention…).

Why do I need another thing to do? When your creative work of choice (that would be writing) is something you take seriously and want to get right on every available level, it helps to have a different creative task with no stakes in particular. Beading isn’t my art, it’s just a relaxing pastime which leaves me with tangible proof of my effort. I tell myself I’ll start an Etsy store and sell off the tangible proofs, so I can afford more beads (yes, it’s that kind of addiction). But really, who has the time when they’re busy beading?


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


How Does the Busy, Busy Bead — 6 Comments

  1. I have a ton of beads I want to get back to for the same reason, but Life, Interrupted meant my thumb and fingers could not grip. I’m getting my grip back, and beading may be in my future. I’ve never tried spirals–I’m obsessed with natural beads and Czech glass–but spirals look lovely. And they’re not hard?

  2. Kathi–Google “Russian Spiral Stitch” or “Dutch Spiral Stitch.” Really, they’re out there, and once you get them started, the only hard part is remembering which bead comes next.

  3. Love your spirals!

    I tried bead crocheting once but it drove me nuts. I never got the beads strung in the correct order and then when they were crocheted they’d create the wrong pattern.

    Here’s my take on the subject:

    Have you been to the Shipwreck Beads website? Pretty amazing. The store even more so. If you’re ever in the Seattle area we should arrange a hunting & gathering trip to Lacey.

    • I am utterly there. We have a decentish good bead shop in San Francisco (General Beads), but most of the beads I buy I get on line, because they’re cheaper and I can get precisely what I want.

      I remember your bead sea creatures. They’re beautiful, and a bit above my level of artistry (you have to know more about sea creatures than I do, for a start). I have made a bead pouch or two, and some bead baskets on occasion–there’s always something nice about a hobby that leads to something utilitarian–but haven’t made a really good large one that would hold, say… beads?

      It’s good to have a fiddly hobby.

  4. And you have been to the bead store in Oakland, right? A devilish place. I was able to buy all the accoutrements for a knitted bead purse; I have never knitted it, but some day.
    My idea is that all creativity springs from the same ocean of art. It just extrudes a tentacle in different ways. The knitting, the sewing, the painting, the quilting — everything, I hope, ties together and feeds on each other. There are only a given number of hours in the day to actually do the stuff of course (which is why that bead purse sits in its component parts) but eventually everything does get done. Or you die and your kids curse at that yarn stash.