…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
by Warren S. Feld

Excerpts From This Ever-Evolving Tale.....

I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.

The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.|


The Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts
A School In Search for Its Muse
Part One

My professional training had been in planning and design. While it was health planning and urban design, and although I hadn’t worked in a professional capacity for 20 years, everything I learned seemed very appropriate for jewelry design and beading. But what I saw around me – the types of classes taught and the types of books available and the types of articles in beading and jewelry magazines – none of these things seemed quite on the mark. None of them taught about design. None of them challenged the beader or jewelry maker to step out of some very constricted boundaries and rules. None of them seemed to result in teaching beaders a set of transferable skills.

I kept thinking of an idea of a Bead School that provided classes and other learning opportunities more in line with my own professional training in health care and urban design. But I didn’t have the depth of beading and jewelry making experience to pull this off. It was a BIG project, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take something like this on.

One of our friends and customers at the time – Dottie – said that she was interested in this Bead-School idea as well. This was in the late 1990’s. We talked about forming a community advisory committee to do some research and planning. She contacted some other beading instructors in the area, we had some people we wanted to include, and thus we started to see if this kind of idea might be workable. So we started with Dottie, James and myself, as well as Connie, Kate, Julia, and Tammy. Later on we added Linda and Denise.

First, came the research. This group was great at this task. The group spent 1 and ½ years looking at beading and jewelry making training and education across the United States and in Britain. They looked at what was going on in bead stores, in craft stores, at professional associations, in workshops, at trade shows, and in the English Bead Guild. They conducted a few internet surveys to get feedback on things people as students thought worked, and did not work. They reviewed training in other crafts, including knitting, crochet and quilting.

At the time, not many people, no matter where they lived, who took classes or workshops had positive things to say. Did they leave the class feeling they could repeat the project? No. Could they apply what they learned to other situations? No. Were the teachers prepared? No. Were teachers clear, did they have written instructions, samples? No.

As a group, we began to define the kinds of things that must be taken into account, in order to have an effective training program. These things, we believed, included:

- Focusing on “skills”, rather than “projects”. Although each class has a project, the purpose of the project is to rehearse the skills taught. The project is not an end in and of itself. It’s a means.

- Beginning with a common set of “core” courses from which the students could branch out to pursue particular interest areas.

- Structuring skills into a developmental hierarchy. Certain skills were more important to learn first, than other skills. Certain skills naturally formed “skill-sets”. The hierarchy of skills/skill sets was similar, (although not exactly the same), across all the different types of bead-weaving techniques, or other types of beading and jewelry making. There certainly was a clear pattern and direction around which we could structure a curriculum.

- Creating a clear “map” showing the interlinkages and interrelationships among all classes, course progressions, skills to master how and when. Teach the core. Then teach the next set of skills, and show how they are linked back to the core. Teach a second set of skills, show how they link back to the first, and then back to the core. And so forth.

- Making each class more even/equal in terms of the skill-sets among students. It was too difficult to teach (and learn) if each class was made up of a wide range of abilities from beginner to advanced, or kids to adults.

- Creating opportunities where the teachers have more than one shot at each student. Or else teachers would try to cover too much in the class, assuming they would only have that one opportunity to impart wisdom

- Requiring that all teachers provide written instructions, as well as physical samples. If a project has more than one stage to it, to provide physical samples showing each stage. Train teachers to present their materials in multiple ways – written, visual and oral.

- Providing certifications to indicate mastery of a particular stitch or technique

- Providing opportunities for more advanced bead/jewelry making studies, including on-going bead-study groups

Before we defined our curriculum, we had to define what we wanted to teach, and we had to be clear about how we wanted teaching to occur.

It was important that students learn skills in context. That the connectedness among different types of skills, and different levels, styles and variations of techniques be clearer and more obvious. That classes be made up of students with more similar skill and accomplishment levels. That students have fun, but at the same time be challenged. That teachers be prepared to instruct students utilizing their read, see, hear, and touch senses.

Conceptually, we began to define each class in terms of where it fit along three continuums:

a. Project-oriented ---- Concept/Design-oriented ---- Applications-oriented

b. New to the skill ---- Some experience with the skill ---- Full knowledge of the skill

c. Follows directions, diagrams, patterns ---- Learns concepts w/simple applications and can expand on directions, diagrams, patterns --- Designs and creates projects, including directions, diagrams, patterns

Our advisory committee, at least during this research stage, did a very commendable job indeed. And we are very grateful. They were able to set a tone and direction that would serve students well for a long, long time.


Elephants know it is important to learn techniques in a hierarchical order. When you learn skills randomly, it often shows. Your pieces end up with problems of tension, finishing and control. You might bead for years, and never conquer these issues, because these skills were not learned developmentally. When skills are learned in a developmental order, they are more likely to be integrated into your thinking, thus intuitive. Elephants are very intuitive creatures, and the pass their intuition along to their young in very organized ways.

For bead weaving, the hierarchical order of skills follows this general form and pattern:

1. Holding the needle and thread and an introduction to thread tension
2. Learning a basic stitch
3. Learning to increase and decrease with the stitch
4. Learning tubular and circular variations
5. Learning to split the form or create negative spaces
6. Learning 3-dimensionality with the stitch, and issues of structural integrity
7. Embellishing the piece with fringes, edge treatments and straps or connectors
8. Understanding the stitch in the context of jewelry design principles
9. Understanding the stitch in comparison to other stitches
10. Experimenting with the stitch, including variations in thread tension, choice of beads, colors, textures, patterns, stringing materials, and integration with other stitches within the same piece.

At least, this is how Rogue Elephants learn it.

The Advisory Group felt different students would want to get different things out of taking courses. Some would primarily want to learn a lot of different technical skills at a project level -- what we call horizontal development. Others would want to explore a particular skill in more and more depth -- what we call vertical development.

It was from all this thinking that our curriculum program and its courses were derived.

Our fields of study would immerse the student in a series of interrelated and skill-focused courses, which take the student through the processes of technical proficiency, concept-learning, and design and application

A lot of great ideas. A LOT of great ideas! The research and planning group had truly done their homework. After a year and a half, we were ready for Implementation. And it was at this point that the planning group started to bicker and fight and complain, and the program ideas began to lose their footing. We weren’t talking about Rogue Elephants then, but we should have been.



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