…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.|


Advanced Bead Study Groups

We needed something for our more advanced beaders. Something motivating and creative. Something freeing. We came up with our Advanced Bead Study Groups.

The purpose of these groups is to provide a long-term experiential process during which to explore different stitches, and examine the historical and cultural contexts in which these stitches were developed or in fashion.

Each study group works on a particular subject or topic. The groups are made up primarily of beadworkers with intermediate and advanced skills, with some others interested in bead research. These groups, however, are open to anyone interested in advanced study.

The members of each group share in the teaching responsibilities.

We typically have 1 or 2 groups going at any one time.

Examples of Previous Study Groups:

a) Native American Beadwork (following the work of Horace Goodhue; may expand to the work of Barth)
b) Zulu Chains (following, among others, the work of Diane Fitzgerald)
c) Victorian bead weaving
d) Russian bead work
e) Japanese bead work
f) Latticework and lace patterns
g) Ndebele Stitch
h) The work of Carol Wilcox Wells
i) The development of a bead weaving artist - Cynthia Rutledge
j) Contemporizing Traditional Bead Work
k) Multi-media beading
l) Dimensional Shaped Beadwork

There are no fees for these study groups. Participants are responsible for purchasing their supplies, tools, books and the like. Participants may join into any study group at any time.

The Bead Study Groups was Connie’s idea. It was a good one. It was one way we had to keep more advanced beaders as part of the works here, and not lose them to the winds. It was a way to show experienced beaders how “design” issues were important to beadwork. It was a way to build in a visible beader’s “career-ladder”, where beginners could see and sense and feel where they might direct themselves to, and where more experienced beaders would have opportunities to mentor and grow and further challenge themselves.

A couple years after we had begun our advanced bead groups, we had had Diane Fitzgerald here to do some workshops. One evening at dinner, Diane described an advanced bead group that she had organized at her shop in Minnesota. She was describing how the group, for one of their projects, decided that everyone would create something associated with butterflies.

The rest of us at the table looked at each other. We had the same thought. Our advanced group could never follow through on an open ended assignment like this. Wouldn’t it have been great if they could.

That’s how our advanced bead study groups started out. Most of our advanced beaders had done more and made more, than our beginning students, but they didn’t necessarily know more. All of them were weak in managing thread tension. We required our beginning beaders to learn about managing thread tension, so they already had a head start. Our advanced beaders had not learned about the differences among beads and other related parts – how the materials held up over time, which were more appropriate than others. Our beginning beaders were required to learn this information up front, and in a very organized way. The advanced beaders were very craft oriented, and had few design skills or ambitions.

We started with Horace Goodhue. Indian Bead Weaving Patterns. There are perhaps 200 stitches and their variations detailed in this book. We took one at a time. And, as a group, we went through the entire book. Horace doesn’t write the best directions, or provide the most obvious diagrams. For a few weeks, we struggled as a group to get each stitch to work. It was confusing figuring out what was in vs. out, and up vs. down, and back vs. forward.

Dottie decided that we should re-write the instructions, and draw new diagrams. So obvious, yet so obscure to us at the moment. This strategy worked. So we daisy-chained, and ogalala’d, and laddered, and peyote’d, and spider’d, and interweave’d, and zig-zagged, and had a heck of a good time.

We noticed that everyone’s pieces were not turning out exactly alike. So we analyzed the situation and discussed the kinds of things that might be happening. We quickly discovered the issue of “thread tension.” Ok, so some people held their thread loosely, and others so tight, it might have been good if Freud were in the room, just in case. We looked carefully how each one of us was holding our thread and holding the piece while working through the steps. There were differences here.

Not everyone’s 11/0 seed beads were the same shape and size. The beads varied within a tube or on a hank. They varied from brand to brand. They varied from country of origin to country of origin. They varied from finish to finish. This size/shape thing, too, influenced how pieces were turning out.

Sometimes, when you took your needle and thread through a bead more than once, it “cleared” the previous thread. Othertimes it “speared” it. This too affected the differences we were seeing.

Each week, we would share internet and book research we had done on particular stitches or authors or cultures or bead artists. With Horace, we looked at the history of various Native American groups, their styles and motifs of beadwork, and if similar stitches were also done in other cultures, like the Russian daisy chain.

We sat several months with Horace, and were better for it. Connie kept saying we should ask the publisher if they would like to publish an annotated Horace book, where all the instructions and diagrams are re-done in plainer English. No one took her up on this. We were exhausted.

Next we turned to the Zulu stitches described and illustrated in detail by Diane Fitzgerald. Unlike Horace, Diane is especially clear and concise in her instructions. We were very thankful for it, and this made this study unit more enjoyable and fun. We did a lot of research on Zulu stitches.

After learning about 8 or 10 of the stitches in her books, we got to the square tube. At first no one liked this one. Then Ruth, the sweetest and most unaffected of the group who always gets everything right, made some square tubes at home, and decided, first to put a twist in them, and second to attach a magnetic clasp to the end. What had originally looked unflattering, suddenly seemed haute couture. So we spent some more time on the square tubes, experimenting with different beads and stitching strategies. We also experimented with thread tension, making them loose, and then making them very tight. “Experimentation” is the key word here. We were “experimenting”. We were breaking out of the box a bit, and deviating from the Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 in the book.

Originally we had wanted to study beadwork in different cultures. One of the cultures we turned to in subsequent years was Russian beadwork. We tried to go through the Russian Bead Weaving book – written in Russian, but with great diagrams – but to no avail. It must have said something in the Russian directions that was missing in the diagrams. Most of the projects were variations on right angle weave. Each piece we tried to do as a group suffered greatly from lack of thread tension. We couldn’t figure out what the Russians were doing to get their pieces not to droop, and fall flat. Did they use “straw” instead of thread? Were the pieces beaded over something, like a wooden dowel, that was removed for the photographs in the book? At that point in time, we gave up and went on to the next culture to study.

We had done a pretty thorough fantasy learning trip around the world. We decided, then, to turn to specific bead artists, and study their work in depth, and research their backgrounds as extensively as we could. We began with Carol Wilcox Wells, and her two extremely important books – Creative Bead Weaving and The Art and Elegance of Bead Weaving. We spent more than a year working chapter by chapter on every project in her two books. I highly recommend this. Comprehensive. Comparative. Current stitches and fashions. Good documentation.

Carol’s instructions are not as clear as Diane’s. The photos in her books show projects that seem firmer, more complete, more even, than you can achieve following the instructions. But it was definitely worth the struggle to work through both books, page by page. We decided that for each type of technique, we would first do it according to the instructions. Then we would experiment and vary the pattern and/or the materials.

We learned here that varying the materials can have a big impact on the result. Take the simplest beaded bead, usually a netted-type stitch over a wood bead. If you do the same stitch over an acrylic bead, you get a more satisfying beaded bead, since the power of the seed beads to reflect and refract light is enhanced. You can get still better results, if you do the same stitch over a glass bead. The stitch over wood can look very crafty; the stitch over glass can look very elegant. Varying the type and the shape of the glass can also result in significant changes.

At this point, we had sort of studied the artistic life and development of Diane Fitzgerald in a surrogate way through her two Zulu books. We more directly studied Carol Wilcox Wells as a bead artist by more closely examining her in relationship to the materials in her two books. We decided, next, to see if we could even more directly study the development of a bead artist. We approached Cynthia Rutledge, and she very graciously agreed to be interviewed frequently and at great length, as we worked through several of her projects. We organized these projects into an “early Cynthia period”, a “middle Cynthia period” and a “current Cynthia period.”

I’ll discuss more about our experiences here in the next chapter.

At around the 8th year of these groups, I’d say they could handle an open-ended assignment, like Diane Fitzgerald’s bead group in Minnesota. They learned to do bead and beading research. They learned to question the clarity and validity of instructions. They learned to experiment by varying instructions, materials and stitching strategies. They began to understand the differences among craft, art and design, and to use this understanding in evaluating the work of many bead artists. Our advanced beaders had and have come a long way.



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