…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.|


Different Types of Beading and Jewelry Making

There are many different approaches to beading and jewelry-making. Although elephants don’t really care who makes what how, people often are particular in their ways, and prefer to specialize in one, perhaps two styles of approach.

We can divide the beading and jewelry making worlds into these primary areas of interest:

1. Bead Stringing

Bead Stringing is for people who like to put beads on string to make bracelets and necklaces. There is an art and skill to stringing beads on cord. First, of course, is the selection of beads for a design, and the selection of the appropriate stringing material. Then is the selection of a clasp or closure, appropriate to the design and use of the piece. This continues with choosing the strategy for stringing beads with cord, including choices about knotting, braiding, using multiple strands and a single tie-off, multiple strands with multiple tie-offs.

These are the set of skills, strategies and techniques that people use who like to put beads on strings and make necklaces and bracelets. These people need to become very familiar with all the types of beads and types of jewelry components and parts that there are, and how to use them. They need to learn how to crimp, using cable wires, crimp beads, horseshoes and crimping pliers. They should also learn to use needle and thread techniques for bead stringing. They should become familiar with basic wire work techniques, such as how to use the major tools, and use hard wire to make dangles. They may want to learn pearl knotting – that is, how to put knots between beads.

2. Bead Weaving

Bead Weaving is for people who like to use needle and thread and make things that approximate a piece of cloth. Stitches and beads. Create simple or elaborate forms using different techniques for connecting, interlocking and embellishing beads and beadwork. That's beadweaving, and you see the results in amulet bags, beaded sculptures, beaded vessels, necklaces, bracelets, loomwork, appliques and more. Many projects attempt to emulate a piece of cloth or textile. Other projects are more figural or sculptural.

There are many different techniques of bead weaving. The most popular are peyote stitch, loom work, brick stitch, ndebele, and netting.


There will be times when you will struggle to undo a knot, and times when you will try to secure a knot. To prevent knots from tangling your thread:

1. Stretch your thread before beading
2. Pull your thread slowly through your beads
3. Be extra careful when doubling your thread

If a knot tangles your beadwork, gently pry the knot apart with a needle. Patience will be rewarded.


The Weavers Knot

To secure a knot requires practice and the knowledge of The Weavers Knot,

When you run out of thread and need to attach another piece, this is the knot you can use.

Cross the remaining tail of the old thread over the new thread. The point where they cross is point “C”. Hold the two threads together with your thumb and forefinger at point C.

“D” is the end of the tail of your new thread. Pass it over the old thread at point C, and under the new thread (itself), then over the old thread. You now have a loop made up of the new thread looped around the old thread.

The tail end of the old thread is called point “A”. Right now it is sticking through the loop, but under point D.

Turn A down over D, then back through the loop (thus under the new thread). Pull D tightly.


Or, The No-Knot Knot

When you run out of thread, and need to attach another piece, you can also use the No-Knot Knot method. Here you would zig-zag weave your first thread – the one that is running out of length – back and round your piece to secure it. Then start a second thread, and pull it through a bead a few beads back from where you want to pick up your pattern. Leave about a 4” tail. Take a bic lighter, and heat the thread-tail, so that the nylon thread balls up into a large ball. Pull the thread from the other side of the bead and wedge this ball into the hole of the bead, so it doesn’t show. In this way, you don’t have an unsightly or ungainly knot that might show within your work. And you don’t have any more tail threads to have to zig-zag weave through your piece to hide them.


It’s important for these bead weavers to know the pros and cons of using different kinds of seed beads. They need to learn and practice a lot about thread tension. They need to become familiar with the dozen or so major bead weaving stitches. They need to learn how to read patterns. They need to learn strategies for finishing off pieces, attaching clasps, embellishing, and making edges, fringes and straps. They need to learn how to do and incorporate techniques for increasing and decreasing rows of beads, for working flat or circular or tubular, for creating negative spaces within pieces, for adding dimensionality, and for adding twists, curves and ruffles. They may also want to learn techniques for creating oversized and multi-piece projects, and for working free-form and sculptural projects.

Using Your Fingers As Your Easel

You want and need and have to have a lot of control of your beadwork, as you are working it, and as it is growing into your finished piece. It’s easiest to do this if you think of your fingers as an artist easel. In particular, your fore-finger becomes a hard surface against which to hold your beadwork as you work it. You keep the top of your work positioned against your forefinger, as you work your needle and thread through each bead. You can use your thumb to pinch or hold in place your piece. You can use the rest of your fingers to better position the piece so that you can see it, or get to particular sections, and the like.

3. Wire Work

This is for people who like to use hard wire, and make things like earring dangles, ear wires, clasps, rosaries, chains, fancy settings for stones and the like.

Working with wires of different thickness, hardness, shape, color, materials, strength in fashioning jewelry and other objects is a very desirable skill. It takes experience with the feel of wire, how it is shaped, how its strength can be structurally enhanced, and how it can be interlinked, interlocked and interconnected with other wire, with beads, with other materials. This "feel" will vary a bit with the type of metal. For example, brass is harder than sterling silver.

There are two approaches.

The first is called Wire Work. In wire working, the artist creates shapes, using various sizes of wire. The artist can create jewelry findings, such as clasps, headpins and earwires. S/he can create chains of linked wire shapes. S/he can create unusual shapes to dangle from earrings, or to cascade within chandelier earrings, or to embellish pieces as decorative components. SHAPE is the key word here.

The second approach is called Wire Wrap. In wire wrapping, the artist uses wire to create structural components, then assembles these into a supporting system. This is similar, though on a micro-scale, to building and engineering a bridge. The artist might create a setting for a stone, or a piece of jewelry which depends on controlling the tensile strength of the wire in some way, to hold the stone in place, and keep it from popping out. STRUCTURE is the key word here.

The wire artist wants to learn such things as:
--- Types and qualities of wire
--- The tools
--- Support systems and structural elements/components
--- Hammering and twisting wire
--- Making coils and springs
--- How to lock wires together
--- How to create cradles and encaging
--- Combining beads with wire
--- Combining cabochons and other differently shaped objects with wire

There are many other areas of interest, including:

4. Silver Smithing

Silver smithing involves using metal wire and metal sheet to create objects held together in full or in part with the use of solder.

5. Fiber Arts

It was inevitable that more and more fiber artists would incorporate beads into their designs with fiber, textiles, fabric and cloth. And it was equally inevitable that more and more bead and jewelry artists would incorporate fiber into their works. Tassels, beaded embellishment, crocheting with beads, knitting with beads and yarn, -- the synergy is boundless. The key trick here is to create multi-media pieces using beads and at least one other artistic medium, without diminishing the integrity of either media within your pieces.

6. Lampwork and Fused Glass

One hand-crafted technique for making glass beads is called Lampworking. Molten glass is dripped or wound on rods to create a base, and then the surfaces are decorated using a variety of tools and techniques. These beads must be slowly and carefully cooled in a kiln.

Another technique is called Fused Glass. Here you layer glass and decorative components, and fuse them in the heat of a kiln.

7. Metal Clay and Polymer Clay

Polymer and metal clays have revolutionized the arts of bead and jewelry making. These materials create many new possibilities for design, as well as new opportunities for more people to participate in our professions.

8. The Business of Craft – Buying and Selling

Many people learn beadwork and jewelry-making in order to sell the pieces they make. In today’s world, people who sell their pieces must become savvy in both regular retail, as well as internet retail.

Some of us want to find our Rogue Elephants. For others, if it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. For everyone, however, beadwork and jewelry-making are not only crafts, but arts, as well. As art, they have definable sets of interrelated skills which can be taught, creatively applied, and further developed. These skills can be used to create and enhance color, shape, texture, sensibility, perception, sensuousness and emotion. They can be applied to bring meaning, cognition, culture, connectivity and wisdom to a situation. They can be used to create the tangible from the intangible, and the object from nothingness.

The skills of combining materials of physical and/or esthetic wealth into wearable art forms and adornment -- this is Jewelry Making and Design.

Beads, wire, jewelry findings -- they bring visual and tactile feelings and thoughts to life in the objects we create from them. There is a sense of awe and power, esthetic feeling and historical connection.



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