Monday, 24 December 2012

Rocky Road and Muddy Boots

Robin, holly and ivy from my nature diary

It's Christmas Eve and at last it looks like I might be able to put my feet up with a glass of sherry. Family gift swapping visits are all done and the cupboards are groaning with treats. We went out to buy sprouts and various other Christmas lunch essentials and oh my goodness it was so wet and muddy walking back over the field. But it was good to be out in the fresh air watching the wildlife. Blackbirds and robins in abundance in the hedgerows.
I've made a good start on the Rocky Road kumihimo braid.... as promised here are pictures of it in the early stages. Also a short video clip with shows the marudai in use.
The braid beginning to form
underneath the hole in the marudai

The view from the top.
The photos show the very start of braiding. After working a short length with just the threads, I start to slide beads down and they are held within the braid by using the weighted bobbins and the counterbalance bag. Here's a video clip of me working on the marudai.

I will post more photos and I go along and in the meantime I wish you all a wonderful Christmas.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Kumihimo treats and treasures

What a busy December it has turned out to be. It was rather disorganised of me to arrange work on the house to coincide with the run-up to Christmas…. But it’s done. Last week the fitters came to do the final work on the roof and dormer, on the same day as the man came to install blinds and yet more men to cut hedges. 3 men hammering, 1 man drilling, 2 men with chainsaws… sounds like a Christmas Carol! Not surprisingly beading has taken a bit of a back seat of late.

Slabs of Rocky Road
One of my favourite activities at this time of year is browsing through all the lovely edible treats in the food hall of my favourite department store. Buying gifts gives me the perfect excuse to indulge my senses. Glossy preserves and chutneys, temptingly wicked chocolates, luscious fruits in tall jars filled with liqueurs, spiced oils, domed panettones, marzipan studded stollen (my favourite) and decadent biscuits of every description to name just a few temptations. I came away laden with edibles for friends and family! One sweet treat in particular caught my eye this year and I was immediately reminded of some beads I had in my collection.
These beads will be
going into the mix
Slabs of rocky road, that sticky confection studded with marshmallows is such a pretty combination of colours and chunky textures. It tastes pretty amazing too!
After working hard on bead embroidered pieces I feel the need to do some Kumihimo for a change and the rocky road sweets have really inspired my selection of materials for the new braid. I’ve selected loads of lovely treasures from my collection.

I've had quite a few emails from people wanting patterns and instructions on how to make braids like mine. Using a wooden marudai is quite complicated to try to explain and I tend to work intuitively and never follow a rigid pattern as such. You need to see it being done to really get the idea, but I'll post pictures of it in progress over the next few days.

Gathering together all the materials for the kumihimo braid

Tama - some with beads on the threads

After selecting my beads and threads I wind the threads round the tama (bobbins that are weighted to 70 grams).

In this case I am making an 8 strand round braid. I have threaded beads on 4 of the bobbins. You can use beads on all threads, but in this case I want some of that gorgeous hand dyed sari silk to peep through.

Marudai with tama and
counterbalance bag
The picture  shows what a wooden marudai looks like in use. A counterbalance bag with weights inside keeps the threads taut and when you slide a bead down to the point of braiding (in the middle of the hole) it locks that bead in place.


Friday, 30 November 2012

A Box of Delights

My ebay box of delights
I think I mentioned in a previous blog post that I have been reconfiguring my beading area and that has meant  selling quite a few items on ebay. I decided to treat myself to some new shell and abalone pieces with some of the proceeds. Browsing through listings I came across a big job lot and put in a bid, not really expecting to win it. Imagine my delight to find that I had won it. A courier arrived a few days later bearing a very large and heavy box. I opened it and just went WOWSER! Packed to the brim with hundreds of little bags stuffed with lovely pieces it took ages to unpack. It will be fun to sort through and see exactly what there is – a lovely job for the Christmas holidays. There are enough abalone pieces alone to inspire enough pieces to adorn a shoal of mermaids! Actually, I’m not sure if a ‘shoal’ is the correct collective noun for a group of mermaids – I think I prefer a ‘shimmer’!
The contents of just one of the little bags - gorgeous!

There is more than one way to catch a mermaid – you can go wild and seaweedy, or take a more structured approach with repeating shapes. I like to keep a small A5 notebook handy to jot down ideas, the words are as important as the rough sketches and I try to be uninhibited about it.  In the two sketchbook pages here, I’m recording my thoughts about mermaids and treasures from the sea in general. The results of these musings were two very different pieces with a sea theme.

Shoreline - inspired by ripples between pebbles

Tidepool kumihimo braid - very seaweedy

I’ve come across some very unusual glass cabochons, flecked with bright colours they have a lovely light, fresh airy feel and remind me of summery flower petals. I can feel a range of flower fairy pieces coming on.  Out with the notebook again!

I am finding it quite hard to feel summery, or to get any beading done at all just now as the wind is whistling through the house. Me and my PC are forming a little island in a sea of dustsheets over the next few days, as all the windows, woodwork and guttering are being replaced and then smart new blinds are being installed. I have the headache of trying to find room for my printer in my revamped little beading area – a jigsaw puzzle if ever there was one.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Sensational sunset - the view from the beading desk

I love watching the changing seasons through my window. It faces the setting sun and sometimes there is a really spectacular, if brief, lightshow. The streetlamps were just starting to come on the other evening when I snapped this rather fuzzy photo of the view from my beading window. In just a few seconds it had changed completely. However fleeting the impression, it can often spark an idea for beadwork.

I pulled out some threads, ribbons and beads, as well as a gorgeous handmade cabochon and laid them out to form an inspiration board.

Luckily, I keep all my sketchbooks, and looking back through them, I found an embroidery on silk of a sunset done a couple of years ago.  Wrapping threads around strips of card is a wonderful way to record colour juxtapositions.

The cabochon will look lovely on a painted silk background with a beaded bezel to hold it in place.

Working on one of my signature pieces.

Although the necklace is
fairly freeform in style, it needs to have balance.

This week I have been working on one of my signature pieces for a commission, it's along the lines of Persephone, but I find that she has taken on a life of her own. Working out the position of the flowers and leaves so that the piece looks balanced is an enjoyable challenge.

I'd like to get my two commissions finished before Christmas so that I can spend some time over the Christmas break updating the website so I'm trying to be a bit more focused. Last year I went on a time management course and it's high time I put into place some of the things I learned. It often seems to be 2oclock before I sit down at my desk to do some work and it simply won't do!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Spicing things up

The theme for ‘The Sketchbook Challenge’ this month is ‘Spices’. Very appropriate for the month of November, as the hedgerows are full of lovely rich spicy colours.

Spice shades in the hedgerows - from my sketchbook
When we got married just over two years ago, one of our gifts was a lovely big spice rack. I use it every day, in fact as I write this, I have chicken marinading in a spicy mixture of cumin, coriander, fenugreek, ginger and garlic, ground in a pestle and mortar and mixed with greek yoghurt. Spices are very commonplace in our homes today, but it was not always so, they were prized for their preservative qualities and even used as currency in ancient civilisations. During the fourteenth century, in Germany, one pound of nutmeg could be traded for seven oxen! An interesting thought as I have just grated some onto my mug of hot chocolate – enough to pay for the Sunday joint I reckon!
I loved wandering through the souk on our trip to Morocco some years ago, looking at all the heaped bowls of spices, dates, olives and other exotic wares. Spice stalls jostle for attention amongst leather goods, carpets and metalwork. I’ve an idea for a collar exploring the theme of spices, but it will have to wait until the new year to be made as I am working my way through my waiting list.
Picking out the beads to use in a project is very much like using cooking ingredients. Proportion is all important. It is often the little touches of a contrasting colour that make the main colour beads in a project really ‘sing’.

When I get round to making the Spice Trail Collar, I will include hints of olive green, as well as some textured sterling silver, to remind me of the other goods on sale in the souk as well as the hot spices. Those mottled ones in my little wooden bowls are made of ceramic and have been waiting for inspiration to tempt them out.

My bead board at the moment is covered with woven flowers in pinks and pale cream shades. It is when the centres are added, in the contrasting pale green that they really come to life, proving that a little bit of 'seasoning' can really pep things up.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Declutter on a grand scale

I just couldn’t go on the way I was. Craft items that I will never use again were taking up space that I really need so that I can properly organise my jewellery making supplies. Drastic action was called for so I took everything out and laid it on the living room floor.

There was even more stuff than I thought, the picture shows just a tiny bit of it in the process of being sorted into job lots. Cardmaking stuff, sewing stuff, glitter glues, paints of every description. Enough to stock an entire craft shop. Time to pass them on to people who will use and enjoy them.

The plan for the long-term is to be a whole lot more productive and professional, especially as I have a little waiting list of pieces promised. When my husband arrived back from work, he felt like Howard Carter must have done as he first entered Tuts Tomb. So I have been busy on ebay over the last 3 weeks and gradually the pile is diminishing. In the beading area, things are much nicer….. I can actually find things without having to rummage! I ordered some new packaging boxes, lovely cream coloured ones, with double sided velour inserts, black on one side, cream on the other so you can choose whichever matches best. Much more luxurious than my old white ones, which I will phase out. Each one is now neatly stored in tissue paper in a drawer set aside for dispatching items. I also got some lovely mulberry paper to make the packaging even nicer. I had the opportunity to send one off straight away, as someone bought a pretty Kumihimo necklace. How thrilling to think of it going all the way to Denmark and I do hope the lady is pleased with it!
Almost done - just the clasp
and suspendy bit to make
The Peacock necklace is just a few days away from being finished – I’m working on the button closure and then I need to think of a really stunning way to suspend the pendant section. All the while I’ve been beading, I’ve kept a real peacock feather in front of me, so I hope I’ve captured its essence as it were.

I love that funny little crown the peacock wears on its head don’t you!

I think the peacock is looking surprised that my necklace
is actually going to be finished!

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Cabinet of Curiosities

Subtle changes of colour in the October hedgerow

'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' wrote John Keats. I find that October can also be the season of big hairy spiders. How disconcerting it is to enter the bedroom and see a huge beastie scampering over your pillow and disappear under the bed. Normally I don’t mind the odd creepy crawly, but just not tickling me as I sleep. But I suppose you can’t blame them, they just want to be warm and dry as the weather gets colder.
Plenty of fascinating things in the hedgerow to sketch this month. Found some very interesting fungi on my walk to the post office yesterday. The Sketchbook Challenge this month is ‘A Cabinet of Curiosities’.  This appeals to me enormously, as I have always been fascinated by weird and wonderful objects, especially from nature.

I remember many years ago, my then fiancĂ© came a-calling, to find his beloved happily engrossed with her watercolours….. and a dead stoat on the table. To misquote Charlotte Bronte, ‘Dear reader, I did not marry him!’ What an evil little face it had...  I mean the small mammal of course, NOT the fiancĂ©!

Now from the ridiculous to the sublime....
On the beading front, Peacock is progressing, I am working out the fringe placement. I did one side of it, roughly in place in the photo. I need to make adjustments and move the top strand over a notch or two and reposition the others, but it will look stunning when completed.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Sketchbook Challenge

I’ve decided to join in with The Sketchbook Challenge, the theme this month is ‘PATTERN’. Being a keen beadworker, pattern is never far from my mind and I see ideas for jewellery all around me. A walk down a city street becomes much more interesting when you look at patterns in railings and architecture and imagine turning it into a wearable piece of art.

Some of the best ironwork patterns I’ve seen recently are in Mostyn Street in Llandudno. All along the street runs a covered walkway, with dozens of different wrought iron patterns.

Here is my sketchbook page for this month's challenge. Ideas for two necklaces are just beginning to take shape. The blue one will make a very impressive collar I think. I'm looking forward to the next challenge, a new theme is revealed at the start of each month. To find out more visit the The Sketchbook Challenge blog at:

My Peacock necklace is coming along nicely. I decided not to include purple in it after all. This was because I wanted to have a more accurate representation of the colours in a feather, so I've gone for lime, rust, royal blue and gold. I've also decided that it will have a gloriously lush fringe. Not sure yet what the clasp will be like, a button and loop perhaps.

Talking of clasps, a new DVD arrived from the USA this week, full of useful techniques for making all sorts of fastenings that blend in with the beadwork. I learned several new techniques from it. Beadworkers in the USA are so lucky, they seem to have many more resources than we do in the UK. Thank heaven that we can now send off online for just about anything we want.


Thursday, 13 September 2012

Pretty packaging

I had some scraps of handpainted silk left over and a tiny pile of beads after completing my Kimono piece yesterday. She is going off in the post this afternoon to her new home nicely boxed up and with a pretty label on the front made from the leftover beads and silk.

A nice sunny walk to the post office then back to sketch some new designs. Not a bad way to spend the day!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Creative learning curve

Every piece of jewellery I make teaches me so much. The Kimono necklace is certainly no exception. The human neck is not flat, so I wanted a really good shape that would sit well and be comfortable. Checking the fit on my trusty metal jewellers mandrel helps no end. All the weaving was done with Nymo thread, and any areas that are likely to flex, or be touched, like the toggle. I've reinforced with Fireline.

Now I've got that strange bereft feeling that comes when a piece is finished. I guess I'll read and tidy for a day or so and then carry on beading again with renewed vigour. I made a Youtube slideshow which shows it being made.
Talking of reading, I've a couple of new books to enjoy. They are both must haves for anyone interested in bead embroidery. The first one is packed with fabulous pictures of finished jewellery, very inspirational. No techniques are described in detail, but it's a wonderfully thick book and I can guarantee hours of happy ogling at the beady eye candy within!
The second features the bead embroidery of Heidi Kummli. Heidi takes a very spiritual approach to her work and the book is full of information of the meaning of totem animals, healing stones and colour theory. She shares a wealth of knowledge on bead embroidery techniques and the book is choc full of gorgeous pictures. If you check it out on Amazon, they have some sample pages.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Persephone - my new neckpiece

I have created a neckpiece inspired by the myth of Persephone. Flowers woven from tiny beads and rich bead embroidery make a very pretty piece. I found some wonderful glass chips that remind me so much of the pomegranate seeds Persephone ate. I learned some new techniques whilst making this, a picot edge to the bead embroidery just suited it, also the reducing of the strap at the back presented a challenge. I used Beadsmith Fireline thread to secure the flowers and leaves. Originally developed for fishermen, it is very strong, but virtually invisible. This is the first time I’ve used it and I’m impressed with it. Many blissful hours of work have gone into Persephone, I thought very carefully about the position of all the flowers, I'm glad that I decided on an asymmetrical design, it suits the nature inspired theme perfectly.

Painting of Persephone by Rosetti
Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. Demeter, who was the goddess of the harvest refused to let her daughter marry. Zeus on the other hand thought it was time for Persephone to take a husband and he ordered Eros, the god of love to shoot Hades, the king of the underworld with one of his arrows. Hades, smitten with Persephone as a result, bore her away to the underworld to be his queen. Demeter was distraught at the loss of her daughter and caused the crops to fail and famine to sweep the earth. Zeus eventually asked Hades to return Persephone, but because she had eaten some pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she has to return to her husband Hades for part of the year. I like to imagine that she is happy to return to him, and allow the different seasons on earth.  

It occurs to me that Persephone would wear very different clothes during her time in the underworld. After a few months in girlie flowery garments she is probably pleased to put on something black, stylish and with a hint of the gothic! I may well have to make another darker version for her that would suit her other persona.


Thursday, 2 August 2012

Pips and Squeaks

Do plants have feelings? I think they must do if my recent experience is anything to go by. Last week I bought 2 identical little dahlia plants to brighten up the patio. After a few days  one was vigorous and sporting loads of pretty yellow and red blooms. The other was looking very dismal and snail chewed. For some reason I got it into my head that it was being overshadowed by the other one and as a result was lacking in confidence!

Thinking it would benefit from some dead heading I went over and pinched off a dead flower. EEEEEk said a high little voice!  Maybe the tiny Fae that inhabits it was taken by surprise! I resolved not to startle it again so have been giving it some encouraging pep talks over the last few days. I empathised with it completely, I know  it can take a while before you find your own unique way to shine.

Pippa - a seed gatherer faery with her special
circlet on her forehead
Talking of Faery Folk, I have been working on something with a seed and berry theme. Feeling that I wanted to work with wood beads after a while of making sparkly things,  I tipped a big jar full of them out onto my beading mat. Out fell a beautiful oval shaped piece with a mother-of-pearl centre. How strange, I don’t remember buying it or putting it in the jar. I got paper and pen out to do some quick sketches of how I might use it, and an idea almost seemed to draw itself. It’s very scribbly but enough to show what I am to make. I must work it up into a finished watercolour, it would make a lovely little gift to pop into the box with the necklace when I've made it.
The centrepiece almost seemed to stitch itself –the challenge I think will be the twisty stems adorned with berries, seeds and leaflike beadwork that I want to surround it.
I’ll need to stitch sample pieces to perfect the technique, which will be a useful one to learn, as I plan to do some more wood elf pieces in future. Here's my first tryout.