I’ve mentioned before that one of my hobbies is beadwork. I hadn’t done much beading for a while, but when I picked it up again this autumn, I made a strange discovery… Rather than taking away from my writing time, beading seems to have triggered something in my creative subconscious, so that I’m finding that my writing is coming more easily.
(I also seem to have found a story in the beads, but I’ll get to that in a moment.)
As an added bonus, I have completed some cool projects. The two bracelets pictured were done in even count flat peyote stitch, using Japanese delica beads. To give you a bit of perspective, the longer one is about six inches long. Both use thousands of beads.
For the dragon, I adapted a pattern by Suzanne Cooper from her book Adorn Thyself, but changed many of the colors so I could use beads I already had in my stash. This meant a lot of checking and rechecking, but I like the end result.
The snowflake bracelet is adapted from an amulet pouch pattern in another of Suzanne Cooper’s books: Dancing Light. The center follows her pattern, but the outlying areas are my own adaptation. Cobalt blue is one of my favorite colors, so I’d always wanted to do this pattern, but hadn’t really wanted to make another amulet pouch.
I also made a couple of pairs of earrings and, in searching for just the right beads, I may have found a story.
I’ve been doing various forms of beadwork since I was a kid, when my mom taught me how to sew sequins and beads onto felt. This is a relatively simple process with a lot of immediate reward, so I became hooked for life. In college, I bought an inexpensive bead loom and did a lot of flat work – much of which I still have. I mostly did it for the pleasure of the process, without thinking about length or what I’d use the end result for.
In an odd way, now that I think about it, those pieces are a lot like early writing exercises: attempts to get something to fit together, to see how various elements (colors, textures, bead sizes, types of thread) would work together. As with my writing, I’m self-taught, although I do use books as resources.
While I learned a lot about beading and beads from making loomed pieces, I also learned that I don’t really enjoy the process of stringing a loom. Moreover, pieces are limited by the width and the basic structure of the loom. Finishing loomed work is a complete pain and, as I was discussing with a lady at a bead shop just a couple days ago, if you mess up, the whole project is ruined.
I turned to making earrings using brick stitch. Not only didn’t these require a loom, they permitted me to experiment with using a wide variety of different beads for fringes. Again, I made many pairs of earrings, often for the pleasure of experimenting with colors, lengths, weights, and the like. I have a lot of these still… I should see what condition they’re in, since I didn’t know as much about thread at the time.
I’d seen pouches woven entirely woven from beads (as opposed to fabric or leather pouches with beads added on). I think Dancing Light was the first book I bought that showed the technique for even count tubular peyote stitch. The explanation was excellent, and I still return to it when I need a refresher.
Lynchburg, Virginia, where I was living at the time, didn’t have great sources for beads, so I had to settle for relatively expensive beads sold for embroidery work. Unlike most of the beads sold at the chain hobby store in town, these could be counted on to be evenly sized – something that I’d learned when doing loom work was absolutely essential.
Because of buying these beads, I also took up doing small bits of bead embroidery. I’d never much liked embroidery with just thread, but toss in beads!! That was a different matter entirely.
When I moved to New Mexico, I discovered I was in an excellent place to find beads. Sharon Weber – wife of David Weber – shares my interest in beadwork, so when she and Weber would come to visit, we’d hit the stores. One of the best birthday presents I’ve even been given was when they gave me the pattern and all the beads to complete a beaded amulet pouch with a wolf motif. (You can see a picture of it here on the FAQ page of my website.)
I continued expanding my techniques – and my collection. With so many larger beads available, I was very tempted by bead stringing. It’s a lot more complex than it looks – especially when working with crimp beads, which is what you use to attach findings (that is, various fasteners) to beading wire.
Along the way, people started giving me beads. These might be leftovers from a project or something seen at a flea market or yard sales, too irresistible to pass up. They might be part of a kit or an old necklace, too worn to wear, but begging to be recycled.
And, of course, I impulse-bought some myself, as well as buying beads for a specific projects.
This past weekend, when sorting through beads, looking for just the right beads to make a birthday present for a friend, I came across a bag of beads I’d bought through the mail. When they arrived, they were more shoddy than advertised, so they’ve sat in a plastic bag, too interesting to throw out or pass on, but not right for the initial reason I’d purchased them.
Then, this weekend, they inspired an idea for a story. I don’t like to talk about stories before they’re written, but I’m intrigued by the challenge. I’m going to see if I can fit it in between tax prep and typing up that longer piece I handwrote over the last few months.
When I look back over this rambling (and very incomplete) history of my love for beadwork, I’m fascinated to see how it parallels my love for and interest in various types of writing.
I like to experiment. I don’t like being locked into a particular structure. I don’t like doing the same story (or piece) over and over, but I do like expanding on a skill or technique (which is why I do enjoy writing series or short stories with continuing characters). I like bright colors and evocative patterns.
Is it any surprise that doing one feeds the other? I know many of you have creative activities you’re involved in: not just writing, but music and various visual arts. Do you have anything you do that – although seemingly unrelated – intensifies your “main” passion?