Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to Mix and Use Bead Soups

How to Mix Bead Soups

There’s something wonderfully enticing about a mixture of beads. The combination of colors and shapes all playing together before the beadwork has even begun can be so much more inspiring than a single seed bead color. Bead soups are an excellent source of creative juice, not to mention a great way to experiment with new colors, or use up leftover beads.

One of the best ways to create a gorgeous bead soup is to hand select colors and shapes that work well together, as well as with your favorite techniques. A lot of bead sellers create their own custom mixes and blends, so the work of building a palette is done for you. If you want to experiment with concocting your own bead soup recipes, leftover beads are a great way to play with colors.

Starting with a single color is a good way to play it safe and see what your beads can do. You can mix together similar hues and shades to get a wonderful monochrome palette of ready-to-use seed beads. It’s a good idea to keep track of how much you’re adding with each new color, especially if you already have a project in mind. This way you can get a good balance of shades and be sure you’ll have enough beads to complete your design. If you’re not sure how your mix will turn out, start with a few grams of each color and add a dash of this-and-that until you get the perfect blend.

Blue Seed Bead Soup
Mix together seed beads of different sizes for texture.

Blue is a great color for bead soups because you can combine almost any number of shades together and they’ll still look great. Turquoise, aqua, cobalt, indigo…they all play well together. When planning your soup, try placing the beads you want to use together before mixing, to see how different finishes will look. Sometimes transparent, lined, or matte looks great when mingled, but different finishes can dramatically affect how other colors look.

Green Seed Bead Soup
Shaped seed beads are great in soups.

This green mix is a great example of too many shades. The mint and lime beads would look wonderful paired with the emerald. When all three come together, they clash. One way to salvage this soup would be to add some yellow or blue. This would allow either the mint or lime to attach itself visually to the new color, leaving the other to pair off with emerald.

Red Bead Soup
Try adding accents of similar sizes and shapes to start.

You can add accent beads directly to your bead soups. This is a great way to build a palette for freeform peyote, multistrand pieces, or bead embroidery. Depending on your project, you may want to go for a small range of sizes (from 3 to 6 mm), or add a handful of chunkier pieces. This is another great way to use up odds and ends in your bead stash.

Sandy Bead Soup Bead Soup Herringbone Stitch
Bead soups look great with freeform stitches and motifs.

Blending similar hues together can work out really well. This mix combines neutrals and a variety of warm tones for a sandy look. Starting with a base of neutrals (white, black, grey or beige) and then adding a few highlights is a great way to experiment with mixing colors.

Ombre Bead Soup Palette Ombre Multistrand Design
Bead soups are great for multistrand and fringe projects.

You can also use multiple bead soups in a single design. To create an ombré effect, create two bead soups with colors that are close together on the color wheel, or use one all-neutral palette. Remove one third of each soup and mix those thirds together to create an additional blend. Alternate between the three soups to gradually change the look and color of your beadwork.

If you're not using a bead spinner or stringing multiple beads at once, it can be tricky to find a truly random groove. When working with mixes, I like to pour out a portion of soup onto my workspace, then pinch a few grams into a line that I can choose from. By moving steadily through this row of beads, I can be sure that I'm not favoring a color or creating a pattern instinctively.

Do you like to mix your beads together? What’s your favorite bead soup palette?


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  1. I love pulling out little pinches of various colors & shapes of seed beads while I'm weaving a project...with an occasional larger bead.. and then if I am working on something with complementary colors, well really anything that might go together, I'll do the same thing, and shake them up, and there you go. Preferably more than 2 projects but you get the idea.
    Not only do I end up with some fun mixes to work with, I also find out some interesting things about my color prefs, often subconscious, by observing what I end up with.

    1. What a great way to experiment with color! It reminds me of the color collage exercises in "Polymer Clay Color Inspirations" by Lindly Haunani and Maggie Maggio. Just mixing and testing and 'going for it' to see what happens is a pretty fun way to find new ideas and avenues you haven't explore before.


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