Monday, March 7, 2016

Time Capsule: Bead Embroidery

Three years ago this month I was diving head first into the Egyptian Gods Jewelry Challenge, and working feverishly on the entry of Sobek the Crocodile. For that design, I went with a bead embroidered pendant featuring mother of pearl ‘scales’. Although I really liked how the piece turned out, a part of me knew – but didn’t want to admit – that it looked an awful lot like a slice of spinach pizza. Still, I learned quite a bit about what my beads could do, and it was a worthwhile project.

Bead embroidery was the very first seed bead technique that I ever learned, back when I was about 7 years old. Since then I’ve experimented with it quite a bit, but never often enough to reach the level of the masters like Sherri Serafini and Jamie Cloud Eakin. Though I didn’t include it in my list of beading resolutions for this year, I would like to focus a little more on bead embroidery, both to experiment and to master the basics a little better. For now, I thought it would be fun to look back on some of my favorite successes with the medium and see what kind of inspirations surface.

The Medallion series is by far my favorite, - not only because of how fun they are to make, but because I get a little design help from one of my favorite munchkins. I find that quick projects like these are great for practicing techniques because you can focus on one style or method and really hone those skills. The added bonus is that you don’t have to commit a lot of time or beads, but you still get a really nice design in the end.

I’m just getting back into graphic bead embroidery again, and it’s been far too long. A few years before I started doing off-loom beadwork, I made a set of Egyptian motifs with a combination of embroidery and folk art painting. I still have these pieces in my studio to help inspire new designs. I was always a little disappointed that the beadwork didn’t come out as nicely as the painting, but I’ve learned a lot since then and I’m looking forward to topping these designs one day.

There’s something about bead embroidery and concentric circles that just clicks for me. It’s probably one of the reasons that I’ve never really focused too intently on the medium – I know that I’m likely to revert to this method rather than take design risks. These two pieces are my favorite examples of how whimsical and cheery a few seed beads can be when you stitch them down just-so – and how easy it is to make something fun when you don’t stop too long to plan. Bead embroidery is definitely one of the best techniques for beaders who love to go freeform.

My newest favorite material for bead embroidery is fish leather, which looks amazing and is great for designs with a little bit of negative space. It can be sort of a pain to work with, and I've found it a bit difficult to use as both a bead surface and a backing in the same design, but I've still got a lot of affection for fish leather. I have a few pieces in assorted colors left in my stash, which I hope to use up this year.

Are you a fan of bead embroidery? What’s your favorite way to use it?


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  1. Hi, really like your BE pieces! I've done a few modest pieces, just a little peyote around a pretty cabochon...but I am my own worst critic. Would love to experiment with more "free form", asymmetrical BE necklaces, cuffs, maybe even a collar some day. BTW, I didn't see the "spinach pizza" until you said something, hahahahaha!

    1. Thanks, Sherry! It can be intimidating to get into embroidery - with no rules it's difficult to know where to begin. If you've got an affinity for it, I highly recommend checking out books my some of the experts and trying their projects. It's a great way to find a base of ideas to work from.


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