Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bead Therapy

You may not be surprised that beading is used by many organizations as part of therapy.  From promoting eye-hand coordination to mood stabilization and elevation, the magic of beading helps us.  ……And I DO self-medicate!

Why does beading affect us and our moods?  Well, really, who cares as long as it works!  I do however have a few theories.  The first relates to that old-tried-and-true advice to count to 10 before you speak when you are angry.  Simply counting provides a discipline and rhythm that calms us.  Extend this theory to beading, and then recognize how often you are counting as you bead and you can see how performing beadwork can have a calming effect.  It is difficult to count and concentrate and hold on to strong negative feelings.

Another theory I have relates to tension.  Good beadwork always has an aspect of the proper measured tension in it.  Some methods like free form peyote are best with a tight tension, while other stitches like right angle weave are more measured and firm and others want looseness.  Regardless of the stitch, it is US, the beader, who controls the tension.  Hey, wouldn’t you love to be able to control the tension in the rest of your life?  Beading provides us with a unique opportunity to do that.

Music is often recognized as being able to affect how people feel which brings me to another one of my theories.  Music has lyrics, melody and the rhythm.  While performing beadwork doesn’t have any lyrics, there is a poetry to the colors being used and an undeniable rhythm to performing the beading.  We can relax into the rhythm and enjoy the visual sensation of the colors.  Those who also knit or crochet will chime in here about the relaxing effect of the rhythm of those tasks.

Let’s not forget that beading also allows us to Play with our toys.  Looking at and stroking all those beads whether they are bright and shiny or matte and mysterious is fun.  We can imagine all the possibilities of what they can become, or just enjoy their current state.  The point here is that you can adjust your mood without even picking up a needle.  Simply “visit” your beads, enjoy their company (they never talk back, insult you or criticize you).  Touch them, stroke them, introduce them to other beads you have and you may even come up with a design you hadn’t thought of before.  Beads accept us, gotta luv em.

Another type of bead therapy is to create something to work through an issue you may have in your life.  One of my cats died in the middle of the night from a previously unknown heart defect.  Finding her in the morning was tragic and I was thrust totally unprepared into mourning.  I created this necklace to help me in the mourning process.  It is completely out of my comfort zone, I actually don’t like the skulls, eyeballs, and spikes stuff, but I had this bone skull pendant in my stash and it just felt right for my state of mind.  Yes, it had to be dark colors to work through my mood. I knew I may never wear it, but that wasn’t the point anyway.  I did wear it once, and fondly remembered my Dookie cat, but will not wear it again.  When I’m ready, I have someone in mind to give it to who enjoys this type of design.

This example is about working through a negative issue, but remember that beading can also be used to celebrate a wonderful event too.  Reward yourself for a promotion or other achievement.  Engage in the joy of a wedding by creating some jewelry for the wedding party. 

Along this line, I recommend Heidi Kummli’s new book The Spirit of Bead Embroidery.  This is excellent for showing how you can experiment beyond the beads, and end result… you can design a deeper meaning into your beadwork. 

As she says in her intro, “a feeling of healing peace and tranquility flows through me.  My spirit is at one with the universe and the beads.”  This is a wonderful goal.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thread Talk

Last post, I talked about seed beads… so now it must be time to discuss thread!  The two essential beading materials (that end up in the final piece) are the beads, and the thread.  Both are important.

My favorite threads to recommend are Nymo and Silamide.  However, I only recommend Silamide on a spool, since I find the kinks with the ones wrapped on a card make it much more difficult to use.  I use both threads, and have an extensive array of colors.  I have tried the new Sono thread.. and I’ll admit I love it and love how it behaves and the grey/silver is an awesome color and very useful.  However, it is just too expensive for me to recommend.

I have many criteria I use to judge threads.

One is cost.  Until I win the lottery, I have a budget and I would rather spend my money on Beads!   Both Nymo and Silamide satisfy my frugality.  I can easily afford a wide array of colors in these threads.  The color of the thread used on a piece does matter, especially with transparent beads.  I’ll use a matching color, or a contrasting color depending on the effect I’m trying to achieve.   

Quality is important….  So, I want a thread that is tested.  My version of “tested” may be extreme but it is what I am comfortable with.  “Tested” means it has to have a long period of use, with no problems.  Long for me means at least 20 years.  Now you may argue with that, but when you spend MANY hours on a piece, you really don’t want it to fall apart after 10 years…. You actually think about them as heirloom jewelry.  So, it’s time to tell you Why I have this criteria. Years ago, a new thread was being sold… Kevlar.  The idea was, oh my, what a great beading thread, so strong it can stop bullets! (Yes, the same thread used to make bullet proof Kevlar vests…).  Sure makes sense right?  So I, along with many others paid the premium for this wonderful product.  The problem didn’t show up for a few years…. The problem was that material becomes brittle over time.  So, all those waving, swinging fringes fell apart as the brittle thread inside broke.  This was a horrifying, expensive lesson, and I’m thankful I only sent a few pieces that used this thread to galleries for sale.  And yes, they fell apart and came back.  Talk about embarrassing and a loss of respect at the galleries.  I won’t make that mistake again.  My recommended threads have been around and used successfully for decades. 

The thread needs to be easy to use.  This criteria needs some further explanation.  Any time you are learning, there is a learning curve.  One of the issues I have noticed in the decades of teaching beading to adults is that adults have a lower tolerance of the struggles of learning.  This isn’t really surprising since once you reach adulthood, you spend your life “knowing”.  Whether you are driving, cooking dinner, etc, you know what you are doing in a very fundamental way.  You’ll try new things, but for the most part, it is a variation of what you already know and you stay at your comfort level.  When you first start beading, however, you are a child again.  You have new materials, tools, and techniques…. A new world.  And often there are some struggles, not the least of which is threading that dang needle. 

So, you struggle with managing the thread, learning and executing techniques, and beat yourself up when you do it wrong.  Not everyone does this but too many do.  My advice… Relax. It will come.  Some beaders switch to a Fireline or similar type of thread since it doesn’t behave like the threads they were having problems with.  I advise against this.  These materials are plastics and coated wires. What happens to plastic over time? It drys out and crumbles. What happens to metals when bent and moved? It becomes brittle and breaks.  These new “threads” simply haven’t been around long enough for me to use them.  They don’t come in the wonderful variety of colors.  And, they are More expensive. 

So, take some time to learn the skills of using, for instance, Nymo.  It is less expensive, comes in a vast array of colors and is proven over time.  You can do it! And it’s worth it!  So here are some tips to try to help you when using these Nymo.
  1. Try waxing it.  Don’t go too heavy, just gently wax and re-apply as needed.
  2. If that doesn’t work for you, try Thread Heaven.  This is a conditioner to the thread that has an anti-static, repelling aspect.
  3. Pay attention to which end you are threading.  So, as it comes off the spool, are you putting the needle on where you just cut? Or the other end?  All beaders have a slight twist when they are beading, and threads have a twist.  You may find your situation is solved by always threading at the cut end or the other end depending on your twist situation.
  4. Be patient with yourself… you are learning a skill.
  5. Don’t use lengths over 2 yards (if possible) when you are learning and perfecting your skills.

There was a time that using a flexible beading wire when stringing was an automatic dismissal for any beading competition because it was judged as an interior material not used by a serious artist.  This has definitely changed and it is acceptable (unless Tiger Tail was used which is a no-no).  However, there is a  difference in execution time and effort involved with stringing versus bead weaving.  So, go ahead and use these materials for stringing…. If there is a problem, it can easily be redone…. That can’t be said for a wide peyote weave bracelet or bead embroidered collar.

This is all “Just my opinion”.  What is great about the beading community is that it embraces all opinions and you can certainly do what you want.  Feel free to post your opposition to my opinion in the comments!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Seed Bead Cautions

I thought I’d take a moment for this week’s blog to talk about things to consider about seed beads.  First and foremost,  I LOVE ‘EM!  But some seed beads I avoid all together, and others I’m very careful about.  Seed beads are created from glass, but the colors that are available just can’t satisfy the appetites for all beaders… so manufacturers of seed beads “do things” to the glass to expand the colors and appearances of the beads.  This includes:

  • Treating with dye to create a color.
  • Applying a lining inside the hole.  This not only increases the available colors, but also creates a unique appearance.
  • Coating the seed bead, either with a color or a metal.
What should occur to you is that this can create a danger when using these beads.  Coatings can wear off, dyes can fade, linings can wear off.   All of these things are true.  So, what can you do to protect your wonderful creations from downside risks?

First, KNOW what you are buying and using.  Some vendors very clearly label all their seed beads and note that there is a dye or coating.  The easiest ones to identify are the “lined” beads, they typically say “color lined” or “silver lined”.  There are many different metal coatings including “galvanized” or the new “dura coat”.  If you are unsure…. ASK!    Once you’ve determined that the beads are in any of these categories, be sure to keep that information with the beads if you decide to purchase them.

My advice:
Silver lined beads:  I avoid these altogether.  Yes, it really is silver that is used inside the hole.  Silver will tarnish.  I have pieces that I made years ago and were a bright shiny color at the time…. They are black beads now.  There is no way to clean inside those holes.  I did experiment however…. I took one and let it sit in a bath of pure bleach for 15 minutes.  This dissolved the silver, so it is just glass now.  I rinsed it REALLY well and let soak in clean water for an hour too.  I did this 2 years ago and the thread (I used Nymo) has held up to the bleach assault…. Crossing my fingers. 
If you use silver lined beads, be sure to store the beadwork in an air-tight container, and it’s best to include an anti-tarnish strip.  You may notice that you have some silver lined beads you bought years ago and still haven’t used and they are still beautiful… hey! They are in a sealed container!  Trust me, they will tarnish if you take them out of that container.
I took all silver lined beads in my stash and segregated them (why didn’t I just throw them away? Hmm can it be I’m obsessed with beads? ).  I have used them for a beaded snowflake pattern… because the final step in this project is to dip it into floor wax to stiffen the piece, this also seals the silver away from air.  I’m pleased to report that after 5 years they remain shiny and the floor wax shows no yellowing.  Other than this use, I avoid these beads like the plague (and the bugles are worse and tarnish faster). I don’t buy any more, and will only use in a circumstance like this.
Tip:  There is a new bead that mixes silver with glass and then coats the hole.  The description I’ve seen is a “shimmer” bead.  I have used these very successfully.  The appearance is not quite as glowing as a silver lined, but it’s close and it’s not dangerous.

Color lined beads:  Gosh, the variety of colors and appearance of these beads is sooo intriguing.  However, the thread or stringing material used with these beads can rub off the color inside.  So, I am careful about how I use these beads.  I love using these on the surface of bead embroidery but do not use in the necklace strand and am even cautious about using in fringe. 

Coatings:  Anyone who has been beading for a while has experienced a trauma with these beads (or know another beader who has).  Sometimes, the coating will even rub off in your hands as you are beading… you haven’t even finished it and it’s ruined.  Be careful using these beads.  Again, like color lined beads, be aware of where you are using them and what stresses they will be subjected to.  So, some parts of surface beadwork in bead embroidery will not create a problem, but obviously a peyote  bracelet using these beads will be a disaster.  And, it should be equally obvious, if it is coated with silver, well… it will tarnish (see above discussion of silver lined beads)
One exception:  There are new beads from Japan that are coated with metal and then coated with a protective coating over that!  That outer coating will prevent the silver from tarnishing.  The outer coating also protects the metal coating.  So, you can use these in areas that won’t have excessive rubbing that would rub off that coating.  Or, just know that the lifespan of the beadwork will be longer than without the coating but still limited.  (and they come in 15/0 too!)  I love using these with bead embroidery.

Dyed beads:  It would be great to be able to avoid these beads, but the result is that you simply will be limiting your color palette.  Dark Fuchsia?  It is dyed.   If the dye is coming off in your hands as you bead, you probably should stop and throw them away.  Typically this doesn’t happen though.  It is often as simple as adjusting your care and maintenance of the beadwork to avoid direct sunlight and store in a dark place (like your jewelry box which is not exactly a hardship).  But these pieces should not be stored on a wall, constantly exposed to light.  And of course, don’t leave them on the dashboard of your car….

Summing it up:
Know what you are buying.  Make a conscious decision about the use of these beads and Use Your Common Sense!