Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bead Embroidery - From Concept to Adornment

I consider beadwork to be one of my most creative outlets.  I love coming up with design concepts and bringing each piece to life.  I'm often asked about the process in which they are created and I can give a very general answer explaining how the beads are hand embroidered to the backing material and then it's turned into wearable art.  People inspect it and sometimes can't wrap their brain around how it all comes together.  This time around, I thought I'd take some pictures during the process so I could show the steps that are taken as a piece is created.   I hope you enjoy the ride....  :)

1.) The first step, for me, is always one of the most enjoyable.  It's when I come up with the concept for my design.  This piece is going to be a beaded cuff bracelet.  I like to use graph paper to mark my design and lay out the beads in different formations.  Sometimes I take pictures of different patterns and then refer back to them to choose my favorite.  This time around I chose a gorgeous pillow square labradorite cabochon as my focal and some gorgeous stones in aqua and olive green.

2.) Cuff bracelets can be either free form where they are pliable/flexible in their final wearable state or they have a metal blank inside them so they hold their shape.  I've done both and enjoy the process of both.  This time around I chose to do the metal blank.  First I measured the cuff and then drew my dimensions out on my base fabric, a stiff black felt.

3.) I mark my center point and then each inch along the length just to keep some sense of symmetry as I go.  ;)

4.) Here's a closeup of the labradorite cab.  The flash is absolutely stunning!

5. & 6.) Unlike a bead, a cabochon has no hole in it.  It can't be sewn on so it has to be attached to the project.  I use a needle to spread some E6000 glue on the back of my cab and then press it firmly in place.  This allows it to hold on its own before I bezel it with beads.

7.) Here's an array of possible beads to use within my chosen color palette.  I won't use all of them, but it's nice to see everything laid out side by side.  I LOVE these ceramic artist palette's.  The white background makes the colors pop! 

8. & 9.) Shot 8 is the very first step of creating the bezel around the center stone.  Depending on the thickness of the stone it will determine how many times I have to go around, basically stacking the beads and building rows until the cab is enclosed on all sides, securing it to the cuff.  The second shot is what the cab looks like after the beads curve up around the sides. 

10.)  Now we're getting down to business.  After the center cab is attached I can just go to town, attaching the larger surrounding stones first and then beading around them with seed beads.

11. & 12.) These shots shows masking tape in place.  I like to use this technique sometimes when I am going for a really straight edge.  It helps when cuffs are going to have the metal blank inside to ensure a generally consistent width throughout.  I've also found that having the tape wrapped around the edges allows for a nice grip on my piece as I work. 

13.) This is the piece when the majority of the beading has been completed and it's been cut out.  At this point, I like to leave some length on the ends just to give some wiggle room for when the beadwork is being attached to the metal blank.  It's coming along nicely, don't you think?  I was going for an art deco style and I think I captured it.  :)

14.) Now I'm ready to choose my backing fabric.  People use all kinds of things: leather, denim, recycled fabric, suede, etc.  I like to use ultra-suede.  It comes in a gorgeous array of colors, is fairly inexpensive and feels smooth and velvety when being worn against the skin.  It can look very cool to line your cuff with a contrasting color (a'la Louboutin).  I wanted something coordinating this time.   I had several options to choose from as you see the colors beneath the beadwork.

15.) My two favorites were the vibrant turquoise and this olivey-taupey green.  Though I love the way the turquoise pops, I'm going for something a little more subtle this time around so I went with the olive.

16. - 18.) Next step is laying the beadwork on the ultra-suede, tracing it and then cutting it out.

 19.) This next step is very important and I find it to be much easier to accomplish before any beadwork has been attached.  The metal cuffs come very round but whose wrist looks like that??  So, I have to pinch them slightly to make them more oblong, a football, if you will.  This is more wrist-like.  You can see what a difference it makes when they are side by side.

20.) Now it's time to start putting all the pieces together.  I know many books and people who say to use glue to attach but I've found that a heavy-duty double stick tape does an amazing job.  It holds the piece in place and doesn't have that stinky glue smell.  Also, it doesn't bleed through your fabric, only to leave you with a goopy mess on a piece you've spent hours creating.  (GRRR!)

21.)  First I lay a piece of double-stick tape along the inner side of my cuff....

22. & 23.) Then I start at the center and attach the ultra-suede so it lines the inside.

24.)  Next I lay a strip of double-stick tape along the top side of the metal blank.  Starting in the center, I lay my beadwork down and press it firmly against the cuff to adhere it.

25.) Extra strips can be added to make sure each end is held in place.  Shot 25 allows you to see how everything is all sandwiched together before the final end of beadwork is stuck down.

 26.)  Now it's the first time you actually see the piece taking shape.  It also allows you to even up any edges so trim, trim, trim your heart out, just make sure to leave about an eighth of an inch beyond the metal cuff to allow for edging to be attached.

27. & 28.) Here you can see the edging starting to happen.  I chose silver beads for around the length and indigo blue around the main center focal area.  As you can see in shot 27, each bead is lovingly sewn through the backing and the beadwork, attaching them one at a time.  

 29. & 30) And... voile.  The final piece close-up.  I'm so happy with the way it turned out and I hope the recipient is pleased with it, too.  :)

So, there you have it.  The whole beady process.  Was it what you thought it would be?  Easier?  More complicated?  I'm curious to hear what people think.  I know it's a common opinion in the art world that people don't understand the work that can go into a piece.  The planning, the construction, the hours spent perfecting that vision born first in your mind.  I've had people think I was nuts when I told them pricing on pieces before but I hope something like this will help to explain why handmade beadwork isn't cheap.  We do what we do because we love it, not because we want to sell to the claire's fans of the world.  Handmade beadwork is an artform and I'm glad to have the opportunity to share my love it with you all.

Thanks for reading!