Thursday, November 29, 2012

Guy With Windbreaker on Bridge

When I leave the house for the train station a little later than usual, it never fails: I hit every red light along the way.

This happened today, and it was raining to boot. My usual commute to the station is under 15 minutes and today it took almost twice that long.

The parking is (mostly) on the north-bound track side of the station. To reach the south-bound track I have a good 5 minute walk to the pedestrian bridge that spans the tracks, then up & over the bridge itself. Since I was running late this morning, I stood a good chance of missing the early train even if I pulled into the parking structure before the train arrived.

I have come to recognize several of the people who ride the trains with me every day. One of my fellow morning commuters always wears a nylon windbreaker, usually neon green but sometimes purple. His habit is to stand on the pedestrian bridge until he sees the lights of the approaching south-bound train. He has a very distinctive hip-shot way of leaning against the inside rail of the bridge so I recognize him even from far away. As long as that guy with the windbreaker is standing on the bridge I know that I have a few minutes before the train pulls in. He is my signal—if I don’t see him, or if I see him start to walk to the end of the bridge, I know it is time to run. Well, walk very quickly; running is not something that I do well. Or without falling.

He is usually wearing earbuds so I have never attempted to speak with him. This is my thank-you to Guy With Windbreaker on Bridge. Please keep standing on the bridge, waiting for our train.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Owl Be Seeing You

The Gruffalo and I live in what is called ‘an urban/wild land interface’. It is one of many pockets around the Los Angeles area that consist of homes located in, well, the wild land. We are not far outside of the nearest city but where we live feels very much like the country.

We are surrounded by wildlife; sunbathing lizards, suicidal squirrels, lawn ornament rabbits, fat & sassy coyotes, gate-crashing rattlesnakes (they prefer to coil themselves on back porches, we have learned), shy foxes (only glimpsed twice), tufty bobcats, sashaying skunks, cranky raccoons, soaring hawks and, once, two horses that had left their stable and were chilling in our front yard. The bats are coming back to our part of the world. They left the area after the Medfly insecticide spraying in the 1970s killed off much of their food supply. It has taken decades for the bats to return and their presence is very welcome. They keep the swarms of little annoying black valley flies under control.

The first time that I cared for The Gruffalo when he had a bad cold, I told him that he looked like a peeved owl, and he really did. Wide eyes, wild hair sticking straight up in a crest, look of intense concentration. Since that time, the owl has become my spirit animal whenever someone is sick. When The Gruffalo was hospitalized with a serious illness I wore an owl-emblazoned bracelet every day.

There is one owl in our neighborhood who escorts me along the road to our home when I drive home at night. I am not making this up. This owl will swoop into sight and fly just ahead of my car until I drive into my garage. It has happened often enough that I can’t dismiss it as coincidence. I mentally refer to him as my Guardian Owl and I wave ‘thanks’ to him every time he leads me home.

The piece pictured above is made of tile beads with an iridescent owl bead in the center. It represents a stylized tree trunk with my Guardian Owl perched in a knothole. I am almost finished with one side of the twisted rope necklace that will complete the piece.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Corona del Mar

Corona del Mar means ‘crown of the sea’. To my family it also means lovely memories; Mom would often pack a picnic lunch and take my sisters and me to the beach during the summer months.  Actually, the phrase ‘picnic lunch’ barely does Mom justice. My mother was (still is) a dynamic combination of Betty Crocker and Donna Reed. Beach lunches usually consisted of fried chicken, potato salad and cookies, everything home-made and all eaten from a plate using a knife & fork. The inevitable slight sprinkling of sand that would stick to our food is probably the reason that I only like extra-crispy fried chicken to this day.

By the way, I have noticed that there appears to be a tradition in the blogging community to give nicknames to real people that one writes about. In my world, every family member, friend and pet has multiple nicknames so the chore will be to choose which nickname to use for each person. That is, except for my youngest sister, Barf being just too good to pass up.

There is a main beach at Corona del Mar, and there is a sheltered lagoon behind a jetty. Depending on the tide there is a small, shifting lagoon-side spit of exposed sand. People who climb over the jetty are not always certain of having a dry place to lay out their beach towels, but the peaceful beauty of this little corner of the ocean is worth the hike.

These two pieces are named after the beaches of Corona del Mar. I am very much in love with ocean blues & greens. I often combine these tones in my designs. While stitching these two companion pieces I imagined tide pool life viewed through the lens of undulating sea water.

The collar necklace is called Big Corona (what the locals call the main beach):

And the cuff bracelet is called Little Corona (the moniker for the lagoon):

Little Corona is finished & ready to wear. Big Corona is not completely beaded. Once the beading on the front is complete I will cover the reverse side of the piece with Ultrasuede ®, stitch a picot border around the entire edge and add a chain or other closure. If you look closely at Big Corona you will see that the beading is done over a piece of printed fabric, in this case a swirly batik. The printed fabric is attached to an underlying stiff white stabilizing fabric.

This is a good opportunity to write about one of my favorite teachers, the late Melanie Doerman. I took a bead embroidery class from Melanie at Brea Bead Works several years ago, and it was a revelation. The value of the class went far beyond learning mere technique. Melanie also taught a way of looking at things in a slightly different way that allowed me to loosen up and trust my own creativity. For example, the idea of attaching a printed fabric to the stabilizer is hers, and it is a brilliant way to avoid the possible paralysis created by facing a blank canvas.

Melanie called herself The Magpie, and this was the name of her website. The site has been taken down since her passing earlier this year but you can take a look at her last published book at Amazon.

Since I tend to fall in love with one color combination to the exclusion of all others, it was a relief to hear Melanie admit to this same sort of obsession during class. At that time she was enamored of bronze seed beads and was using them to cover a large jar to create an elaborately embellished container. She told us that the project was taking more beads and more time than she had imagined, but that she never got tired of those little bronze beads.

Magpie, thank you so much for your generous creative spirit. I hope you finished that project.

Picot:  In clothing design, a picot refers to a loop, usually made of thread or ribbon. It can be either decorative or functional. In beading, a picot is a stitch usually used for edging. The stitch uses three beads combined in such a way that the middle bead pops up above the beads that surround it.

Batik: Cloth that is traditionally made using a wax-resist method to create designs. Motifs usually represent the natural world, especially flowers & plants.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cleo, Again

Today is a rainy Saturday. The dogs are giving me various degrees of side-eye because it is too wet for them outside. Clearly this is my fault; in their minds I control the very weather. I am watching ‘The Apartment’ and beading merrily.

I finished Cleo, the black and gold collar necklace that I previewed in its unfinished state in an earlier post. The loose threads have been removed and the necklace chain added:


The gold beads that make up the motif in the view above are black on the other side, so the piece is reversible:

I will be displaying and selling my work at a show in Del Mar on December 2nd so I am finishing up many partially finished pieces. There will be several short blog posts to show off new pieces as I wrap up the final touches.

Finishing work is my least favorite thing. It would probably be much easier if I wove in loose ends as I went but I am always too impatient to see where the pattern is going to take me.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


This photo is of a suite (a group of related jewelry items meant to be worn together) that consists of a pendant & earrings. I need to add the loops for ear wires to the earrings and drops at the bottom of all three pieces. Because of the color combination I am calling this suite Sugarplum.

This is a work in progress, so there are fuzzies galore—lengths of thread that need to be tied & cut.

The design for this suite is adapted  from a pattern published in a beading magazine. I changed it by removing the pearls from the design and changing the stitching around the central stone.

A few jewelry terms:

Montee: A stone that is set (mounted) in a metal fitting. The central stone in these pieces is an oval montee with four small holes at the bottom of the metal fitting. These holes allow the stone to be stitched in place through the back of the montee so that the stitching does not show. The stone of a montee is usually set in the metal fitting so that there is some space between the back of the stone and the metal fitting to allow light to shine through the stone.

Bail: The loop at the top of a pendant or focal piece that allows for addition of a necklace. Bails are usually metal. Metal bails can be an integral part of the bezel (see below) or they can be glued in place on stones that are not bezeled. In these pieces the bail is stitched from seed beads. Only the pendant has a bail (so far). I will add a small bail at the top of the earrings so that I can hang them from an ear wire.

Bezel: The area around a stone or other focal piece. In fine jewelry the bezel is metal that is formed around gemstones. The bezels around the montees in Sugarplum are stitched from seed beads.

Bicone: One of the many, many available shapes of crystal. A bicone is shaped like two pyramids stuck together at the base. They come in a variety of sizes. The smaller crystals in Sugarplum are 3mm bicones.

Rondelle: Yet another crystal shape. Think of a perfectly round crystal that has been squished. The diameter is larger than the length of the crystal. The stringing direction is through the shorter dimension. The larger crystals (hard to see, because they are a light smoke color) in Sugarplum are 4mm X 6mm rondelles.

I am undecided about the drops for these pieces. The pattern that I used calls for a fairly large drop (a series of beads that hang from the bottom of a piece) on the pendant and smaller ones on the earrings, but I might leave the pieces as they are.
When the focal point of a necklace is so intricate I use a very simple necklace, either a length of ribbon or a plain metal chain. I will try both with this suite and publish a photo of the final result.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The same way you get to Carnegie Hall...

For the past year I have been commuting to Irvine by train. This is my morning ride, the southbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

The fact that I no longer drive to work has changed my life. Besides not having to sit in traffic I can bead on board. The travel time between my home station and Irvine is less than 30 minutes so I have to glance out of the window often--when I see certain landmarks it is time to start packing up.

I tend to be a tad compulsive, so there is a good chance that I will miss my station stop one of these days and ride the train all the way to San Diego because I CAN'T STOP BEADING RIGHT NOW.

This is what my tray table looks like on board:

That beige thing is a bead mat. It is a fuzzy fabric that keeps the beads from rolling around.

Train commuters usually keep to themselves, however the sight of a woman with little piles of seed beads on her tray table tends to invite comment. The most frequent thing that people say is "How can you do that on a moving train?" The answer I usually give is "The same way you get to Carnegie Hall." (Full disclosure: This line is a variation of an ancient joke which I stole from my sister.)

Since I have started selling my finished pieces, the fact that I bead on the train gives me an easy way to track my time. Minus settling in & packing up I have a solid 20 minutes of beading time each way. The bracelet shown on the bead mat in the photo above was completed in two train rides so I know to factor 40 minutes into my pricing calculation.

Amtrak has a cafe car on board. The attendant in the cafe car will use the PA system after each stop to announce the location of the cafe car and to remind riders that they can get something to eat or drink on their journey. Most of the attendants make a straightforward announcement, however now & then there is an attendant who takes it one step further. There is a fellow who describes one of the offerings in the cafe as "Delicious fresh fruit Skittles", another one who sings the menu.

The recorded announcements ("Our next station stop is Anaheim. Thank you for choosing Amtrak!") are (I am almost certain) the voice of the great Gary Owens.

Monday, November 12, 2012


This is a piece that I just finished last week. It is made with square glass two-hole tile beads called 'czechmates'. The gold beads are black on the other side, so the necklace is reversable.

This photo shows the many threads that still need to be woven back into the piece. It would probably make more sense to weave them in as I go along, but I just can't stop beading when I really get going. I wait until the very last step to weave & trim the fuzzies.

The final necklace will have a chain attached with a clasp in the back. I originally was going for an Art Deco feeling but I think the finished product looks more Egyptian, so I am calling this Cleo. I want to make a jagged-edge cuff to go with this.

As much as I love the tile beads I cannot for the life of me figure out nice earring designs to go with the necklaces that I've made. These beads are not lightweight, so any earring that I make from them has to use only a few beads or they will be too heavy. I also tend to think that, with a really bold statement necklace, you don't need attention-getting earrings (but maybe I am just rationalizing to cover up my lack of good earring ideas).

I have an idea to design & make a wall hanging out of these beads. It would be like making a stitched mosaic. Again, however, it will end up being a very heavy piece. The thread that I use is a form of fishing line, so I suspect that it would hold up well, but the wall might not.

Bead Here Now

I grew up in a Southern California town that is so close to Disneyland that we could watch their nightly summer fireworks from our driveway. The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana was a frequent weekend destination for my parents, my sisters and me. My most vivid memory is of the various beaded items in the Native American displays. I used to have dreams about being able to go inside the display cases to examine the beaded adornments more closely.

When I was about 9 years old, I saved up for a kit that included a wood & metal loom, needles, thread, seed beads and instructions for beaded patterns. The instructions were beyond confusing. The only thread included with the kit was white, and it very quickly got soiled & frayed from my constant pulling out & re-stitching rows. The headband that I (finally) completed was a truly horrible thing, even for a first attempt and I set the loom aside, convinced that I had no skill for this particular type of craft.

My Mom is an accomplished seamstress with great creative instincts, and she taught me to sew and embroider after I abandoned my bead-weaving loom. I continued to sew for myself and, later, for my kids. Sewing, especially hand-sewing, was a wonderful creative outlet for many years.

Then, five years ago, my husband The Gruffalo became gravely ill. I spent more time in the hospital than at home. Reading was impossible, and even the most tiny sewing project was too bulky to tote back and forth to the hospital. A few weeks before my husband got sick I had taken a bead weaving class at my local bead shop. Bead weaving projects are eminently portable: a few tubes of seed beads, needle & thread take up very little space. The pattern I had learned was just distracting enough to take my mind off the beeping and blaring of hospital equipment. I could set aside the project at a moment’s notice to follow my husband into radiology for yet another test. In those tense weeks spent watching over my husband I re-discovered my childhood love of beaded things.

My husband got better, slowly, and came home to finish recovering. I took more classes, learned more stitches and acquired (ahem) a few more beads. Scratch even a casual beader and you will find a magpie with an insatiable hunger for little shiny trinkets. In fact, one of my favorite teachers (more about her in later posts) called herself The Magpie online. The Gruffalo, now fully recovered, arches an eyebrow when I tell him that I have to go to the bead shop and says “Yes. I was getting worried that you might run out.”

My repertoire of skills now includes wire wrapping and metal clay techniques, but I keep coming back to bead weaving. It allows me to produce pieces that I can gift or sell while still delighting the 9-year-old girl inside of me who wanted nothing more than to get closer to the intricate, intoxicating beadwork on display at The Bowers Museum.

It has only been very recently that I have taken the stitches and techniques I have learned and started to design my own pieces. Sometimes I will start with a published pattern and make modifications based on my own taste, other times I will start with a pile of beads and no idea what the finished piece will be.

The purpose of this blog is to write about beading and to post photos of my projects, including work in progress. I’m happy to address any comments about my work as long as the criticism provided is constructive. Tips, techniques, resources, pitfalls and personal stories will all be fair game for blog posts and comments. I hope you enjoy and can join the conversation.