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I proudly present to you January, my first Bead Journal Project piece.

BJP January 2011

It's 5" square, as all my pieces will be, and of course hasn't photographed terribly well, between my crappy photography skills (honestly, I can't even hold the camera still half the time) and the difficulty of photographing beads, especially the little mirrors at the centre of each circle. It may be helpful to say that I made a great deal of use of this grey bead mix. I started by drawing three circles onto paper, doing it again with the next size down circle templates (really useful, though beware that the edges aren't well cut and the lines are often askew), and then drawing branching curves in the gaps. I don't think I really thought properly about trees until I had the circles beaded and was filling in the lines, and then I realised what I'd made.

I spent my teenage years cheerfully singing and playing the piano with my best friend, and one of our favourites was Schubert's wonderful song cycle Winterreise. It's about a young man who has just been dumped* and who goes off on a winter journey, ranting at frozen rivers and eventually going quite loopy and heading for death. There's a translation of the cycle here. The twenty-third song is called "Die Nebensonnen" and is about the young man hallucinating that he can see three suns in the sky. The song isn't trippy as you'd expect, it's rather lovely in a weary, slightly angsty way (he's pretty much burned through the angst by now), and you can listen to a random example of it here, along with the last song in the cycle. Anyway, there you are, three suns in the bright cold sky.

I picked the fabric because the harsh winter we're having has focused everyone's attention on the weather, and I felt like exploring what could be done with grey, a colour I've never really used in the past. I'm glad I did, there were wonderful moonstoney beads and dark blue iris ones and very slightly coppery ones that all read overall as grey/black/white but gave it life and depth. The background fabric is a blue-grey batik with a pattern slightly reminiscent of thistles and a lavendery patch in the top right.

* You pick up bits of vocab from singing the classical repertoire in different languages. I always say that if you sing Italian, you learn how to get someone into bed, and if you sing German, you learn how to commit suicide after being dumped. I've yet to encounter a singer who disagrees.

Things that worked, and things that need more work.
(Long and mainly notes for me, so feel free to stop reading at this point, folks.)

* Focusing on circles as a starting point. I could quite easily take circles as a theme for the whole year, there was so much more I could try, but I think I'll leave myself open and then I can always do more circles or not as I like.

* Working with a grey/winter colour scheme. I ended up ignoring the pattern on the fabric this time, but then it's quite backgroundy by nature anyway. I should try a fabric with a bold print some time.

* Basting a 6" piece of batik to a 7" piece of white flannel, for a 5" finished piece, and working without a hoop or frame. I'm very glad that this worked out, as it's much easier to flip back and forth between the front and back, and I don't need all the extra fabric around the edge to put over the side of the frame. The piece has ended up a smidgen distorted, but then my embroidery usually does even when I use a 6" round hoop, so I doubt that made a difference. Maybe I tend to pull threads too tight?

* Following Eha's advice, I bought Silamide thread and used it doubled. It's nice to work with, and I should probably stock up on more colours of it. I found that a #11 sharp was the best needle, except when using #15 beads when I rousted out the #12 betweens that I've never been able to use for quilting.

* I used a Clover white chalky pencil (chacopel, I think it's called) for marking out the circles and the branches. This worked very nicely, except that for the top circle I ended up not beading directly over the line and you can still see it faintly. I've attempted to get rid of it with the little brush at the other end of the pencil but it ain't budging. I might try real chalk next time, although that does brush off after five minutes of handling. Or just mark as lightly as possible, and not go over the marks more strongly unless I'm absolutely sure that they will be covered with beading.

* I've realised that I'm doing the beading equivalent of beginner quilters who keep buying medium value fabric, only in my case I keep buying size 11 beads. I need to stock up on more 8s, definitely more 6s (the only ones I have are in mixes, I think), and other shapes and sizes as well as seed beads and bugle beads. More finishes, too, especially frosted. The problem with this will be budget and storage space.

* The little 10mm mirror beads that were meant to adhere when pressed with a hot iron all came off once I started handling the fabric to bead around them, so I hastily opened the Nancy Eha book to the "how to set a cabochon with elevated beading" page and tried that out. It worked fairly well, although I learnt the hard way that #15 beads are not good candidates for anything where you have to pull the thread through that many times. The mirror beads were safely attached, and while the line of beading around them isn't dead even, at that size I think there are limits to what anyone can do. I still need to work out a way to clean the mirrors, which are now covered with fingerprints: a damp cotton bud, perhaps? Mirror beads are generally fab and I will definitely use them again.

* I'm still very much getting the hang of gauging bead sizes and where to bring the needle up next. I expect it'll come to me, just as an even quilting stitch eventually did, but meanwhile I have slightly iffy circles and occasional bits of thread visible. The nice thing about beading is that the overall sparkliness does a great job of drawing the eye away from minor faults.

* New stitches tried: elevated beading around the mirrors, chain stitch for the branches (possibly they look a bit too regular, but I didn't have many beads to play with so I didn't feel a random look was possible)different approaches to backstitch, and sewing concentric circles of differently sized beads. With the top circle, there's a double row of #11s that come just outside a row of #6s: I had to do the second row because the first was starting to disappear under the larger beads a bit at the bottom of the circle, something I'll have to be careful with in the future. The outer row on the circle on the right is a twisted bugle bead in metallic blue iris and then two #11s in frosted black on repeat, an effect I like very much indeed.
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