Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A New Beaded Pendant

Last week I blogged about a spiral rope that I was weaving for a matching pendant. I've now finished the pendant!

A Component of Many Shapes

The precursor to this pendant has been sitting on my bead tray for quite a while. It started as an attempt to combine Tila and SuperDuo beads into a frame, which eventually veered off into the design that became the Cosmic Windows Set:

After creating this bracelet and its matching earrings, I returned to the original prototype on my beading tray, which was rounder but empty in the middle. Another crystal bead in the middle didn't seem to fit quite right, but after some tinkering, I found that little flowers made out of rizo beads perfectly filled these frames! And then I found that I could vary the sizes of the components with just a few adjustments, and paired three of them together for this pendant.

Tila Shadowboxes

It's difficult to photograph, but these components actually contain two layers of tila beads, turning them from tila frames into bowl-shaped shadowboxes. The rizo flowers are completely recessed in each shadowbox, and bloom out of the bottom of each component.

I particularly like how this design can show off the rizo beads with special finishes, such as the AB, vitrail, and "magic" finishes. These finishes make for the most gorgeous visual effects, yet they also have a solid color on one side that can make the bead look irregular in the final design. The rizo beads in this design are positioned to minimize this issue.

Finished with a Crystal

A bermuda blue drop Swarovski crystal finishes this pendant. I debated between several shades of crystals for this finishing touch, but I settled on bermuda blue to match the tila beads of the pendant and the petrol pearls of the spiral rope.

It still needs a name though... Any ideas?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Spiral Rope and Beaded Swatches

I finished something new; a beaded rope!

A Spiral Rope Necklace

This beaded spiral rope is a matching necklace for an unfinished pendant. I'm still waiting on an order to come in so that I can finish the pendant, but fortunately I had all the materials to complete the rope.

I don't often weave beaded ropes for my designs, but the pendant is pretty substantial, and a simple silver chain just won't do it justice. Plus, if you haven't already noticed from my experiments with beaded DNA, I have a special place in my heart for helical beadwork.

Spiral Rope Swatches

It took me several attempts to settle on the exact type of spiral rope that I wanted to weave. Specifically, it took me ten tries, as you can see from all my failed attempts:

I like to think of these false-starts as the beader's version of a knitting swatch; a small sample of the design used to gauge how the finished version will look. When I'm creating a new beading project, I save these beaded swatches to keep track of the design ideas that I've tried, and I keep them to revisit those ideas in the future.

I came up with some interesting variations. In this swatch, I tried including a SuperDuo bead every six or seven stitches:

Unfortunately, the SuperDuo beads stick out a little too much for my liking in this variation, and making the spiral stitches longer to fit them resulted in a thicker rope. I put this idea aside because a thicker rope would not complement the pendant, but I might revisit this idea in the future.

Another idea that I might revisit is combining the spiral rope stitch with right angle weave, which I tried in this swatch:

It makes the spiral tighter and less likely to twist, which has always been a pet peeve of mine. But it adds a little too much engineering for the scope of this project, so I set the idea aside for now.

The Finished Rope

The design I finally settled on was one originally suggested by Marcia DeCoster. It uses 3 mm round petrol pearls every other stitch, which gives it both movement and texture, and makes the rope the perfect thickness for the pendant.

I used the same beaded toggle clasp design that I used in my Cosmic Windows bracelet. I also doubled its loop to give the rope two slightly different lengths. It's nice to know that this toggle is adaptable to necklaces as well as bracelets.

It's quite a nice beaded rope... I think I may even wear it without the pendant!

Do you ever weave swatches for your beading designs? Do you save them? Do you revisit them in the future?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Balance in Earrings

If you haven't noticed, I've been making matching earrings for most of my recent beading patterns. The Cosmic Windows design is no exception. Here's the matching pair for the Antique Glass colorway:

What you may not have noticed is that I spend a lot of time engineering these earrings to make sure that they're balanced. Unlike pendants or bracelets, earrings do not have a surface to lean against when worn, so if too much of the weight of the earring is on the front, back, top, or bottom, the earring will not hang correctly. Unbalanced earrings can lean forward or backward from the viewer, taking the eye away from the focal point, and ultimately making the earring unattractive. Unbalanced earrings can also be downright uncomfortable to wear.

So, how do we solve this balance problem? Well, there are a couple of different strategies that I've learned to use to make well-balanced beaded earrings.

Design Symmetry

One way to get a balanced earring is to design it to be the same on the front as it is on the back. My Tila Droplet charms naturally make for well-balanced earrings for this reason. See how the bottom drop bead lines up with the top connecting seed bead? Since both sides of the earring have the same beads, its weight is naturally symmetrically balanced.

If you can't get the earring to be exactly the same on the front and the back, another option is to symmetrically balance the weight down the center of the earring. I do this in these Fiberoptic "Egg" earrings, a variation on the Fiberoptic Duo beaded bead design:

Even Weight Distribution

If it isn't possible to design the earring to look the same on both sides, you can still make a balanced earring by distributing its weight evenly between the front and the back. Here you can see how the Cosmic Windows earrings face the viewer without tilting forward:

The reason for this is that the bulk of the weight of the earring is sitting in the middle of the component; if you cut down the center of the earring so that the front is in one piece, and the back is in another, both sides will have about the same weight. You can see this more clearly in this side view:

In this case I've engineered the cosmic crystal to sit in the same plane as the bail, positioning the crystal slightly above the tila bead frame and not below it. This puts the bulk of the weight of the earring right in the middle, and naturally solves the balance issue.

Thoughtful Bail Engineering

Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to engineer a beaded earring to have symmetrical weight across the component. The Tropical Dahlia pendant is like this, as are its matching earrings. To solve this inherent balance dilemma, I turned my attention to the positioning of the bail.

Usually, it's easy to add a bail to a pair of earrings; you just make a little loop for the ear wire in the most convenient position in the beadwork. The problem with this approach is that this position doesn't always lead to a balanced earring. You can see what this looks like in the earring on the right; the natural bail position is too far backward, so the face of the flower points downward and away from the eye. The earring on the left shows a bail engineered with balance in mind; the bail is anchored to both the front and the back of the component, resulting in a much more pleasing look.

I used this same strategy for the earrings of the Fiberoptic Dodecahedron Set. These earrings have five points of seed beads built into the star-shaped component, which mimics the stars on the matching beaded bead. At first, I tried weaving the bail up from one of these points, but when I added the ear wire, the earring would tilt forward, away from the eye of the viewer. So, I instead built the bail up from a middle set of seed beads, resulting in a more balanced design.

It makes for a much more tedious way of finishing the beaded earring, but in the end, it's an important detail that makes for much more solid design.

How do you achieve balance in beaded earrings? Do you create symmetrical components, or do you focus on the bail? Or do you use a different strategy?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New Pattern and Kits: Cosmic Windows Set

My newest beading pattern, the Cosmic Windows Set, is now available at www.beadorigami.com.

Frame a Crystal with Tila Beads

I came up with the idea for this design after experimenting with using Miyuki tila beads to frame other beaded components. The Tila Garden Pendant and Cubed Tilas Beaded Beads already do this to an extent, but in this design the aim was to make the tila frames self-supporting and independent of a polyhedron. The resulting Cosmic Windows component frames an asymmetric "cosmic" Swarovski crystal with the tila beads and additional Swarovski roundelle crystals, with a few SuperDuo beads thrown in for good measure.

A Bracelet of Windows

Several of these components easily link together to form a bracelet. This bracelet is finished with a custom beaded toggle clasp, which is fully described in the Cosmic Windows pattern.

Matching Earrings

Continuing with the matching-set theme that I've been on as of late, I naturally had to make a pair of components into matching earrings. Here's a pair in teal-blue and bright silver:

Three Kit Colorways

Kits for this design are available in the three colorways shown above. Each Cosmic Windows Kit contains all the beads needed to make both the bracelet and the matching earrings, including a pair of sterling silver ear wires.

In a change from my other kits, this kit does not include thread and a beading needle. I made this change for a couple of reasons. A big part of this decision was needle quality; I personally switched over to Tulip beading needles nearly two years ago, though I was still including the less-expensive John James beading needles in my kits. Unfortunately, the production of John James beading needles has since moved from Europe to China, and the quality of these needles has decreased to the point where I can no longer recommend them for my designs. At the same time, I can't justify the expense of providing a Tulip needle in each of my kits without raising my prices. In a similar vein, the amount of time I was spending winding Fireline into little bobbins was not cost-effective.

So, to help the price of this already crystal-heavy kit, I've left out the two most readily-available components, which can be found at your local bead store or one of the recommended bead retailers at the bottom of my patterns page.

Have you ever worked with cosmic crystals? What's your favorite way to use them?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hyper-RAW and Doubled Thread

I came across a photo the other day that gave me a random idea to make a tubular beading component that would both naturally curve and hold its shape. I'm certainly not the first bead artist to try this, but the experience taught me a few things about stitch and thread techniques that I thought I'd share here.


My first attempts at this component used tubular peyote, and then the filled net stitch, but neither of these stitches accomplished what I needed for this component. Then I tried cubic right angle weave (CRAW), which was more promising. To make the component thicker, I expanded the thread path to six square sides instead of four, so I was making connected hexagonal prisms instead of connected cubes. Then I varied the sizes of the beads to make it naturally curve, so I was making irregular hexagonal prisms. Finally, I embellished the tops and bottoms of each prism for stability.

So technically, this stitch can be described as Irregular Hexagonal Prism Embellished Right Angle Weave, or IHPERAW. But this is confusing to spell, so I think of it as Hyper-RAW.

Single vs Doubled Thread

I also tried these components with both single-length and doubled-Fireline thread. I'm nearly always a single-thread beader, so the doubled thread was a little disorienting to get used to; I kept thinking that I had more thread left on my needle than I really had! It was also challenging to get the doubled thread through size 15° seed beads more than a few times, so I had to switch down to a size 13 beading needle. I did like how the doubled thread didn't knot itself up while I was weaving; that happens to me all the time with single thread and it drives me crazy.

The difference in the finished components is quite noticeable too. The component on the left was woven with doubled thread, and the component on the right was done in single thread. The beads and thread path are the same for both. Both components conform to a natural curve, but the single-thread version is more flexible.

Here are the same components when pinched. The doubled-thread version is stiff and hardly moves, but the single-thread version will squish!

I'm not yet sure which version I'll use going on from here. If I want the final design to be super stiff, I'll used the doubled-thread version. But I might be able to get away with the single-thread version if I'm not hanging them at an awkward angle.

A Curved Component

I'm happy with how these components curve and hold their shape. If they're continued around in Hyper-RAW, they should form self-supporting beaded circles.

For the curious, you can find the picture that inspired these components here. Yep, they're supposed to be worms. Specifically, a species of worm called C. elegans, a tiny worm the size of a 15° seed bead, which is one of the major model organisms that scientists use to study several subfields of biology, notably neurology, development, and genetics. It was one of the first organisms to have its genome sequenced, and you'll find them in use in hundreds of biology labs all over the world.

You don't often see them in bead-form though ;)

Do you use single thread or doubled thread? Or do you use both? Which one do you like better?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Brain Chemistry Earrings

I wove another 3D beaded molecule! Two, in fact, for a matching pair for earrings.

More Brain Chemistry

Continuing with the theme of beaded neurotransmitters, I wove a pair of earrings in the chemical structure of ╬│-Aminobutyric acid, aka GABA. I used the same color palette that I used previously for my endorphin necklace, so the two pieces form a matching set.


GABA acts as the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system; it essentially acts to calm down neurons, and it's also involved in the regulation of muscle tone. It doesn't have big name recognition like the other neurotransmitters that I've covered on this blog such as serotonin, dopamine, and the endorphins, but it's still an important part of brain function.

From a structural point of view, GABA is relatively simple. It has four carbon atoms connected to each other in a chain, with one nitrogen atom at one end, and two oxygen atoms on the other end. The carbon atoms not connected to the oxygen atoms each have two hydrogen atoms, while the nitrogen atom can have two or three. The oxygen atoms, paired with one carbon atom in the arrangement shown in this molecule, all form what organic chemists call a carboxyl group.

I've depicted this molecule as a zwitterion, which is a neutral molecule that has both a positive charge and a negative charge. The positive charge sits on the nitrogen atom, while the negative charge is shared among the atoms of the carboxyl group.

A Flexible Molecule

The GABA molecule is very flexible, which is important to its biological function. It makes for a lacy pair of earrings!

I'm thinking that it would make a good introductory project to the realm of 3D beaded molecules. What do you think? Would you be interested in learning how to make your own GABA earrings?
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