Sunday, December 5, 2010


Although I post mostly about beading, I think of myself primarily as a knitter.

Knitting progress is slow (relatively) and reporting on it goes something like this: "I'm almost at the armholes" so unless I'm excited about a shape or a colour or a milestone or I have a vaguely decent picture, I don't say much about my knitting, but I'm always doing it, and as a project nears completion, I get antsy if I don't have another lined up - not that I ever am without a project, as there are always socks on the needles.

In my opinion I'm spectacularly bad at photographing knitting and quarter-way decent at photographing beading, so that's what I blog about in terms of Things I'm Making. There's also more to say since beaded objects don't take even remotely as long to do as the knitted objects I tend to make (sweaters, skirts, coats).

I'm also more emotionally attached to my fibre dabbling, both spinning and knitting. I rarely knit for others unless it's some sort of occasion or special request or I have a pretty good idea that it will be well-received, and I never sell knitting, as the time I spend means it's too personal to part with for mere money, not to mention the fact that I won't accept less thanminimum wage for my time. And also sales possibilities would be very sparse given the full-time day job.

There's a fair amount of overlap in terms of what excites me about both media, and my inspiration for both is pretty similar.

Often it's simply the raw materials that are irresistible and to a certain extent dictate the finished product. Cashmere yarn will never be a summer tank top, cotton fibre will never be a bulky singles yarn, and big beads will never be strung, except as separators between bits of seed beading or beaded beads. Cotton yarn could well be a winter sweater for work (they keep it way too hot in there), and seed beads could be almost anything: a beaded rope of sorts, something sculptural, or an overlay with bigger beads.

I'm fascinated with what other people are doing, both in the medium of interest as well as in related (and often unrelated) media. I've seen costume jewellery that begs to be recreated in seed beads, tailored clothing that would be awesome knitted, as well as the odd sleeve or clasp or neckline or chain that is a jumping-off point for something else entirely.

And then there are all the Wikipedia and other pages on platonic solids and molecules and geometric shapes and the like. Those work for both knitting as well as beading: I've been a huge fan of modular knitting for years (a decade or two at least). When I was working in molecular modelling (two jobs ago) I made very detailed sketches about how I'd bead either a chocolate (theobromine actually) or caffeine molecule pendant (they're quite similar), but I just didn't get around to it.

I've seen objects which I've wanted to make, but once I started them, they either turned into something else entirely or simply did not happen, as well as things that have told me exactly what I don't want from a sweater neckline or beaded collar or clasp or whatever.

I have piles and piles of paper with sketches and notes, and it's quite entertaining going through old piles, as I'll often find a design reworked a few times, sometimes days apart, sometimes what could be months or years apart - I don't know exactly as I don't date them. I'll often find a very old sketch for something that I've actually made recently and believed I had just thought of it, but it had apparently percolated for years until I was ready to do it, and I had no memory of working through it the first time.

Like Elizabeth Zimmerman (the only knitting or beading author that I actually READ) said, I unvented it. Or, as has been said before (and since), there's nothing new under the sun.

I've seen other people unvent something I've been doing for years (but they published it; I haven't pursued that avenue much). One of the current beading magazine covers has a piece using a technique I've been teaching (and selling kits and patterns) for at least five years, but it's not the same piece, and I don't think I'm so hyper-creative that no one else could come up with the same concept independently, as it's a variation on a technique that's a variation on a seed-beading stitch.

One of the earliest kits I made available was taught by someone at a major beading show; a friend was very angry to see what she thought of as my design having been appropriated by someone else, but hey, she submitted the proposal and I didn't, and besides, it was a technique more than a design in my opinion anyway, so after the initial surprise, I moved on.

Who did it first, after all? She may have been teaching it locally for even longer than I had. At this point, now that she's been teaching it nationally for years, I wouldn't bother to submit it to teach at a national show; however they do request it every few years at the local bead store at which I teach (yes, I started teaching it there before she taught it at the national show).

Like the piles of old sketches are the baggies of old beaded starts. (I don't have the equivalent for knitting. All my knitting starts are due to be finished eventually when I'm in the mood. If not, they'd be ripped out). Some turn out to be usable as is (completed beaded beads that can be strung on a head pin for earrings or pendants, medallions which require only a bail or necklace, that sort of thing), while some still have unsecured thread hanging from them and really need to go into the "What Was I Thinking" pile (or cut up). Others, although partial, still look like good ideas, though perhaps for another day.

In terms of the origins of those piles of sketches and notes and partially beaded thingies, I don't always remember. Some are outgrowths of common techniques I see every other day (a rope technique that I've made into a beaded bead; a component that I've extended to make into a chain). Sometimes I've seen a combination of types of beads (different seed bead sizes, different shapes, combinations of seeds and other beads) that have inspired a shape or a technique. Sometimes I've read a technical publication or web page that's given me the eureka I needed to stabilize or start on a design, and sometimes I've seen something so bad in its realization and so interesting in concept that I've had to get it right myself.

Sometimes there's an appealingly geeky concept that just demands to be beaded.
For this Sierpinski tetrahedron, I really should have used delica beads to get a cleaner representation, and I should have extended the corners a touch so that you can see the cros-woven tetrahedron in the centre, but this delighted me at the time, imperfect as it is. At some point I do intend to get it better, and perhaps teach it, but not now.

Of course, now that it's public (even with a readership of one a blog is a publishing medium; anything posted is no longer private) there's no reason for someone else to not start with this picture, make it better, write a book, sell the movie rights and make lots of money. I didn't invent Sierpinski tetrahedra after all.

Much of the time though, the techniques I see fall into the sea of my unconscious (especially when they're endemic), to float to the surface when needed.

If I want to make a three-dimensional geometric shape, I can use peyote with carefully spaced increases or decreases to make the entire piece as a single unit, or I can break the shape down into components and use one or a variety of techniques to make and join and stabilize the whole.

Sometimes the desired outcome informs the path inasmuch as there's really only one way that I can see. Sometime I have to try a number of methods to get what I want. I made a hollow self-supporting beaded bead based on herringbone stitch and right angle weave which was satisfactory only when I made each half separately and joined them in the middle.
Sometimes starting in the middle and working each half outwards is better, like with my Fauxbergé beads and pendants.
As to where these came from, I saw (one or two or five or a hundred. Some. Different) beaded beads using round and teardrop beads as the base to get a tapered shape. I have no idea what sizes they used or what techniques were used, or bead counts or bead types, but I liked the idea of the points at each end, so I went from there, and mine turned out actually rather different from any of the others I'd seen.

If it had been too similar to something else Out There, I'd still post pictures, but I wouldn't teach it and I wouldn't sell the pattern and kits, but I was confident that this one was mine. Of course, it's entirely possible that someone else has come up with (or will come up with) something very similar quite independently, not see mine, and start selling patterns for it. As I've experienced before, it happens.

A year or six months ago I made very simple beaded cubes in which the sides were large beads, and the overlay kind of rounded them out.
I made tons, in all shapes from very tiny, using only seed beads, to medium-ish like this one, to much larger. I'm pretty sure (just because they're so simple and obvious) that I'm not the only one to make something like these. I made them until I was done and then I moved on to something else.

A few years before these, I made some where the vertices (where three sides converge) were triads of larger beads with right angle weave units of seed beads forming the square faces. So instead of the lavender beads above, I used seed beads, I omitted the blue beads entirely, and used large beads where the fringe beads are. And various smaller seed beads and small faceted or fringe beads to fill in spaces and to embellish and stiffen.

Where did they come from? Dunno. Probably a combination of Wikipedia pages and simpler beaded shapes I'd made years before that, and pictures posted to beading forums and bead magazines and something that someone said somewhere.

I kinda like that.

I like that there are these communities of people making things and talking about them and being inspired by each other. I love it when former students or people who've bought patterns show me their own interpretations, especially when it's clear that they got the concept and ran with it. In contrast, I didn't so much love it when someone bought a kit and set up an online shop based only and entirely and completely on my design, although in fairness, she asked if it was ok and did stop it when I asked her to.

There's a huge canyon of grey between setting up a sweatshop with someone else's design and inventing your own and never telling anyone about it for fear it may be inspirational. I'm glad there's so much space between those two extremes.

1 comment:

marsspyder said...

I'm so glad that you are a knitter who beads. Your work has inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and poke right angle weave (and quickly run away) but I'll try it again though. For that, I say thank you!