Getting back into micromacrame

I had forgotten that when I initially dreamed about starting this up, I had intended to work primarily in beaded micro-macramé. Last night I made my first bracelet since…well, since I made one for a new friend, over Christmas. There’s just something about building up the toughness and resilience in my hands that I like…in addition to the relatively free-form work which I sense is possible, when working with knots and cords. When beadweaving, it feels different: more like assembling a whole from different parts that have to fit together in a certain way, or the finished object doesn’t quite cohere. This is why there are so many spacer beads within beadweaving — often, they just serve to cover up an otherwise exposed thread path.

So last night, I took a break from beadweaving (I could have easily gone back to the earring project, but my base-metal wires were still quarantining: I had realized that I should not be using expensive materials on trials. I had also realized the fact that I was doing trials) and went back into knotting. I only have two successful bracelet patterns to my name, at the moment (if you don’t count the pattern of the collar currently on the home page), but they were relatively easy to come up with. What wasn’t quite as straightforward was the development of what I call the, “clasp complex,” or the closure which loops everything around and ties it together. I have, that is, been working on my own version of a slide closure.

It’s working surprisingly well, at the moment. I can see myself getting better, which is another reason I really like beadwork. I really love those infinitesimal, but occasionally glaringly obvious, steps towards mastery. Micro-macramé is, however…it’s very niche. At least, currently; and at least so, in the United States.

A photo of a blue, yellow, and purple beaded micromacrame bracelet
Created February 23, 2021; no color alterations, but the smaller beads are relatively more violet IRL.

I actually first got the idea to do what I’m doing, from someone who was selling gemstone and cord bracelets at a street fair. I was intrigued at the knotting process. I feel confident enough that I’ve got a different angle on things (I use glass seed and fire-polished beads, instead of gemstones; my work is also much less chunky) that I can say that my own work was kick-started by someone else (who probably, in turn, didn’t pull it out of thin air). It’s also undeniable that there is a certain aesthetic that goes along with knotted jewelry, but it — particularly the level of fineness of it — differs between makers.

Right now, I’ve got enough to start off with (I’m particularly a fan of Joan Babcock, although I haven’t really done many of her projects: I just find her instructions very useful), but I know that there are processes and construction tricks that I haven’t yet encountered. Right now, what I’m working off of are a macrame version of what looks like Daisy Chain (which is a very basic technique I am particularly reminded of in the work of Annika deGroot), and the fact that knots consolidate cords, in turn creating space which allow larger beads to be inserted. When a bead snaps into place like it’s supposed to be there, you know you’ve got something. It took me, probably, months to figure out what I was doing, and why it worked sometimes, and not others. However, I was very new to this, then.

Even with a known pattern, I am still dealing with fatigue, particularly where it comes to remembering where to put what knot (last night I was up until 2 AM taking notes on the work of the day), but I am getting better. What especially helps, is knowing what something should look — and feel — like, and when that differs from what is, I’m aware that I need to troubleshoot. That is dependent on experience, though. Most of the time, the problem is either in tying a knot where there should not be one; or in tying a knot with the wrong cords. A sharp awl with a fine (and undamaged!) point really helps untangle these. Flexible plastic tubing of the type used for air lines in aquariums, is good to protect the points of things like awls and reamer tips, in storage.

Close-up of clasp-complex area
Golden Horn beads bordering a Cobalt Blue glass rondelle

I remember not so long ago, reading a number of complaints — somewhere — online that stated that the electric bead reamer I used to enlarge the holes in horn beads, last night, had a tendency to wobble and break off the tips of the reaming bits. I can’t find that record now. Given that my mind is occasionally unreliable, I’m led to conclude that either the complaints were taken down, or I literally dreamed the situation and mistook it for waking reality. However: when using a Beadalon battery-operated bead reamer, there are some tricks to keep you from being injured. And no, you don’t need a bead vise.

One: DO NOT attempt to force the reamer tip into the bead hole. This will lead to jamming and either the reamer will stop spinning, or you will get friction burns on your fingertips from the bead, when the motor kicks in. (This happened.)

Two: LUBRICATE the reamer tip with water (if not a regular tool lubricant) before putting it into the bead hole. This keeps the bit sharper, longer; and prevents overheating. I used water on horn, which I was initially wary of; but the horn doesn’t look worse for wear. I was more concerned about never being able to get Bur-Life out of the thread hole.

Three: Place your bead onto the reamer, then back it off of the place where it sticks. This is the area in which you will want to start wearing away the material from inside the bead hole. Again, DO NOT FORCE the bead onto an area of the reamer which could stick and jam it up. You don’t have to have all areas of the bit touching the inside of the bead at all times, for the reamer to do its job.

Four: Make sure to keep your finger(s) and thumb clear of the reamer while the reamer is operating.

Five: Go light on the motor. Don’t go whole-hog and hold the button down, unless you’re fairly confident in what you’re doing.

Six: If your reamer tip is wobbling after insertion, before you do anything, remove the collet and seat the reamer shank and rubber padding ALL THE WAY DOWN into the collet, before reinserting the collet into the motor. In my experience, this completely eliminated wobbling.

That’s not a complete overview of the process, but it should help. I think the bad reviews were due to people not knowing how to finesse the reamer to get it to work. Beadalon basically doesn’t provide much instruction on how to use their tool, in the packaging (other than to lubricate with water).

I know I almost threw out the motor on reading the reviews (I too had experienced my bit wobbling), but reaming a hole by hand to a size of 1.5 mm or larger, is a very time-consuming — and dull — task when done manually. There was reason for me, therefore, to give it another shot. Even when using the Beadalon electric reamer, it took some patience (and frequent rinsing of the bit — and bead — under dripping water. After a while, you get a kind of slurry going with the removed material and water mixing, which is probably safer for the bit. It’s just kind of gross).

Note that I’m not responsible for anything you do with these tips. I’m just trying to help. And, right: it should be obvious, but don’t get any part of an electric reamer wet, except for the tip.

Close-up of one side of the clasp
Narrowing down the active cords

There is a lot more that I’ve learned over the past 24 hours. Most of it is in my working notes. Some of it is straightforward, like the direction to use slipknots over a doubled waste cord in anchoring the center of the work, instead of overhand knots on top of a pin. I’ve also begun to use Fray Check or another hardening glue or cement on the ends of all cords, in order to avoid accidentally separating the plies of the cord when threading on beads.

I had two issues last night with the plies of my C-Lon separating, which led me to abandon a half-finished bracelet length and restart. The first issue just had to do with one of the plies not going through a bead, while the other two did. This resulted in a compact coil of that ply bunching up towards the work, when I attempted to slide the bead up to the work. If I had used Fray Check on that instance, the plies would not have been able to separate.

The second issue? I had tied overhand knots on a T-Pin in order to anchor the center of the work. Then the T-Pin fell out. Then I had to try and unpick the overhand knots. I didn’t get past the first one. I don’t know what happened, but it looked similar to the first significant error I made that night: it basically ruined the cord. Even using head-mounted magnification and double sets of tweezers, I couldn’t tell what was going on. At that point, I knew it wasn’t salvageable, and restarted.

I also have begun to use double half-hitches in my arsenal. They’re visible in the last photo, above: this is how I narrowed my work down to the slide clasp. I really like the small circles they make as they’re tied off.

One of the things I forgot to note last night: when making the square-knot slides, I need to be counting how many knots I make, on each side. Another thing to note is that I might want to go through my fire-polished beads, especially if they’re from a questionable lot, like the Blue Iris ones I used last night; and cull any beads which don’t look quite right.

I did get these directly from Czechia, but they were very inexpensive; and as a result, I have had to cull (remove/discard) numerous beads from this lot (though apparently, from none of the others?). The ones I’ve already removed were obviously flawed. However, I didn’t realize that some beads could be, you know, halfway messed-up. I don’t think it will really show to anyone who isn’t super-critical. It might even be a benefit if you like a grunge aesthetic. But last night, I was just focused on getting anything done, even if it would be a trial bracelet.

I guess I succeeded in that!

Published by Haruna

Haruna is a Librarian by training, currently pivoting from Public Services into Technical Services. Their undergraduate major was English -- Creative Writing, and they hold an additional small degree in Art (i.e. Visual Arts). Currently, they are trying to figure out whether to place their energies more into language and language arts, or producing handcrafted jewelry and face coverings, for the interim...

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