Experimentation

Bee beadwoven earrings in green and gold
Figure 1. Originally photographed in October 2015.

Today has shown me that experimentation may be the only way to figure out if a certain design will work, or not. I’ve been working again on a certain earring design that I refer to as “Bee” earrings, due to the charm I used as a dangle on the originals (which date back to 2015).

At this time, I’m uncertain that the charms are being produced anymore, so I’m using Fire-Polished drop beads and Fire-Polished rounds (Figure 2), instead of what appear to be lightweight brass/gold-plated stampings (Figure 1).

You’ll probably also notice that I’ve traded the jump-ring connections of the original for wrapped wire components or head pins. Particularly, the most recent two versions (only one of which is viable, see “5”) use head pins for the dangles, instead of weaving them in outright. I was having problems with kinking (see 2a, and “3”).

Updated trial versions of the Bee earrings
Figure 2. Originally noted on January 26, 2021 (in hard copy)

This pattern works out best with a base of either a smallish 5mm bead (on Figure 2, see “1,” “2” and 2a, and “4”), or a 4mm bead bordered by two 15/0 seed beads (see “3” and “5”, ibid.). Originally, I used a 3mm x 5mm rondelle bordered with tiny faux pearls (2mm — see Figure 1)…the thing is, manufacturers don’t necessarily produce beads in consistent sizes over several years. I had purchased more 3mm x 5mm rondelles to try and duplicate the pattern, to find that my new two-hole lentil beads were of different relevant dimensions than the ones I had used for the 2015 version.

Yeah. So I had to figure out how to work the pattern again — if I could work it again — using the newer beads. It looks like I’ve hit upon a solution. At least one, that is. And no, I didn’t expect it to take me this long. On the eighth of February 2021, I just decided to toy with the central bead length until I actually knew what would work best. Of course, that doesn’t help all too much when the different bead colors themselves are different sizes…

But who wants life uniform, right?

The thing is, the more I work on and experiment with the designs, the better the designs get. Then that makes me not want to use the earlier versions.

Or, perhaps, keep them for myself? Cut them apart to reuse them? Keep them as evidence of work? Gah.

I should note that the space between the piercings in the two-hole lentils is best filled with 3 size 11/0 beads if I’m using Miyuki, and 2 size 11/0 beads if I’m using Toho. Of course, they don’t have to be that large: but it makes things easier. I’ve had to use a fine needle to get through these, but I can’t tell if it’s a size 12 or 13, or 15, without reference.

What I’m also figuring out is that I need to have wire available to work with just to figure out models of jewelry, not necessarily to use for finished jewelry. And I have…like, none of that, in silvertone (though enough, in red brass and copper). This is mostly for the reason that silver-plated wire tends to blacken and ruin beads (the oxidation rubs off on their insides — a fairly horrible fate for transparent beads, though they can be cleaned), and I’m allergic to nickel silver.

Because of this whole allergy thing, I’ve been reluctant to use base-metal earwires, with the exception of pure copper, or niobium — both of which are free of nickel. (I’ll also wear surgical steel, but those earrings usually only come in gauged sizes: the smallest I’ve used were probably 18g.)

The thing is, to produce these in quantity, it’s best to actually make gold-filled earwires. Pre-fabricated, they aren’t cheap, and it’s easy enough to make them. It’s just so darn convenient…but not cost-effective, and definitely not as customizable, to buy them.

Unless, that is, it takes one forever to make them. I just happen to find it not-difficult. Some of the jewelers in my Metalsmithing class were jealous, though…I mean, seriously. I think someone told me they hated me. 😉 No. Really.

As a note, the earwires in the above photos were bought ready-made. I didn’t get the appropriate wire to work on fabrication, until today.

Man. I’ve been awake since 6 AM this morning. I believe I was writing in my journals between 6 and 9, when I ran out of things to write about. Sometime around 9:30 AM, I finished breakfast and got to work. I stopped work at around 2 PM for lunch. Before 3 PM, I began this entry. I’ve spent the time between 3 PM and 4:30 PM taking and optimizing pictures. At the time I began to write this, it was because I didn’t feel like taking pictures…but then I realized how incredibly lucky I was to have sunlight at all, and this resulted.

Right now, it’s about 5 PM. I’ve been having fairly consistent trouble with waking in the very early morning. Like, around 4:30 in the morning. I’m not entirely sure why, or if I should go to bed early again, tonight. But what qualifies as, “early,” these days? 10 PM? 9? 7?

I should probably plan for another early morning tomorrow, eh? I can take the time to work on some of those earwires…

And, it’s 5:30 PM. Time for dinner.

Who am I?

Not to get all meta on you, but you’re probably wondering who I am.

For the past ten years, I’ve run a blog over at Hidden Jewels. That blog started out as a private affair and only later made its way onto the search engines. Although I know it — well, exists — it seems very much time to change up my tone and my mission. I’ve developed quite a bit over the last ten years.

I mean…I’ve been running off of the blueprint of ten years ago, and have found the format of what I had been doing, constricting. It’s OK to grow.

Getting lost.

Hidden Jewels started out as a blog I could link to Ravelry as an extension to my membership — which was, in turn, a way to keep in contact with college friends. Ravelry is a site made for knitters, crocheters, and other fiber artists. It’s still going, if you’re curious.

Honestly, that website is awesome for free (and paid) knit and crochet patterns, along with a community of those who would use them; the thing is, that isn’t where I’m focused at this point in my life, and it hasn’t been, for years. After I realized this, I was kind of floating in the water for a while, without much of a direction or guide as to what Hidden Jewels was actually about. It kind of became whatever my life was about, at the moment — which wasn’t always interesting. Particularly when I was going through grad school.

At this point, I think I have enough idea of what I want to do with a site, to commit to it. Or to at least, try to commit to it.

It’s worth a shot, right?

Craft Jewelry

Right now, I’m focused on weaving and knotting little glass beads into wearable art, a.k.a. beadwork, a.k.a. craft jewelry. Yeah. I know. The term, “Craft Jewelry” sounds horrible, at least until you’ve reclaimed the term, “Craft (I feel better after watching A Craftsman’s Legacy),” but it pretty much encompasses where I am, at the moment. This is Craft Jewelry, as versus Fine Jewelry, Fashion Jewelry, and Art Jewelry.

I should make a post or page expressly on the distinctions (or find where I originally mentioned them: AHA), although this references one or another magazine article on beadwork from the early 2000’s…which I’d be lucky to find again without an indexed and searchable archive. Bead&Button (which has stopped publishing as of October 2020) and Beadwork are the two magazines I would target if I were to look for this article.

I am one of the only people I know who has ever mentioned and frequently used the term, “Craft Jewelry,” so it may be an idiosyncratic distinction: but I’ve personally been able to distinguish a delineation (relatively recently) between what is Art and what is Craft. Long story short, my work ranges into what I consider, “Art,” or, “Art Jewelry,” despite usually heavily factoring in beads. As I see it currently, the medium used doesn’t necessarily determine whether something is Art or Craft…the thinking behind its creation, does.

If you’re like me and you have a jewelry design which is presently unmade but makes you think, conceptually and visually, of your version of the 7 of Cups in the Thoth tarot deck (Debauch), and you’re aiming to express it in reality…that’s ranging into Art territory. It’s then, wearable art — which is the clearest definition I can find for what I do. Moreso than trying to decorate a person’s form, or trying to enhance attractiveness, I’m looking for feelings behind colors and shapes; reasons a person might wear my pieces, even if they express something normally seen as uncomfortable.

This is why I work. It’s what keeps me coming back. It isn’t all about being, “pretty,” though I can see a wider market for, “pretty.” Many of my pieces may pass for the latter, though attractiveness may not be my top priority. I do know that when I wear jewelry, I often don’t want the extra attention I get — meaning I have another motive for wearing it.

But that’s another conversation.

Taken generally, though: my practice does not require that a deep philosophical background be an integral part of its existence. Hence its fall-back state as Craft, and it’s sometimes-enhanced state as (also) Art. Not to mention Design, which seems simply a question of whether something works as intended (or works, period). I’ve gone into this before, on Hidden Jewels.

I hope that the time you spend here can help you gain an appreciation for craft, if you don’t feel it already; or can help you gain a more nuanced and expanded idea of what can be done with craft, if you’re a crafter.

Note here that I have not yet intensively studied the Arts & Crafts Movement, though I know about it, and a little about why it may factor into my present understanding of myself. I am not sure, however, how well I would fit in there if the movement were going on, today. My work heavily relies on precision-made beads, and the Arts & Crafts Movement was, firstly, a reaction to industrialization and mass production. This can cut both ways, in that I’m using mass-produced components to create jewelry in a potential cottage-industry setting.

Life is complicated.

Why do this?

It’s a serious question. I do have hard-copy journals: at last count, I have four presently current (if you don’t count quick notations). I’m doing this work because 1) I love writing, 2) I love beadwork, 3) I need to be accountable to myself, 4) I feel like the world would be healthier with more people able to be self-sufficient, in things like how they want to present themselves to the world. I can combine all these items, here.

My hope — distant though it may be (I’m not really a social type, which is why I’m an online writer) — is to create a place where beaders can come together on the Internet. Right now, WordPress doesn’t have a huge beading community, but I hope to at least put down some roots so that others have a more pleasant time finding other beaders. If this site also serves an educational purpose, I’m glad.

My blog on this site is likely to become a repository of records of my daily work, and ways in which I’m developing and can develop. Wendi at Door 44 Studios posted about the need to log one’s work, if one is going to be able to defend oneself from others infringing on their own personal intellectual property. This is what I needed to hear: I had always wanted to post about what I was doing with beads online, but — hey — I know myself, and by extension, I know how easy it sometimes can be to reverse-engineer someone’s work, just from looking at it. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And after you see it, are you not supposed to use it? I get it.

I also know how easy it is to spontaneously come up with the same design as someone else, because there are only so many ways beads fit together! If I recall correctly, this actually happened between Sam at Wescott Jewelry, and myself, years ago. Thankfully, we both understood how it could happen — the pattern was very simple. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember the date I saw Sam’s version, though my upload date was July 5, 2018 — to a blog that is no longer live.) However, I would hope that creating designs using beads would be an exercise in exploration, not an exercise in avoiding liability.

Over the years, I did find “Knowledge Curation,” an academic paper written by Michael Madison, addressing the fact that Intellectual Property law is built for new knowledge, and is not built to address old or handed-down knowledge. To the best of my recollection, I also don’t think Intellectual Property law covers technique, except for patent — which has to be novel and also difficult to come across on one’s own. (“Technique,” is different from, “pattern;” just specifically how [in the realm of beadwork], I’m not entirely sure of, yet. If anyone can enlighten me, I’m listening.)

The book, Zulu Inspired Beadwork, by Diane Fitzgerald, falls directly into this gap. It’s problematic to me for a number of reasons. If I recall correctly, Fitzgerald demonstrates how beadwoven items can be picked apart and their methods of construction decoded by those who have the skills, then those methods can be redistributed with no direct credit to the original makers (there is also the question of whether the original makers were ever compensated beyond the cost of their jewelry; it didn’t read like that to me, but I read this book a very long time ago, and could have forgotten something).

However…if we’re holding our techniques that sacred, we may never give our work to anyone at all (let alone sell it), and that is a waste of skill (on par with my being hesitant to cut a “perfect” strand of beads apart because I need to actually use them for their intended purpose).

For beaders, the risk of being “copied” just comes along with making our knowledge public, at all; and our knowledge is contained in our techniques. At least, some of it is. (Other parts, like color and finish interactions, texture, etc., can’t be as easily decoded.)

So what can you do? Log your work.

Explore With Me: How to Design

I seem to have gotten a bit off-track, though that’s normal for me. This is (numerically, at least) my first post, right?

I also plan on creating another section of this site on approaches to generating original jewelry designs. I’m not sure yet how it will turn out, but I’ve got a huge outline done, already. 🙂 I’m not even entirely sure yet of how the process of design works, myself; so I’ll be exploring with the reader, as I’m writing this section. This is the book I want to read that I can’t find, however. Everything in me tells me I have a shot at making it.

Should be fun.