Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beading 101: Sorting it Out

I'd like to thank all of you who came by to view my "Blogger's Quilt Festival" post. I had so many wonderful comments! And, I picked up a few new followers . . . thanks for coming along!

Ok, regarding the huge elephant in the room, . . . the "Creative Journey" butterfly quilt. I've had a busy two weeks with my son home, an uptick in my graphic design business, and a few days away. Suffice it to say that I haven't picked it up in a while. I know you all know what it's like, so I guess it adds more "reality" to this blog in that I get sidetracked with real life just like everyone else.

I can't tell you how many times people ask me how I find the time to make my quilts. They don't realize, (and I don't tell them), that it takes me months to finish something! If I could sit down and stitch 8 hours a day I could get a lot more done, but the fact is that I'd get too antsy to do that anyway. So, I guess distractions are a good thing. Actually I believe that they are because sometimes when you step away from something you see something you didn't see when it was right in front of your face. Sometimes I get my best ideas when I take a break. At least I tell myself that!!!

Anyway, since I don't have any butterflies done I thought I'd get started on my promised "Beading 101" online "class."

Let's start at the beginning with the obvious, beads!

I have a lot of opinions about this subject. Having applied beads to my quilts since the 80's I've had just about any experience a person could have, good and bad, so I think I have some good insights to share.

First of all, you need a lot more beads for embellished quilting than you might think. You know those little packets of beads they sell in the cross stitch section of the craft store? They're little packs with 4 different kinds of beads? They're pretty useless except as an add on to a mix. Frankly, most bead sets aren't a lot of use and you end up getting stuck with the containers and feeling like you have to use them, even if they don't fit in with your bead organizing scheme, (another subject for another day).

My suggestion is to go to the beading section of your local craft store and buy the packages of assorted beads. I buy the Darice Big Value packs. You'll want to get one bag of each assortment, so you can start creating your own "mix." Avoid the larger beads for now, you want to focus on the seed bead size.

Above is an example of a bead "mix." It has all different kinds of beads in different shades of "pink." There are metallic beads, glass beads, filled beads, seed beads, even some very small wooden beads.

Now the reason you want a mix of beads is that when you apply beads to your quilted surface you want to be able to control the effect. For instance, if you use only one color and style of bead, that particular area will stand out visually. If that's the effect you want then that's great. However, if you want to bead to add texture, color, and shimmer, then you don't want to use all of the same bead. Instead you use a mix of a similar color or a mix of colors so that the eye doesn't zero in on the beading itself. Another reason not to use the same style and color of bead is that if you are applying them you need to be consistent in your stitch width and bead size, which can be difficult to achieve. Otherwise, it looks like you didn't do a very good job as the same beads used with each other always draw attention to themselves.

Hence, the need for a bead "mix" to draw on.

The assorted bead packets are a great way to get started. Of course, the tedious part is separating the beads into the different colors. It can look daunting, but it's a great way to unwind. I actually find it relaxing. What you'll need is a flat surface with a lip to sort on. The lid of a plastic container works pretty well. It's best to have the lid be white or clear so it'll be easier to see the colors. I picked up some inexpensive plastic boxes at the dollar store that work great. I use the lid for sorting, and put my "to be sorted" beads in ziplock bags I store inside the box.

You will also need some long pins. I prefer the quilting pins with the glass heads, flat "flower" pins also work well. What you'll be doing is picking up the individual beads on the pin. I hold the pin with my thumb and middle finger and use my index finger to pull the beads up onto the pin, and to hold the beads I've already picked up in place.

Before you start sorting you need to have something to store the beads in, especially for sorting purposes. I love the "CraftMates" locking boxes. The individual boxes can be opened or locked so you don't have to worry about knocking over the box and destroying all of your hard work! I suggest the 14 section "large" size.

You want to work with about a tablespoon's worth of beads. Too much will be overwhelming. Also, make sure you have a little snack size ziplock bag so if you get interrupted you can just pour the beads you haven't sorted into it. Then you can pull it out and start where you left off.

I always check the beads on my sorting tray and don't bother sorting the most common beads. It will save me time as I can just leave them all on the tray and pour them into their section all at once.

Sort by color and only keep that section of your box open. Once your pin is full move it over to the box and release your index finger from the pin, the beads should fall into the box. Everytime you finish a color sort, close and lock that box before opening the next one.

One of the advantages of sorting your beads is you can pick out and dispose of the duds as you go. If your pin won't fit through the eye of the bead, toss it. Since you're buying less expensive beads there are going to be some that aren't perfect, that's part of the charm of them, but if they won't fit on the pin and they look funky toss them, it'll save you aggravation later.

If you'd like to splurge on the more expensive beads I'd suggest that you buy the "CraftMates" storage binders with the smaller compartments. I usually fill up one of the smaller compartments with a particular bead, and then add the rest to my "mix master" box.

A few words about the more expensive individual beads. These are beautiful to work with but they can have their limitations. The Japanese seed beads are made for beadweaving so they're consistent in size and shape. Sometimes this works well for embellishment and sometimes not. They also can often be too small to fit on a standard 10 or 12 quilting needle so be careful when purchasing them. I find myself drawn to them but rarely use them. I went overboard once at a Bead show and still find myself passing over those beads in my bead mix. They're just too perfect for me!

Once you get your bead mix started, you can start picking beads up everywhere. The accessories stores in the mall, (Claires, particularly), have great sales where you can pick up beaded necklaces for a couple of dollars. I always check out those sales. Sometimes you can find $5 worth of beads for $1. I usually avoid kits because I think they're not good value for the money. However, if you can get them on sale in the clearance section, go for it!

Once you've finished sorting your beads you will need to start a "mix master" box. Below is mine:

It's a floss box that I pour my sorted beads into when I'm finished. When I need to work on a project I just scoop out the beads I need and put them into one of my smaller containers. This looks like a lot of beads, but you'd be amazed at how one intensely quilted item can wipe it out. I've been working on sorting a few packages of beads so it's higher now than usual.

If you can come up with a way that works better for you, go for it. Just remember if you do the floss box to make sure you wrap it with rubber bands, (I make my own with wide elastic), and be very careful when you are working with it. I can't imagine what a disaster it would be if this box fell . . .Yikes! I live in earthquake country so I'm kind of paranoid about it. If you have kids or animals watch out!

We have a major storm blowing through here today so I'm going to try to tackle the "butterflies" and hopefully will have some done soon.

Happy Stitching, and Beading!



Christine said...

I organise my beads in bead boxes too! and I thought I was crazy.. LOL... BTW nice bead mixes, I never have the courage to mix them like that.
See my bead box blog post at: http://beadjewelrymaking.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-beads-and-bead-boxes.html

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