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Approaching Beading and Jewelry Making As Architects

Posted by learntobead on May 22, 2020

It’s a strongly held belief of mine that Beaders and Jewelry Designers should be taught and learn and practice as if they were Architects.

Beaders and Jewelry Designers and Architects impose shape, light, shadow, aesthetics and function onto an otherwise empty space. The scale might be different, and the purposes might vary, but they all do the same thing, requiring the same kinds of thinking and insights.

The knowledge base and insights required are many. Beaders and Jewelry Designers need to understand the consequences which result from their selection of materials. They need to know what works and doesn’t work when specific techniques and processes of construction are implemented.

They also need to recognize, given any design goal, how these kinds of choices enhance or impede movement, drape, flow, and durability. As well, they need to be aware how these choices affect the creation and retention of shapes and forms. The need to understand the roles of stresses and strains on the continued success of jewelry over time. Last they need to be capable in making choices about aesthetics and function, fully comfortable with the tradeoffs one must make before one completes the finished piece.

I like my students to be fully aware how they physically build a piece of jewelry. Structurally so it holds a shape. Mechanically so it moves, drapes and flows as intended. Functionally so that it withstands the tests of stress, strain, time and place. Aesthetically so that the surface and surface treatments resonate.

So, this is a start — a Statement of Opinion.

I want to spend some time and effort teasing out this Opinion into more concrete terms. If we were establishing a professional program of Beading and Jewelry Design, and wanted to get beyond Craft, and beyond the confines and limitations of traditional Art theory, how would we began to generate that language and vocabulary of Design which our students would be taught? I think the discipline of Architecture offers a lot of clues and insights.

Let’s begin the discussion and see where it goes.

And a first question would involve generating more awareness where a knowledge of how choices about structure and materials can affect “shape” or “movement”.

QUESTION 1: WHAT CAN YOU ACHIEVE WITH SOME TECHNIQUES OR MATERIALS THAT YOU CAN’T ACHIEVE WITH OTHERS?

For example, I prefer to use Fireline with right angle weave stitch, and a more traditional beading thread with peyote stitch. The Fireline gives me more control over maintaining a tighter and more even thread tension with RAW, but I find it often makes my peyote pieces too stiff.

I find that the type of joint created with brick stitch allows me to make a much greater and often more satisfying range of shapes than if I tried to make the same shapes with peyote stitch — the architectural joints created with peyote don’t allow the same multi-directional movement as those with brick.

Coated and galvanized beads often do not work well in bracelets. The coatings chip off too easily.

It is more difficult to achieve a satisfying outcome, when mixing different kinds of materials rather than using a single type of material in the same piece.

Beth Katz S.
I completely agree with your thoughts about the architecture correlation. I have a friend who is a landscape architect. The name of his company escapes me (so what else is new?), but it ends with “chitecture.” When I told him that many of my pieces are structural in nature and that I am often inspired by various types of architecture, he suggested I use the name “beaditecture,” but I thought I was a mouthful. No do, however, like the idea.

Lynn D.
The structural practicalities of any beading piece are very important, particularly if the piece is sculptural and/or wearable. I often see beadwork that is stunningly beautiful but that wouldn’t survive if worn regularly… or that would be hideously uncomfortable for the wearer. Even the small practical things like whether a bead is top- or side-drilled can be very important when you’re connecting things together and want them to hang the right way round!

Susan Lifton S.
I definitely agree that architects and beaders/jewelry designers share similar skills — I’ve been an architect for over 20 years and only began beading 4 years ago. I picked up beading very quickly as I already had skills in math, design, color, spacial relationships, geometry, structure and problem solving.

Continuing the discussion…

QUESTION 2: IF THE BEADER/JEWELRY MAKER SAW THEIR PROJECTS AS AN ARCHITECT WOULD, WHAT KINDS OF WORDS AND PHRASES WOULD THEY USE TO DESCRIBE THE PROJECT, OR HOW THEY WERE APPLYING THE TECHNIQUE OR WHAT THEY WERE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH?

For example, when I teach a stitch, like circular peyote or tubular Ndebele, where we start the stitch by making a circle of beads, I now refer to this circle as a 1-stack column. I want my students to recognize this circle as a necessary supporting structure. So I use the word “column”.

In some projects, where I have my students attach two components with say, a bead between them, I now refer to this connecting bead as a “supporting joint”. I want my students to recognize that this connector has important structural purposes. It has to both hold the two components together and allow them to maintain a shape and silhouette, as well as allow them to move, or self-adjust to the varying forces of movement when the piece is worn, somewhat independently or co-dependently.

In the piece under construction and pictured, the joint is made up of a 2-hole superduo. To be effective, the distance between the holes of the superduo have to align perfectly with the corner holes of two tila beads. In this piece, I would have preferred to use 2-hole Czechmate Tile beads instead of Tilas, because they make the piece look richer and more attractive, but the hole alignment doesn’t work. Because of this mis-alignment, with the Czechmate Tiles, too much stress is placed at the joint, working against my structural goals and necessities.

In teaching dimensional beadwork, I now differentiate between the parts of the piece which serve to provide structure or shape — usually two “arms” crossing somewhat perpendicularly — , and the other parts of the piece which merely fill in the “space” between these supports.

ARCHITECTURAL LANGUAGE

Architects have an established way of visual thinking and methodical communication. They have meaningful ways for relating design intent to visual representation and context.

Architects talk about such things as construction and construction materials, they refer to columns, arches, walls, floors, structures, load weights, slabs, foundations, spatial relationships, building blocks, shapes, posts and beams, frameworks, platforms, scale.

Architects might reinterpret any piece of jewelry in terms of its structural anatomy.

They might see a piece of jewelry having a footprint.

They would be concerned with the effects of movement, drape and flexibility, thinking about things like static, strength, stiffness, comfort, bending, stretching, shifting, light and shadow, lateral structural systems, beams and columns.

They would confront the consequences and implications of force, stress, and strain.

Architects would think about how best to manage the visual presentation, seeing it as somehow a skin or surface supported internally or externally by various structures which help it hold its shape and enhance its visual presentation.

Daisy V.
Yes , we are Architects , always building something with ALL the differents shapes available . THATS THE MAGIC OF WORKIN WITH BEADS !! Let our imagination run wild !!

Continuing the discussion…

QUESTION 3: CAN YOU THINK OF WAYS IN WHICH THE SMART MANAGEMENT OF THREAD TENSION EITHER (1) INCREASED YOUR ABILITY TO MAINTAIN A PARTICULAR SHAPE OR POSITIONING OF AN ELEMENT OR A CURVATURE WITHIN YOUR PIECE, OR, (2) ENHANCED THE MOVEMENT, DRAPE AND FLOW OF YOUR PIECE?

Your thread (or, similarly for any other stringing material like cord, cable wire, hard wire or elastic string) is your canvas. We often don’t think about this. However, we should. As the canvas, your thread serves several functions. Foremost, it serves to keep your piece’s shape.

The more thread you stitch into the holes of your beads, the more power your canvas has to maintain this shape in the face of forces resulting from movement.

The way you stitch this thread through various pathways in and around your beads enhances or impedes the ability of your piece, or parts of your piece, to move, drape and flow.

How you prepare your canvas before you use it affects its durability and integrity. You might stretch it. You might wax it. You might color it with a marker. You might twist it when making twisted fringe so it holds its twist.

The canvas and how it is used may determine a piece’s silhouette. It may force upon your piece a sense of boundaries and frames, verticals and horizontals, straight lines and curves.

Whether you want any parts of the canvas to show, or whether you want to hide all the canvas within the holes of your beads.

Architecturally, we would want to have the best understanding of how the canvas works, at each and every point of our piece. How it works at the clasp. How it works at the point of focus. How it works along less embellished areas. How it works along more embellished areas.

And we would want to know how the management of our canvas — that is, the management of thread tension — affects each different type of stitch. And what opportunities and limitations each different type of creates for managing our canvas.

We frequently talk about (and compare ourselves to others) in terms of whether our personal tension is towards the tighter or the looser, but, otherwise, we often don’t see that managing tension has more implications for the success of our pieces. We need to be able to switch back and forth between tighter and looser, to accomplish our architectural goals for our pieces.

Right Angle Weave Stitch Sample

So, for example, I discovered that right angle weave requires both tight and looser thread tension throughout. For right angle weave to function architecturally — it functions like a spring mattress — the beads within the RAW unit need to be very tightly bound together so that the beads within the unit function as one. The tension needs to be looser within the connecting beads between RAW units, so that each unit can move somewhat independently and self-adjust to the forces of movement. This architectural understanding influences how I design my thread pathways in projects where I incorporate right angle weave.

Peyote Stitch Sample

Nancy Cain had a very informative article about mastering thread tension for tubular peyote stitch in the June/July 2015 Beadwork. She wrote, “Learning and understanding the foundation aspect of peyote stitch and the role of thread tension is the key to starting a structural shape….The first five rounds are the most important for setting tension for the entire piece.

[ I’ve also found that if you don’t get the first 3 rows very tight, you can lose control over the tension in the rest of your piece. For me, these organization of these rows forms a “column” and must conform to the structural requirements, as such. ]

Nancy covers a lot of relevant ground in her article which is very worth reading.

THE EVOLVING POSITION STATEMENT:
Architectural Basis of Jewelry Design

It’s a strongly held belief of mine that Beaders and Jewelry Designers should be taught as if they were Architects. Beaders and Jewelry Designers and Architects impose shape, light, shadow, aesthetics and function onto an otherwise empty space. The scale might be different, and the purposes might vary, but they all do the same thing, requiring the same kinds of thinking and insights.

The knowledge base and insights required are many. Beaders and Jewelry Designers need to understand the consequences which result from their selection of materials. They need to know what works and doesn’t work when specific techniques and processes of construction are implemented. They also need to recognize, given any design goal, how these kinds of choices enhance or impede movement, drape, flow, and durability. As well, they need to be aware how these choices affect the creation and retention of shapes and forms. Last they need to be capable in making choices about aesthetics and function, fully comfortable with the tradeoffs one must make before one completes the finished piece.

I like my students to be fully aware how they physically build a piece of jewelry. Structurally so it holds a shape. Mechanically so it moves, drapes and flows as intended. Functionally so that it withstands the tests of time and place. Aesthetically so that the surface and surface treatments resonate.

Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:

Cleaning Sterling Silver Jewelry: What Works!

What Glue Should I Use When Making Jewelry?

Why Am I So Addicted To Beads?

A Very Abbreviated, But Not Totally Fractured, History of Beads

The Martha Stewart Beaded Wreath Project

When Choosing Colors Has You Down, Check Out The Magic Of Simultaneity Effects

The Use of Armature In Jewelry: Legitimate or Not?

Pearl Knotting Warren’s Way

Organizing Your Craft Workspace…Some Smart Pointers

You Don’t Choose Clasps, You Choose Clasp Assemblies

Know Your Anatomy Of A Necklace

Mini Lesson: Making Stretchy Bracelets

Mini Lesson: Making Adjustable Slip Knots With Thicker Cords

Mini Lesson: How To Crimp

Mini Lesson: Attaching End Caps, Cones, Crimp Ends

Mini Lesson: Brick Stitch

Mini Lesson: Flat Even Count Peyote

Mini Lesson: Ndebele Stitch

Mini Lesson: Petersburg Chain

Mini Lesson: Right Angle Weave

Jewelry, Sex and Sexuality

Everyone Has A Getting Started StoryThe Nature-Inspired Creations of Kathleen

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Glass Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Lampwork Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Crystal Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Seed and Cylinder Beads

The Jewelry Designer’s Orientation To Choosing and Using Clasps

How To Design An Ugly Necklace: The Ultimate Designer Challenge

I hope you found this article useful. Be sure to click the CLAP HANDS icon at the bottom of this article.

Also, check out my website (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com).

Subscribe to my Learn To Bead blog (https://blog.landofodds.com).

Visit Land of Odds online (https://www.landofodds.com)for all your jewelry making supplies.

Enroll in my jewelry design and business of craft video tutorials online.

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