Learn To Bead

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How-To advice and instructions; special insights for making jewelry

Knowing What To Know

Posted by learntobead on April 12, 2014


“Knowing what to know”

There were always beaders. There were always jewelry makers. But if you wanted to gain an understanding of the beads and jewelry findings and stringing materials and tools, their qualities, and what happens to them when they age, you would need to start with a little bit of the history of beads and jewelry making. And then progress into some more in-depth information about these materials, how you choose which ones to use, and what happens to all this stuff over time.

Only in this way, would you be able to prepare yourself for the judgments and trade-offs and choices you will need to make as a jewelry designer. Choices about How? And When? And What? to use and not to use, given your particular project, your design goals, …(and if you’re selling your pieces, your marketing goals, as well). Moreover, how do you know how to assemble and link everything up into a finished piece?

But often in this world, you don’t know where to start. You don’t necessarily know where to find answers, or whose answers to trust.

When you began to make jewelry and bead, how did you know what to know?
How did you initially get an Orientation?




More on Orientation….

I’ve posted an extensive series (18 videos, 5 ½ hours worth of materials) of Orientation information on the Land of Odds website for you to take advantage of.

These are also posted on YouTube.



Continuing from an article I wrote….

You need to prepare yourself for the multi-faceted world of beading and jewelry. It’s all about choices. You need an Orientation to what you need to know, and to the kinds of choices you will need to make. The world of beads can often be a jungle, dense with colors, shapes, and styles, intermingled irrationally, spilled relentlessly, collapsing around you with dumps and crashes and screeches and rings. Your eyes become useless in this heart of darkness. The presence of so many beads and so many strangely shaped and curiously articulated metal pieces may make the idea of creating jewelry and beadwork utterly meaningless. At least for the moment.

But you can sense something more. It’s tactile. It’s visual. It has some kind of taste and smell which steers you. It’s orienting. It seems full of significance. And in this dark silence – so noisy with details, so hushed with confusion – you realize why it’s important that you need to know a lot of things.

– You need to know how to step around quality differences among glass beads made in the Czech Republic, in Japan, in China and in India. How long will these beads last? Will they break? If they chip, what color will they be on the inside? Is the patterning in the glass a coating, a decal or some artistic placement of shards and stringers of glass? How sharp are the holes? How consistent are the beads from bead to bead on the strand?

– You need to know when to demand 14KT gold fused to brass (gold-filled), or 14KT gold plate over silver (vermeil), or Hamilton Gold Plate over brass. How long does the shine and color last? Do these beads and pieces break or crumble or bend or dent?

– You need to know how what came before you will be an important influence on you today. How have the Oglala Sioux, the Pope, Zulu tribes, the French, Italian, Czech, Dutch, African, the shoe and upholstery industries, and North American Indians affected beads and jewelry today?

Most people don’t orient themselves when they get started. They either don’t see the need, or don’t think they have the time, or think there’s not that much to learn about. Anyone can put some beads on a string and make themselves a bracelet, they assume. They take any class that they can find, often taking more advanced classes, before having taken beginner classes. All they want to do is make a pretty piece to wear. The learning to design is secondary – or non-existent. They buy any book, try to reproduce any pattern, try to copy any picture they see in a magazine, and try to figure things out by themselves without any outside feedback, evaluation and validation. They overly-rely on the advice of the first people they talk with, and don’t question it.

What happens is often very sad, indeed. You end up using inappropriate stringing materials and supplies. You end up finishing off your pieces incorrectly. You never learn how to best attach a clasp. You never learn how to control the tension of beads within your pieces. You mix pieces which are dysfunctional when used together. You end up taking the wrong classes, not questioning the advice of friends or instructors, and buying the wrong parts, given what you are trying to do. You end up making ill-informed choices.

You need an Orientation, and you need to be sure you get one.

In an Orientation, you’ll discover the order of things. There’s an arrangement to beading and jewelry design. Pieces have purposes and functions. They have a history of use and wear. They have an underlying vocabulary and grammar of construction – that is, they have rules for how things should get combined and assembled, and how they should not.

An Orientation grounds you. It shows you the map, the pathways, the bi-ways, the highways along which you can travel in your development as a fine craftsperson, artist and jewelry designer. It gives you a sense of your surroundings, your context, and a lot of substance and meaning.

At first, when you get oriented, you marvel at the details and the possibilities – the myriad types of beads and findings and stringing materials, the wide variations in how they work and function, the multitude of choices which seem overwhelming. Pinks become fuchsias become reds become oxbloods become garnets. Peridots become mints become olivines, both green and brown, become green lusters become jades become dark kellys and smaragds. Metalized Plastics become nickels become brasses become pewters become sterlings and argentiums and fine silvers and platinums. Threads become bead cords become cable threads become cable wires become hard wires. Jewelry is clasped or clasp-less, strung or woven, wire-worked or wire-wrapped, singular or multiplexed, fixed or adjustable, singular- or multi-media.

But then, something else strikes you. You come to know that, while there’s always been a fundamental sense of design across time and cultures, this sense has often been understated. You find indifference, not indignation. You find an absence, a void, a vacuum of intellectual introspection about jewelry and its design. It’s all around you. That something missing. You feel the lacking. And when you begin to have this sense, you should feel a little superior, in that you are now on your way towards understanding design. You’ve got the hunger. You’ve got the passion. You want to know the place of design in jewelry, and your place in the design world with that jewelry you create. That jewelry you construct. That jewelry that you put forth into the world. That jewelry which reflects who you are as an artist, to your inner most thoughts.




Orienting Myself

I never had an orientation. I was never oriented. I sank or swam.

There was no real internet, when I started. Nor any beading magazines. Never met people in Nashville who made jewelry. Except for my partner, James, who made beautiful things with whatever parts and beads and stones he could find. But he couldn’t articulate exactly what he was doing. He was “Creating”.

The act of “creating,” did not result in unbreakable pieces, or a mix of pieces which endured the ravages of wear equally, or clasp assemblies which never came undone. The act of “Creating” gave few clues about hole sizes and hole sharpness and stringing material flexibility, and what led to good drape. The act of “Creating” merely resulted in beautiful things – wearable, drape-able, moveable, durable, or not.

During the first two years I made jewelry, things broke. The finishes of beads rubbed off. The beads did not necessarily lay right. Many pieces were too stiff – lacked good ease. The pieces kept selling, so what did I care?

But at some point, I did begin to care. I was irritated by the number of repairs I had to do on my own pieces.

At one point, I began taking in repairs of other jewelry artists’ work. This was my education. I saw where things broke. I saw the choices other people made in determining how to construct their pieces from end to end. I could talk to the customers and find out a lot of the things leading up to their jewelry breaking.

I began to ask more questions of my suppliers. I began to ask more questions about myself and my choices. I began formulating hypotheses about why some things worked or endured better than others. And I had many opportunities, now that I was doing a lot of repairs, to test out these hypotheses.
But it would have been much better had I had a more formalized, organized, intelligent orientation when I first got started.


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New Column Posted to “How To Bead A Rogue Elephant”

Posted by learntobead on September 2, 2011

New Column Posted
“How To Bead A Rogue Elephant”

Getting Started in Beading and Jewelry Making
Excerpts from this book on the following topics…
Click here 

– Catching the “Bead-Bug”
– What Can You Do With Beads
– Getting Started
– Finding Inspirations
– Shopping for Beads
– What To Look For In A  Bead
– How Not To Shop
– Be A Good Customer
– Buyer Beware
– Tips for Buying Beads At A Bead Show
– What Should I Create?
– Planning Your Necklace
– Anatomy of a Necklace
– Measurements You Need to Know
– Working from a Palette
– How Do You Learn?
– The Types of Things You Need to Learn
– On My Own, Through Books, or Through Classes?
– Reading Patterns and Instructions
– Self-Esteem — Making Choices
– Selling vs. Keeping
– Beading Aphorisms

Posted in bead weaving, beads, beadwork, jewelry design, Learn To Bead | 2 Comments »

Beading For Children Focuses The Mind

Posted by learntobead on January 3, 2011

Beading for Children Focuses The Mind

Cherly McMahan of the Icenhower Intermediate School, Mansifield ISD, in Arlington, Texas, shared this article she recently wrote.   The article was about Instructions for children’s beading projects for use in project based learning and therapy for children with autism.


I thought you would enjoy reading it.

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The “Educated” Beader

Posted by learntobead on July 17, 2009

What Do We Mean By This?


What does it mean to be an “Educated” beader?      Exactly what would it have been that you would have learned or learned to do, to earn the label “educated”?   


What would be expected of this “Educated” beader?


What kinds of choices would be expect this “Educated” beader to be able to make?




If we do a Google search online for our educated beader, what would we find?



Educate you about the essential tools and techniques                  
– Bead Unique Magazine

promote socially responsible retailing
– South African cooperative MonkeyBiz

 educate more people about the art of beading
– Wikipedia

 We educate our customers from the very first purchase and continue to do so as needs and level of experience progress.
– Calebs Lighthouse

inform and educate beaders of the beauty and versatility of beads
– beadingtimes.com

Educate yourself about bead finishes and types
– the Illustrated Bead Bible



We get a lot of generalities and platitudes, but we don’t get a more specific, detailed, enlightened idea of who we want to called an “educated beader” and who we do not.   

Is it someone who beads a lot?   Learned specific skills?   Can do specific things?   Has knowledge of certain terms?  

Is the beader who has taken 15 beading classes more educated than the beader who has only taken 3?

Is the beader who can do peyote more educated than the beader who can do right angle weave?

Is the person who knows the differences between lobster claws, toggle clasps, slide clasps and doorknocker clasps more educated than the person who cannot?


We need answers to questions like these, if we are to be able to define what we should teach and how we should teach it.



What do you think?   Please add your comments to the discussion.

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What’s Happening at CBJA

Posted by learntobead on February 28, 2009


If you want to add your email address to receive our Spring and Fall Designer Gazettes, email us at
type DESIGNER GAZETTE in the subject line


TOPIC: Dimensional Shapes in Beadwork

We will be using Diane Fitzgerald's new book on dimensional shapes as a study guide. The book is entitled "Shaped Beadwork: Dimensional Jewelry with Peyote Stitch". We have copies for sale in the shop.

We will probably stick with this topic for the next 12 months.

We will organize the studies into 5 units:

(1) Making basic polygons

(2) Making donut polygons

(3) 3-Dimensional Shapes

(4) "Shape" as a design element

"Dimensionality" as a design element

(5) Other Geometrics from other artists, like Julia Pretl, Jean Powers, Judith Walker, Laura McCabe


Laura McCabe –
May 1-3, 2009

(1 places remaining)

Friday, 5/1/2009

Geo-Floral Beaded Bead (Registration fee, $125.00)
Kits available for purchase from instructor – cost $45.00.



(4 places remaining)

Saturday/Sunday, 5/2-3/2009
Dahlia Garland Necklace (Registration fee, $250.00)

Kits available for purchase from instructor – cost $110.00.



Cynthia Rutledge – October 9-11, 2009

Cynthia Rutledge – October 9-11, 2009

(12 places remaining)

Friday, 10/9/2009

A Chain Reaction (Registration fee, $125.00; optional kit, $70.00 (4 palettes available)




(10 places remaining)

Saturday and Sunday, 10/10-11/2009

Intermezzo Necklace (Registration fee, $250.00, optional kit, price to be announced (2 palettes to be available)




Dallas Lovett – April 16-18, 2010
Workshop topics to be announced

Marcia DeCoster – September 10-12th, 2010
Workshop topics to be announced

Sherry Serafini – August 26-28, 2011

Workshop Topics to be announced


There is a limit to 10 registrants per workshop. His workshops fill quickly.

(8 slots available)

Monday, April 6th, 9am-6pm, (1-day) Beginner Silversmithing Workshop
$200.00 fee includes instruction, all materials and tools

Emphasis on learning how to solder with a hand held torch, and creating a setting for a stone

Sat, 6/27, 10am-4pm

Instructor: Elesa Phares
$130.00 fee plus $35.00 materials charge

($165.00 deposit reserves space)

(8 slots available)

This is an all day class. The student will learn a few PMC (precious metal clay) techniques, make a pair of PMC (precious metal clay), earrings and while firing, will learn 2-3 other wire-wrapped earring designs.

“Contemporizing Traditional Etruscan Jewelry”
TBA, 2010

Toscana Americana has invited us to lead an 8-day workshop in Cortona, Italy in Tuscany and near Florence. The workshop – Contemporizing Traditional Etruscan Jewelry – teaches some bead stringing and bead weaving techniques, introduces you to some in-depth jewelry design concepts and theories, and guides you in the creation of 2 or 3 contemporized pieces of jewelry. More information on-line:


Posted in bead weaving, beads, beadwork, jewelry design, jewelry making, Learn To Bead, Travel Opportunities, Workshops, Classes, Exhibits | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »