Archive for the ‘beads’ Category

Though  I haven’t posted about it in a while, I am still stitching—on something very unplanned and unexpected.

A few weeks ago I saw one of the care center receptionists with whom I’ve had many conversations. When I saw the top Tangie was wearing, I exclaimed that I loved it. She said, “Oh, this is so old. I don’t even like it any more.” But I loved the colors. “When you’re done with it, don’t throw it away. Give it to me. I don’t want to wear it; I want to use the fabric to make something.”

“You may have it sooner than you think,” she replied. I thought we were just bantering, but then I thought, what if she’s serious?

Well, the next week, as I passed the front desk, Tangie handed me a bag with the top in it. OMG, she’s given it to me. Now what do I do?

I hung the top where I’d had Josh’s jacket hanging, so that I could see it all the time and hope for an idea to come. Here I show the back of it with some fabrics I was considering using with it. Unfortunately, I inadvertently deleted permanently the original shots I took of the front and back of the top. If you look closely, you can see sequins and beads on the ends of the sleeves and on the shoulder. The front had a yoke  of these clear glass beads on silver sequins.


The idea that came to me was to make a small shoulder bag of crazy patchwork. The first thing I did was to construct a mockup using a bit of an old bed-sheet to make sure I could do it.

Bag shapeFlap closing

It’s just two rectangles, the back longer than the front so it can flap over it, and stitching over the bottom to make square corners. It will be lined.

Then I began sketching some patchwork designs as thumbnails.


After settling on one,  I enlarged it on the computer and used it to make patterns for patches. This is for the front and back


and this is for the part of the back that will be the closing flap.


Next, because the fabric, though pure cotton, is thin and rippled, I fused part of it to fine Pellon interfacing. Then I traced the designs onto my foundation (old bedsheet remnant) using the light table. I also prepared stretcher bar frames.


Not necessary, but I like a firm foundation to work on when stitching, especially with beads. This goes back to the course I took in silk and metal thread embroidery where I learned to frame the piece for working.

I’ve repeatedly acknowledged my ineptness at piecing. Although I carefully pinned the paper patterns on to the fabric and cut leaving plenty of seam allowance, as I began to put the patches in place on the foundation, I wasn’t at all pleased with the effect, and machine stitching and flipping made it worse.

I wasn’t getting the parts of the fabric design and the direction of that design as I wanted them to combine.

In the end, I discarded a lot of patches and cut new ones.

Rejected patches

I cut them one at a time, making a paper pattern for each and pinning it in place before choosing the part of the fabric from which to cut the next one.

Pin piecing back

My worktable at this stage:


I returned to my method of last resort–hand basting the patches. Here’s the pinned and partly hand-basted front.

Partly basted

As you can see, I kept some of the beads-on-sequins. To do that, I had to secure them with my own stitching. Talk about fiddly work!

Here are some of the beads and sequins I had to remove to allow for seams. This took forever.


Both sides stretched and ready for seam treatments.

Stretched on frames

I was finally able to think about how to embellish the seams. I did that first on paper—a scan of the work on which I sketched some ideas.

Eventually I actually got to the fun part. Here’s the front of the bag with all the seams embellished. I don’t know whether this is enough, or whether I’ll add to these seams.

Front stitched

For now, I’m working on the back. I’m re-stitching all the beads-and-sequins to make sure none come off. As usual, this is slow going. It takes me so long to finish any project. So much unnecessary work because I don’t have the skills and experience to do what I want to do.  I wish I were more productive.


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Just look

Just look at these earrings.


Aren’t they magnificent? Crystal beads and copper charms.

They were designed and made for me by dear friend Nina to wear with my black jacket ensemble.


The feather is meaningful, as the gift was sent “from one soaring spirit to another.”

Thank you so much, Nina. I will love wearing them, knowing they came with love from you.

Now, go look at more of her work.

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A few days ago I completed filling in the first S shape on my jacket.


When I began working on these shapes, I intended to make them as similar as possible, adding the same element to each of the Ss. But as I began filling in around the larger beads and the feather stitching, I realized that I can’t really do that. First of all, the transferred shapes are not identical, and secondly, I need to see how the effect develops as I add threads and beads.


A last minute decision, after I had done all the filling, was to sharpen and smooth the outline with copper super pearl purl. That looks like this:


Here the end of the purl has been stretched, as it is for couching down. For comparison, that’s #5 DMC variegated cotton pearl thread shown with the metal thread. The super pearl purl is slightly finer than the #5 cotton pearl.

Now this is up close and personal.


It took over 12 hours. I forgot to start keeping track of the time I spent at the beginning so I don’t know exactly how many hours went into filling this S.

Five more to go. And each will be distinctive, unlike the others.

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Since I last posted about my jacket embellishment project, I’ve begun filling in the S shapes with beads and stitching.


As you can see, the bottom left shape is still empty. I ran out of the silk ribbon and had to order more. Meanwhile, I’ve been filling the other shapes by adding one element at a time to all of them. (I hope I can retrace my steps when the silk ribbon gets here.) I’m sorry the next shot is fuzzy. I took lots of pictures with different settings, with and without flash and this is the best I could do.


So far, in addition to the silk ribbon feather stitching, I’ve added coppery iridescent bugle beads, large gold glass beads at the tips, heishi shell beads held in place by a coppery seed bead, and stitching in variegated gold DMC cotton pearl thread. Here are the materials.


Onward. I wonder whether we will have mail delivery today…..

No mail.

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At last I’ve embarked on a serious, designed project—embellishing another jacket. Here’s the inspiration:


This beadwork is on a knit jacket I saw daughter-in-law Carolyn wearing at Thanksgiving. It includes bugle beads, seed beads, and wooden beads, all in copper tones. Immediately I knew I wanted to have something like it. That’s why I carefully photographed it. Soon after, I bought, or maybe I already had bought, a black jacket, sleeveless top, and pants from Deva. But I couldn’t do anything with this inspiration until I had finished teaching the two Elderhostel courses I’d committed to offer here at Charlestown.

Here’s my jacket. It’s cotton Deva cloth, which is textured, kind of crinkly.


It has a stand-up collar, a two-inch-wide self-border down the front, and pockets. I plan to embroider the border, the tops of the pockets, the hems (or cuffs) of the sleeves, and maybe the collar, depending on the technical challenges that part may present.

As soon as I’d done all the sample doodle cloths I needed for the class, I began gathering materials for the jacket, first from my stash, then online. Here are some of the threads, beads, and copper metal threads I had on hand. You can also see some of my pencil and ink doodling.


Looking for design inspirations in books that included beadwork, I decided that I wanted to use silk ribbon embroidery as well. While I waited for the ordered beads and ribbons to arrive, I began doodling with pencil and paper. It didn’t take long for my favorite shape—the S, to appear in my doodles, but it did take a while for me to figure out how to draw it so I could stitch it and how to make a border design featuring the spiraling S.

After a lot of pencil design, I decided on the size, shape, and placement of the S, cut out paper Ss, and pinned them to the jacket, thus:


But an evening of looking at this arrangement made me realize that the Ss should be facing each other, thus:


(In these shots, the jacket is hanging over a white t-shirt with the collar pinned together in the lower one.)

As soon as I had a fixed S shape, I transferred it to a doodle cloth for experimenting with threads, beads, and stitches. The effect I want to achieve is of copper-colored Ss when seen at a distance, but I want a lot of texture and shading to achieve that effect. Here’s my doodle cloth showing a copper S on black linen.


Up close it looks like this:


And even closer, you can see the variety of materials and stitches I’ve used.


This is by no means what the final shapes, the final stitching, will look like. This is a doodle cloth. I’ve been trying out different ideas, seeking the look that most appeals to me. It isn’t finished. Also, I have not been able to get the color right in these photographs. In reality, the darker stitches are less red, more copper-like. Despite appearances, there are no blue beads: all are copper-toned, or pearl, but some are iridescent.  Now I think I know how I want to stitch these Ss–basically, at least.

And, by the way, there’s going to be silk ribbon stitching between the Ss. That part I haven’t designed yet, but I do have the silk ribbons in the colors I want to use. (Think I want to use.)


If I fill in six Ss in this textured manner, the project will probably take all year. And when I’ve finished working the Ss, I may not want the silk ribbon embroidery. Maybe just some copper beads. That’s okay: I’m working on something purposefully, knowing what I want to do, instead of just randomly, wildly, stitching.

Although I’m not “normal” yet, I’ve calmed down quite a bit. Now I can finish a task I begin without jumping up to do something else. I still feel kind of panicky and tremulous at times, especially in the evenings. Then I do not feel good. But I expect that this, too, will pass.

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Last May, when I was in the most manic phase of my recovery from ME-CFS, I could not sit still to stitch. I couldn’t bear to work on the Elizabethan embroidery I’d been laboring since January to learn. You may remember that hanging on my portable design board was a piece of orange silk scarf with some sample swatches of silks and some novelty threads. It had been there for a couple of years, I think, while I wondered what I might do with the materials. Here’s what it looked like.


Yesterday I finished the project I’ve been calling my crazy recovery improvisation. Now it looks like this. (Click to enlarge.)

You know that when I began, I had no idea of what I was doing. In fact, this piece is just a doodle cloth. There was never any design. Whenever I could make myself sit still long enough, I’d grab needle, thread, beads, or whatever came to mind and do something on this cloth. (By the way, every swatch, every patch, has been embellished.) I didn’t even count on keeping the darn thing. It was just a way to make myself do some stitching, something creative, something productive.

The closer I got to completion, however, the more I liked this crazy patchwork, this wild thing. So, how to finish it? How to make it presentable for display? It had to be stretched over foamcore to keep some of the sequin waste, motifs, and stitches in place. It couldn’t be a quilt-like wall hanging. It had to be firmly mounted. It also had to have a border, as I had stitched right up to the edges of the orange fabric. That made adding a border problematic. See what happens when I don’t plan?

I knew I wanted to use the purple scarf for the border, but it is thin silk, not sturdy enough in itself. I pulled out all my fusibles—6 or 7, looking for one that I could use to back the scarf.  No. Wouldn’t work.


I just folded the scarf so that I could use it doubled.

Ironing border

As you can see here, I had almost no margin of orange fabric to which to attach the border.

No margin

Moreover, the border fabric did not give me enough material to wrap around the foamcore and it is not strong enough to take the lacing to stretch the piece.  As backing and extension, I opted for more of my salvaged bedsheet. I hand-sewed strips of the cotton as extensions for the purple border, which then had to be hand-sewn to the orange fabric. Here’s the border, backed with white bedsheeting, pinned to the edge—barely.

Now what With the border attached, I was ready to mount the piece over padded foamcore—padded with two layers of Pellon fleece, wrapped over the edges of the board and glued to the back. Then began the lacing. Does anyone know a better way of stretching a large work like this over mounting board? I used fine crochet cotton for the lacing and the biggest-eye needle I could find.

First lacing

Using pins to hold the yarn/thread in place, I estimated how much I would need

Using pins

And what a lot of loose “string” I had to deal with, repeatedly tangled, of course.


But here it is, successfully laced and stretched taut.


Now, with such an opulent front, I couldn’t leave the back like this. Did I have a piece of fabric large enough to cover the back? The first piece in my under-bed stash that caught my eye was Tibetan brocade, the kind that’s used to border thangkas. I’ve had it and some other pieces of Tibetan fabrics for years.

The back

This brocade had to be hand-stitched to the wrapped-around border with the foamcore underneath. Not easy. Not easy.

And after I’d done that, I belatedly decided to put a label on it. I printed the label on cotton, then stitched over the printed letters and numbers. To attach the label, once again, I was stitching to fabric already stretched over board.

What a job of work I made for myself when I started this project—without a plan. Everything about it was so much harder to do than it would have been had I planned it out in advance, had I known what I was doing.

Nevertheless, I am surprised at how pleased I am with this project. Not elegant. Not, definitely not, impeccable stitching. Not refined. As far from Elizabethan embroidery as I could get with a needle and thread! Wild, exuberant, flamboyant. Crazy!

As crazy as I’ve been feeling since I began to recover. Though I am 100% functional, can do anything that my circumstances allow, I am still dealing with residual symptoms of ADHD—agitation and anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty getting to sleep. Some evenings I pace the hallways, sometimes seeing one or two other, perhaps equally frantic, inmates. I am not the calm, content, reclusive contemplative I was for 15 years or more. More work to be done, figuring this out.

Anyhow, my recovery crazy patchwork improvisation announces that I have recovered, right in the entry-way of our apartment. At Ernie’s suggestion, it is attached to the wall with Velcro.


Now I have to prepare to teach my course. I’m having even worse panic attacks!

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As you know, since about the beginning of May, my recovery from ME-CFS has been explosive. No amount of activity has been too much. Saturday night I danced most of 2 1/2 hours and could have danced all night. That was after swimming half a mile in the morning and walking more than a mile in the afternoon. But this excessive energy has been driving me crazy. Often it’s as though I have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—out of control.

And that’s what my Recovery Improvisation project reflects. It is crazy, and anybody doing the work on it that I’ve been doing has to be crazy, too. I want to show you what working on this project looks like.

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I hold the unwieldy frame against my table and various parts of my body, turning it frequently to put the stitches or beads where I want them. Because I started with no plan and have been working randomly, many areas to be stitched are hard to get to, no matter how I position the frame. And when I tried using hoops for small areas, I couldn’t. There are too many hard bits—wrapped plastic rings, clay beads, and glass beads; and places too heavily stitched—to put hoops where I need them. When I tried putting the frame in my floor stand, I shattered some beads—the work is so close to the edge. In fact, I’ve even stitched right against the wooden frame! Anyhow, I have to keep turning it too frequently for a frame holder to be of use.

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The work has taken a terrific beating, as I toss it around to get to where I want to stitch. In the sequence below you can see some of my contortions. (I’m wearing magnifying lenses; I guess I was attaching beads.)

Here I was bracing the frame between my knees and holding it in various positions as I stitched.

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It is really, really difficult to work this way. I  must be crazy, doing this! Here are some damaged areas that I have to re-work.

One of these beads went missing. I re-attached all five of them for security.


Somehow, in the rough treatment, the Sculpey bead with the glass bead in the center got broken.


Here’s where I smashed a glass bead by clamping down on it with my floor stand frame holder.


And here, the bottom oyster stitch has come apart.


Now, though, I’m eager to finish it, and for a few weeks, I’ve been able to work concentratedly, several hours at a time, many days. I seem to be settling down, getting calmer. Meanwhile, the piece keeps getting crazier. I think I’m almost done.

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