Well, it’s that time of the year; the weather has turned cold and the nights are long and dark. For our family, like many others that celebrate Christmas (or other seasonal gifting holidays), it is a time to gather presents to give to our loved ones. While I do enjoy shopping—the lights, the people, the occasional reindeer (or more likely rain-soaked deer)—it is wonderful to come home where it is warm and dry to get ready for the holidays the old-fashioned way: by making gifts. When the days turn dark and winter takes over, I truly enjoy bundling up on the couch and beading.
Beading is a fun way to keep your hands and mind engaged, but it can also be a creative outlet, a good excuse to handle beautiful materials, and a personalized form of gift-making. Every year, I enjoy the process of creating individualized gifts (varied in color, shape or design) for the women in my family. In addition to gifting, creating jewelry out of beads has become a cottage industry and provided income for many.
Ever since I was a child, I remember my aunt beading necklaces. In my family alone I am one of four women who bead. The process of how or what or why one beads is as individual as the person making the jewelry. I would like to share a little bit about how each of us approaches beading, in hopes that you will find inspiration to pick up a needle and thread, and pick out your favorite beads!
I fondly remember my aunt, Shirley Weisman, beading in the sun-room, surrounded by stacks of colored beads glowing in the sunlight. Her style is intricate and careful; each color, each shape measured. She laughs as she remembers me making a chart where I carefully diagrammed my first pattern for a necklace, knowing that I now work in much bolder strokes. She is patient and exacting, creating sample patterns and then stringing, removing, and stringing until she has it just right.
Shirley has been beading since the 1960s and selling and giving each necklace as a treasured gift on a special occasion, carefully documenting the name, materials, and recipient for over 500 necklaces. She says she began “because at the time they were selling ‘love beads’ and thought I can do something much better than that!” So she began buying beads and restringing and improving necklaces bought at the Goodwill. For years she sold her creations at the San Jose Library, at local shops, and to individuals.
Inspired by colors, seasons, and textures around her, she likes to work with a great variety of materials, from glass seed beads to wood, ceramic, semi-precious stones (regular polished shapes, not rough), metal, and glass. When asked about her creative process, she replied, “I’m inspired by a bead or by colors in nature (such as grey bark and yellow leaves). Then I go to my vast collection (not usually to a store) to see what I have that will recreate that effect, and I create a sample thread and needle [3 or so inches long] to establish the pattern [or main pattern and its sub-themes]. Then I take it apart and put it together many times until I get the shapes and colors that please me.” Shirley says that she is very influenced by the seasons: the color of the leaves in the fall, the greens and pinks of spring, with whites and silvers in winter.
Like each of us, her style is unique to her temperament. Her creations tend to be delicate and have a complex sense of color and pattern, a varied use of materials, include some double stranded work with repeating patterns or built outward from the middle around a center stone. When asked why she likes to bead she said, “I don’t know why, I just do. I like to put the beads together, then it comes out the way I want it.” Each of her creations is highly considered, but the names reveal the poetry of her process; consider: Ripe Persimmons, Innocence, Malachite Cave, Mandarin Ice, Window Pain Script, Copper Autumn, Cloud Woods, Noonday Cathedral, Prussian Night, Garnet Stain, Shifting Sands, Dark Treasure, Pale Tiger, Spring Rain, Winter Fruits, Evening Green, Sleeping Jade, Cranberry Cocktail, and of course, Bohemian Lady.
Like Shirley, my aunt, Lee Weisman, began beading in the 1960s, but in many respects this is where their similarity ends. Lee’s style was inspired by the woven bead work of native Americans. She created beautiful mandalas of color emanating from the center.
Lee, an established artist in Sonoma County and part of the West County art scene, says that she began after walking into a bead store and seeing all the colors of glass beads, inspired by “what you could make from all the shapes and forms and colors.” Beading alone in a room filled with music, she felt beading to be a form of meditation. Talking about her creative process, Lee says, “Although many similar styles use bead looms, I did it by hand, starting in the center with one bead and spiraling out with rows of seed or bugle beads. If I started something in the day, the work could go on into the night.”
Although she no longer beads, many family members still enjoy her beautiful works and the process of making these spirals of color evolved into her exploration of other art-forms. “I enjoyed the process, and I liked they way that when held up to the light, the beads became like stained glass…later began making stained glass.” Today Lee continues to make beautiful works of art in the form of pastels and watercolors.
As an adult, one of my fondest experiences of spending time with my cousin, Rachelle Black, is going to the bead store in Cotati and sifting through the mixed bead bin for treasures together. When I asked her when she started beading, she laughed at me outright and said, “Since I was eight or nine. I grew up with Shirley and Mom. (I guess it was the hippy thing to do.) I don’t remember not beading!”
For Rachelle, beading is a very personal process. She is inspired not only by her environment but by the people for whom she makes jewelry (often by commission). “Everything inspires me: a bead, clothing, making something for someone after talking to them and getting a sense of their personality…using a broken earring to make a necklace…color.” In addition to creating pieces to coordinate with individual’s outfits, she also does restoration work on beaded dresses.
Rachelle favors working with glass, choosing the better quality glass beads, crystal, some stone, and handmade glass. Although she likes all colors, lately she finds herself especially attracted to grays and pinks, purples and greens, copper and bronze. Her materials come from all over: local bead stores, thrift stores, Fire Mountain Gems, and online auctions. Working in an office station by a big window with natural light, she takes her time, does not repeat anything she makes, and does her best work “when I don’t have a chance to over-think it.” For her, beading is a creative outlet. “I like to make pretty things, sparkly things. I like to make people smile, to make them happy.” To find out more about W.I.N.G, Rachelle’s jewelry, you can call 707-827-3424 (serious inquiries only, please).
What I found out about myself through gathering this information and asking my fellow beaders about their process and observing their style, is that I love color and variety. I vary my style and am inspired by popular trends that I want to try out myself. Honestly, I’m a bit of a creative mutt. I get excited about trying new things, and once I’ve explored one style sufficiently, or figured out “how they do it” I’m on to the next thing for next year’s holiday gifts. I’ve tried hand-knotting, metal clay, and using ribbons. I’ve explored large glass beads, long wraparounds, and multiple strands as well as chokers.
Compared to the others I have a relatively small collection of beads, and I love going to the Gem and Mineral shows for semi-precious stone beads to inspire a look or series of gifts, and only buy clasps and other necessary pieces or glass beads at local stores sparingly and as needed. It turns out that I also love to work with pearls and (as I discovered by looking at the necklaces I’ve made for Shirley over the years, and those she has made for me) I tend to think of certain colors for certain people. I also often work outward from a central pendant or stone.
Really, I mostly make jewelry to give to my family members and friends. The only time that I can remember selling something was this commission my mother had me make for my aunt. It was a labor of love, much more process-oriented than my usual style, which is just to find some stones that I’m attracted to.
Other than Christmas gifts, I look forward to making necklaces for friends like Rachel (who readers know as our Food Editor). She and I exchange beaded birthday presents most every year. Many of my friends have gotten or given a handmade necklace or bracelet. There is something special about knowing that what you are giving someone was made with them in mind. I like to think about the receiver while I’m beading, and once I’ve figured out the plan I’m off until the whole lot of gifts is done.
As I said before, the process of how or what or why one beads is as individual as the person making the jewelry. The process is one of selection of materials (and the love of color), consideration of others, and the calming work of our hands. Even if we were to use the very same creative materials, the outcome will be unique. Every one of us makes something from our hearts, from our creative imaginations, and perhaps something deeper. In this time of deep dark nights, I am grateful for my creative, loving family and our shared love of beading.
If you would like to try your hand at beading, check out the following links. Here are just a few of the many places to get beads in Sonoma County:
- Legendary Beads in Santa Rosa
- Apple Blossom Beads in Sebastopol
- Ubeadquitous in Windsor
- Out on a Whim in Cotati
There are also beading classes offered at Legendary Beads, and in Windsor.
Text and photos by Nadja Masura