Sunday, 29 April 2012

vintage pink

dusty pink wall flowers
I'm really enjoying this pot of dusty pink wall flowers. Daintier than the usual ones, and a divine mix of softened 'off' colours which I'm definitely going to add to my colour library. I've used a similar colour combination in the Chantilly Tassel design which appeared in Bead magazine (see post here).
I'm not usually a 'pretty' colours kind of person, and will probably never be able to do that sugar candy kind of colour thing, but, I have to admit these softer mixes are kind of fun to play with.
Chantilly Tassel pink colourway

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A day with the antiquities

The Natural History Museum
exuberant column top to go

 My friend Mary and I spent a day in Oxford visiting both the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums. Quite a stretch for the legs but worth it for the simple restocking of inspirations.
We took sketch books, but I find that the brain refuses to engage meaningfully, and instead is busy absorbing things randomly.
Firstly, let's just celebrate the Natural History Museum and home of the Pitt Rivers collection. Stand back and applaud the creative literalism of mid nineteenth century architecture. You can find out all about it here, paid for mainly by public subscription,

what you see today is what was created before funds ran out and interest waned. I LOVE this building and interior, it tells, quite lyrically, of the excitement and energy surrounding the quest for knowledge, anywhere your hand touches a stone ballustrade there is a beautiful curl of carved leaf or bud by James or John O'Shea, those on the stair worn shiny and nearly off by a million hands.
mongoose eating beetle... of course.
What's not to love about the cast iron columns, each topped with a collage of plant life picked out in gold and each one different. The stone columns carved with fruits and animals, insects... I love that the stone masons worked from live samples brought up from the botanical collections... each column in the central hall smoothly carved from a different marble or stone from the British Isles.
OK, enough, visit yourself and enjoy.
Pass quickly by the collections of dinosaur bones and impaled lepidoptera to a small door in the far wall, to enter the Pitt Rivers museum. This I love too, rows of tall glass sided mahogany cabinets stuffed to the gunnels with, well, stuff.

Each cabinet is themed on an aspect of life, the contents brought together from all over the world to show how humanity addressed that aspect, a kind of collective divergence. It is lit gloomy, a little enervating as you really don't know if you will turn a corner and be confronted with a collection of shrunken heads, shoes, weaving looms, pots, talismans, or objects not instantly identifiable, causing you to peer closer to read the inked labels.
It is the ultimate manifestation of all small boy's need to 'collect' indulged to the n'th degree.
Both here and at the Ashmolean, I was fascinated by the personal items, the every day objects that become talismans and votives, the small treasures that may not be precious of material, but imbued with meaning for the owner, and mysterious now to us, the inquiring observers.
I now want a metal thingy with little dangling fish and fruit and a key and a miniature tambourine, how utterly eclectically Steampunk is that!!!

Friday, 27 April 2012

friends and inspiration

I love it when an idea takes flight, this week I caught up with my friend Mary Yaeger who is over in the UK for a flying visit. She has long been a champion of my Albion Stitch books and has written some very flattering articles about my work to help spread the word. We met for the day in Oxford and had the best time catching up.
Mary's Albion Stitch necklace
When beaders meet there is usually the 'baggie' moment, when the serious gossip is done and dusted and we turn to our passion for beading. Mary's baggie was full of some stunning pieces of beading, she has a great eye for the mixing of media, and I just had to photograph this particular confection. Albion Stitch beaded beads with bold accent beads on wire links. Much brighter in real life (I'm using a pocket camera here, in the corner of a cafe... note the instant styling moment on the retro sugar dispenser, haha!)... and I'm always forgetting to re-set the settings.
I love this necklace!!!!

We spent the day in and out of museums, (more posts to follow), discussing the state of beading; the serious business of art in craft, design and development, how to identify the zeitgeist of creative innovation. Is beadwork, craft, art, folk art, none of the above... needing to be one or more of the above... how social media is changing the way craft and creativity is talked about, practiced, explored and exploited...
BUT... and I can totally see how you really had to be there to get even a teeny bit interested... MORE EXCITINGLY....
discussing my trip to L.A and it's environs to do the teaching of the beading an the visiting of the beading stores... hurrah!!!! More on which as the departure date draws nearer.
Venetian glass 'trade' beads

Meanwhile, here, from the Pitt Rivers museum a whole cabinet of our beloved seed bead's ancestors... the Venetian trade beads. The very sample cards that were shown to
the indigenous populace of far flung, soon to be colonies... the source of the pounds of beads traded for silks, spices, furs, pelts, gemstones, minerals and what all else.
The starting point for the very same beaded treasures of Africa, the Americas and beyond, that we now pour over in museum cabinets and at antique fairs.
The original source of the river of beads that flows endlessly around and around the world.
Doh... she's waxing lyrical again, time to go bead!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Country Garden workshop

Country Garden
We had a great time on saturday at the studio in Dorset, with a full house for my new Albion Stitch Country Garden corsage workshop.
I love teaching and sharing my designs with my students, it's a total battery re-charge for me as there is really nothing more flattering that a whole group of people signing up to spend the day with me!
To start the day we had a good discussion about colour, one of my sidebar themes for all the new workshops this year. As a result the range of colour mixes for the show and tell at the end of the day was lovely to behold.  Yeay for blue and mustard coloured flowers how fab do they look! and I am loving the pink and green mix in one flower. It gets my fingers itching to bead some more...

a day of beading, show and share
Another enjoyable aspect of teaching is seeing finished pieces. In this class there were not one, but two 'Enchanter's Tassels' completed from a previous workshop. With the best will in the world there's only really enough time to make samples in  a few colourways and bead variations. Just enough to check that it really works and will be workable for everyone in class or at home.

Two variations of Enchanter's tassel
So when students take the colours or shapes for a walk, then bring in the end results for me to see, it is a brilliant treat. Enchanter's tassel is a fluid, jointed design worked in layers of Albion Stitch. I'm really liking the Herringbone stitch cord, worked in size 15 seeds. It takes an age to stitch, but is so worth the investment of time to get such dainty detail, go girls!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

shop, share, recycle

all wrapped up in recycled ribbon
I'm doing that spring thing of clearing out cupboards. Partly due to necessity as there is something damp and mouldish happening in a far corner that needs much clearing out before a 'man' can be called in to have a look... why the 'man' can't climb over boxes of craft stuff just like he has to at home is one of those social nicety dilemma's that it's just easier to do a bit of tidying than to ponder too deeply. What is guaranteed is that the 'man' is going to want a lot of money to sort the mouldish thing.

Embracing the zen of clearing space in order to welcome in the new... I took a big bag of knitting wools left over from when I was writing my French Knitting book, to our local charity shop. In turn I came away with the most adorable nonsense. A second hand plate with three knitted cakes all done up in cellophane. I am slightly triumphant as I have wanted to own knitted cup cakes ever since my friend Becs knitted some adorably cute ones for her mini me's and has yet to knit me one despite much begging... and despite that I am a grown up and ought to knit my own, I guess.

knitted fancies WITH cherries on top!
I love quirky trends, the cup cake revolution was astonishing to witness, and seems to continues apace. This symbol that seems to have kick started the vintage kitsch revolution is either a divine manifestation of our collective need for creating and fun, or terribly descriptive of the wastefulness of our consumer culture. Somehow I don't mind as long as there are folk out there who want to hand make things, to sew, knit, bead, embroider, well or badly, but sustain these lovely expressive crafts.
Back to the zen clearing thing and my bulging bag of left over yarns will be knitted up into cute recycled gifts, which will give the knitter the pleasure of her hobby and the purchaser a delightful object, whilst raising funds for the charity, cosmic.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Romance with friends

sugar candy, mmmm!
I love a good wedding, no really, there is nothing better than the opportunity to dress up and party!
just before Easter we went to our friends 'renewal of vows' wedding. This was truly a no expenses spared (thank you so much my lovelies, you know who you are), kind of day. An unashamedly romantic day too, with poetry and love, laughter and the best kinds of tears... the happy couple's grown up children part of the celebration and a lifetime of friends and family to join in.
Post vow making was the best buffet ever... little paper bags and jars and jars of delicious sweets... those magical confections that the corner shop had in penny amounts on saturday mornings, sticky bliss!
The cake was a divine confection of chocolate and strawberry, and the day flow by in a dazzle of afternoon tea, roulette tables, dancing, entertainers, more food and fireworks. I still cannot fathom how that magician made the wine bottle sink through the table (no really!), nor how I started by holding a pack of cards and ended holding a block of glass... without noticing... and I don't drink!!!!
Like all good parties, we as guests were blissfully oblivious to the year long preparations, the hours and hours of work to get so many lovely details in place.
As an off duty designer I couldn't help but love the colours, a gentle chocolate and strawberry theme, with clever vintage mixes. The bridal party were in adorable '50's outfits, grown up bridesmaids in flatteringly bitter chocolate silk, flower girls in  dreamy cream with little fur bolero's and tippets, and all the guys in Gatsby smart suits and correspondent shoes. I loved the flowers too, just look at this bridesmaids bouquet... definitely going to have to explore this colour mix!!!
two lovely peeps

Delicious colours on a delightful day

Friday, 20 April 2012

Ravishing Ranunculas

Ranuncula's for a rainy day
It's raining, neither cats, nor dogs, nor even men, just big grey clouds full of water spaloshing all over the landscape. The kind or rain that makes the down pipes sing and the recycling bins into a percussion unit.
We are on 'drought alert', so the rain is welcome, by the earth and the good green garden if not by the actual gardener herself. After the unseasonal warm and sunny weather I'm finding it soooo hard to go back to enjoying wet and gloom, and those 'creep in round the edges' little chilly draughts.
Having just been soaked en route to the post office, soaked again when I noticed all the dishes under the plant containers were overflowing and needed upside downing... then once more again!!!! on the trip to get essential groceries because I've been too busy beading and getting ready for a weekend workshop to notice that we will starve if I didn't go do it a bit sharpish.
So, for no other reason than to cheer up a very wet shopper and gloomy rainy afternoon, I splashed out and bought a bunch of flowers.
Feast your eyes and draw inspiration from these Ranuncula nestling among some golden rod. Shouty Happy Yellow, they glow with sunshiny goodness Yipeee!!!!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

trees... with beads on...

Tree with beads on
There is a row of splendidly huge and ancient Plane trees lining a busy main road nearby. In the summer these trees are leafy green silent havens for crows, blackbirds, moths and insects, while far below the traffic roars past. They are beautiful, each one a different gnarly shape and I love to walk past them. In the winter and spring they are magical trees because they are festooned with beads. Really they are the seed heads that cling on to fine stems throughout winter storms and snow with amazing strength, only to fall and crumble into a million seeds when the weather turns soft and mild.
Tree with beads in in Dortmund
 When I was over in Germany, the road       outside the exhibition hall was lined with Plane trees too... obviously a staple for the parks and gardens authorities needing to line busy roads.
As another step on my occasional quest for beading nature (see acorns), here is a first experiment. I just love the juxtaposition of branches and seed heads against the blue sky, so I am wondering whether this has some design mileage. Firstly though, the practicalities of making some beady shapes and deciding if they are nice or not.

Plane tree seeds

When you get close to them, the seed heads are kind of spiky, in a really dense pattern.
I've used the gorgeous 2.8mm Miyuki mini drops in dark bronze along with 11 seeds in a soft grey and 15 seed beads in dark bronze... worked over a wooden bead.

The Branch is some rather intriguing wire with a soft foam coating which I found in a garden centre. I think designed to be soft against delicate plant stems that need tying back I thought it had HUGE possibilities for beading and was tempted to buy heaps, as it came in different diameters. Sense prevailed so my experiment with this is to see if it is strong enough to hold it's shape when also covered with beads...yes is the outcome there.
Not sure where this is going yet but thought I'd show and share.... I'm kind of liking the detail and texture.
beaded seed heads with netted 'twig'
like the texture...but not the herringbone stitch stalks

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


I am a great believer in the usefulness of daydreaming. It helps sort things out in my head.. which, because of the kind of work I do, is usually running several programmes at once. The daydream is my re-boot.
I also find colour gazing is another simple way to clear out left over thoughts and irritations... almost as soothing as dunking chocolate in a warm mug of tea (forbidden luxury I know).
One recent colour gazing moment was tuning in to this lovely hazy faded mix of delicate duck egg blue, bitter chocolate, cloud grey and other lovely shades of nearly neutralness. Witness the new cardigan from East... a truly indulgent purchase which sort of sums up this lovely seasonal mix.
new season cardi from East
Fab with jeans (oh that time worn phrase!). I'd love to be wearing all this seasons pretty floral frocks... but I am just not a frock shaped person. OK, so colour gazing, not merely an excuse to fall in love with new cloths, but a great way to find new ideas for the beading.
I have some favourite designs, those tried and tested that you find yourself making again and again... among which is my Sugar Candy bracelet. It is an easy mix of different netting techniques from around the world, worked over coloured acrylic crystal cabs. I've worn this one nearly every day since I made it using gold lined clear aqua seed beads with a matt mushroom colour accent.
Sugar Candy bracelet in new colours

Tudor Bauble works with any
mix of vintage pearls and crystals
I've also dug out my Tudor Bauble necklace. Since I originally designed it there have been lots of these 'beaded bead with pearls' designs created by my fellow bead artists. I'm still loving mine as it's kind of flexible and will accommodate the beads you have in your stash. This one is made with lovely greeny blue pearls rescued from a broken necklace, I'm thinking of simply re-stringing it on matt silver chain.

Once the colours start to catch your eye it's amazing how easy it is to gravitate towards them as the new favourite.
So at this point should I confess to the dove grey and teal stripe cardi gleaned from the White Stuff sale?... the lace scarf in a very intriguing mix of charcoal and teal I found on a street stall?... or should I just go put the kettle on!!!