Tuesday, 29 April 2014

it's a cultural thing

Some men just can
So there was a shout out for bead artists recently on facebook to have a go at making jewellery for men. Yup, man bling. I started thinking about this and in the spirit of primary research, I asked the question to a few chaps, 'Would you wear beadwork?' The responses were interesting because they said a lot about ego and confidence and concerns with appearance and perceived identity.
I found some age defined boundaries; 'surf dude' beads and an armful of festival bands are fine as long as you're under 30. Designer matt metal and iconic watches are OK for career guys, just as long as it's brand identifiable and doesn't veer off a narrow path of acceptable chains, moderately plaited or aged leather and chunky thumb rings. Older guys looked a bit scared and concluded it would be a bit effeminate and not really their thing.
Seriously though, the more you look, the more complex the male relationship with jewellery becomes, and the more it really is a sub group marker. There are the stereotypes, gold sovereign pinky rings that scream used car dealer, and fine dudes for whom gold is a symbol of success. Oh, and three cheers for bikers, goths and (in the same sentence) die hard mods and punks who pierce and be-stud and jangle with retro regalia... and do the long, dyed, shaved or glued hair to match.
Overwhelmingly though, men just don't do the jewellery thing; Nope most of us are hard pushed to get them to wear their wedding rings! and as one guy pointed out, 'We're not all Johnny Depp you know!' how true... how sad.
If you widen the research to global, there are thousands of men wandering around on a daily basis, bedecked in colourful beadwork. Our combined cultural histories are packed with gorgeous man jewellery, from Egyptian collars, to Viking silverware, Medieval rings to Victorian watch chains.
Swoon worthy Samurai with exquisite carved gem buttons and enamelled Inro, the list is endless.
Maasai Man, image by Steve Pastor 2006
A few years ago, I was on a walkabout in Africa with a lovely Maasai guide, he was wearing traditional clothing and a couple of beaded armbands. So I asked him if he'd be willing to explain why I saw some Maasai men covered in beadwork and others not... did it signify something like age or marriage status? He kind of shrugged, smiled and leaned on his stick and said, 'Some men just like pretty things more than others,' and wiggled his eyebrows. So, then I asked, so do your wives make your beadwork for you? and he looked puzzled for a minute and said, 'No, we get them from the Indian guy who has a shop in town, I think he buys them from China'.
So, primary research is all well and good but I think we still have a long road to travel before the average man is happy to don his beadwork in the mornings...which leaves me with the question as to what can I design that just might tempt him to release his inner Johnny Depp? I resorted to a few stereotypes myself to get the designs ideas moving...
Post apocalyptic Mr Gibson and the so macho it's scary Snake Plissken... for example.
Sombre colours... hmm, nice safe matt black, macho gunmetal, maybe a tiny speck of danger red...
Scale, too chunky to EVER be considered girly...
and for sources... nuts and bolts and snakes and crocodiles, might just throw in slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.
What I wasn't expecting, was to enjoy the process! But it was great, I loved the freedom to up the scale and forego the usual sparkle and detail.
Here's what I made...
Sinuous snake bracelet
worked in O beads and seed beads
with a tough wire core

The Hombre cuff
worked in Czech Mate, two hole pyramid
and super duo beads
with a chunky parachute snap clasp

Monday, 21 April 2014

Florally Challenged

Toho Challenge 2013
Last year I was invited to participate in the Toho Challenge. We were each given this delicious mix of beads and asked to simply, 'Go play!'. It's no secret that I love green, especially the sour limes and olive shades, so look who was a happy bunny when the beads were handed over!
The pack include seed beads in various shapes and sizes, CzechMate two hole tiles and daggers and some plump oversized drop beads. The idea is to incorporate as many of the beads as possible.

Not all the designs are featured on the website, as many designers join in to participate over a year long period, but you can see lots of amazing and beautiful pieces here.

The first little bits and pieces
The bead pack also contained a lot of beads. One of my default rules is that I tell myself, 'I don't do big, I do dainty', so I decided to challenge myself to do 'big'... with so many beads... how could I not!
The colour palette was organic, so floral themes seemed a natural starting point. I approached making a statement size piece by starting small. I also opted for familiar shapes and began with an Albion stitch tropical flower. This gave me a simple way to keep on adding small pieces.
love the two hole CzechMate Dagger beads!
The plan was shaping up, but the next big challenge was the newer territory of engineering; to create an underlying structure that would sit well, support the elements, but still move easily.

Next, I adapted stitches to include as many of the beads in the pack as possible, which was a fun challenge and taught me heaps about ripping out and doing over, until I 'got' how to use beads with two holes instead of the usual one.
mannequin test run
The finished necklace

All the different sections were pinned and re-pinned until I settled on an arrangement, it's amazing how hard asymmetry can be to balance.
Finally, it was all stitched together and the whole piece road tested to make sure it was comfortable to wear and behaved how a necklace should.
The necklace was posted off to the USA, arrived safely and will now be displayed along side the other entrants at shows and events.

I loved every minute of the process and I'm so happy! because now I've been invited to participate again this year... the beads have just arrived. I can't wait to start playing, they are an enticing new challenge.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Green with yarn envy

Whilst I was busy in London visiting an exhibition, standing in a line waiting; I noticed that a lady was staring at me with a very hard stare. At first I thought, 'hmm, smudged make up I have, no?", then, "Lordy, not breakfast on my jumper again?" So I did some remedial wipe up, but still she stared. You never know, in the great metropolis, quite who you might encounter, so my next thoughts were along the nervous country girl up to town line. Now she had literally stopped to turn and stare some more, deeply worried, I just smiled right back at her.
This was the opening she'd been waiting for and what happened next just goes to show, people are mostly lovely.
She came right over and said, 'Ohhhh, your scarf is stunning, I want one just like it!'. I was with my friends so I waved them on when the line moved and my new friend and I had a quick knitting discussion. As soon as she'd been through he exhibition she was going to race off to a yarn store. Then I thought if she liked it, maybe you would too.

It's a length of ribbed knitting, 10 stitches per rib and 9 ribs wide. Worked using a variegated yarn called Crazy Zauerball by Schoppel Wolle ( you can just tell can't you, I bought a ball when I was at the Creativa show, but this link is for a UK store).
Knit until it will wrap round your neck comfortably then cast off.  Sew one short end to the side of the other end, it took me a couple of goes to get a neatish seam, but it's do-able. I'd decorated the scarf with my felt ball brooch and wore the ensemble with a green top... Yup, I'm still loving green!