Getting Started and Lessons Learned
Updated: Mar 10
I've always been a maker, ever since I was a child I've been packing around a beading kit.
That's me on the right with my little sister. I'm 6 yrs old.
When I was a teenager, I joined a volunteer group called Katimavik and was taught how to bead and work with hides by an Indigenous elder in a tiny village in Northern Ontario called Muskrat Dam. Jesse Beardy was my teacher. At the time I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of what I was learning, I didn’t realize what an impact it would have on my life.
Beads are my passion, stitching them to hide or felt or weaving them together with thread is meditative, cleansing, rhythmic. I often watch movies while I work, but when I play music or audio books I really get into the groove. It’s not unusual for me to look up and realize I’ve sat for 5 or 6 hours. That’s when the old bones really get creaky.
I enjoy sorting beads, rummaging through my bins, making a mental note of what I have and what I need. For me, my head has a running inventory of the thousands of beads I have on hand, sliver lined, matte, opaque, Toho, Miyuki, dyed, iridescent, delicas. I know every single shade of every single colour in my collection, which includes 23 different varieties of red
I started out with a pair of moccasins and beaded the toes with a very simple Cree design of flowers and berries. It took me about 3 weeks to bead both toes. I could do that beadwork in 2 days now! I was so proud of my work and it lasted for many years until I eventually gifted the boots to a young friend.
Over the years I’ve learned many lessons. I’d like to share just a few.
Don’t bead if you aren’t feeling it in your spirit- What I’m talking about here is for those of us who bead as a passion or hobby. Bead because you love it. Something that has really sapped the enjoyment for me was doing custom orders; beading for other people with time limits and budgets. Take my advice, just avoid it. It’s stressful, it’s usually rushed and it sucks the joy out of beading. Bead because you love it, bead because you need to create, bead because you are inspired. Never bead because you have to.
If it isn’t working, rip it out, or set it aside -Sometimes you’ll know within the first row that it isn’t working. Sometimes you won’t know it’s awful until you’re half done. Rip it out!! If it sucks, set it aside. I have a big basket of half-done pieces that just didn’t come together. Some, I will harvest beads from them and some will just sit there for all eternity. I don’t care! If I’m not happy with a piece I will stop and move on with something else, no guilt.
If you’re going to sell your work, price it accordingly or give it away. Do not undervalue the work because if you do that, it affects everyone else. If people think they can get 15 row fringe earrings for $25, that is all they will ever want to pay. And that’s not fair to others who bead for money. If you aren’t beading to pay bills then just gift them to friends and family instead of selling them for cheap. Undervaluing the skills and time it takes to create these beautiful pieces is disrespectful and harmful to the artists who work in the field.
Use the best beads you can find- Always think about quality, not quantity. Beading supplies can get expensive, but if you neglect quality and use sub par materials you will suffer in the end. Imagine spending 8 hours on a piece of work and then discover that the bead colour has worn off, or the beads snap just as you sew on the last fringe.
All kinds of unfortunate things can happen with cheap beads.
· Cheap beads that aren’t uniform make lumpy lopsided pieces that look messy and the beads don’t sit well.
· Cheap metallic and iridescent beads are painted so the coating rubs off as you work on the piece, revealing usually pale transparent glass beneath the coating.
· Cheap beads are often dyed and the colour will fade in the sun or will bleed into the backing, this is especially common with low quality pink or purple beads.
· Cheap beads often have uneven holes, some have no holes at all! Tiny or uneven holes often means you can’t get your needle through them more than once, risking breaking a bead if you try to force it through.