(Photo: Jill Wiseman)
It was by pure chance that Jill Wiseman discovered bead weaving. As an office worker for a high tech firm in Austin, Texas, she had no time for hobbies, until one day she attended quilt show and ended up in the embellishment aisle. So taken by the baubles she saw there, Wiseman signed up for a beading class and found her passion.
"Within a half hour I was helping the people next to me, and I had never touched needle and thread before," she says of that first class. "I didn’t realize how exceptional that was."
Two years later, she started beading full-time.
Bead weavers use a needle and thread to string small beads into wide patterned bands, or create 3D structures that stand out in a literal way. There are bead looms, to weave flat projects, but many weavers prefer to work freehand.
Crafters often find their way to bead weaving after mastering the basics of single-string jewelry, in search of something more challenging.
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So it was for Susan Farbstein. After admiring a woman’s necklace, she ended up with a new hobby.
Farbstein already had experience with simple single-strand and wire beading, and the satisfaction of creating detailed items that looked far more expensive than they cost to make hooked her. She has more than 100 pieces now.
"I went to a store, and I could make almost everything in that store," she says.
(Photo: Hannah Miller)
Tips to Start
Interested in bead weaving? Wiseman has some advice:
1. Watch and learn. Bead weaving is difficult to learn from written instructions. If you don’t have access to local classes, several top teachers have YouTube channels. Beadholique, an online beading store and gallery out of L.A., offers instruction on various stitches and techniques. The Potomac Bead Company, which has a small chain of bead stores and an online business, also offers tutorials.
2. Invest in quality. Inexpensive crystals don’t have as many facets as the famous Swarovski, Wiseman says. They are also more likely to have sharper edges because they haven’t been honed down — and those could cut your thread. A cheap package of seed beads could differ in size so much that you can’t achieve the symmetry that weaving demands. And cheap beads may fade or chip over time.
3. Have patience. Wiseman estimates that it takes two to three years to really get a feel for bead weaving. The techniques can prove tricky, and you’ll probably mess up a few times. That’s okay. But given that even a relatively simple bracelet can easily take eight hours to finish, give yourself time.
4.Save your pennies.
A basic bracelet kit— albeit with crystals — can run $60. Other less sparkly projects might cost $30 — cheaper than buying something similar at an accessories shop, but not entirely cheap. And the market is tough for sellers. Wiseman says most of the bead weavers she knows sell enough to cover their hobby, maybe.
5. Experiment. Everyone has different styles and preferences. You may start to favor a specific thread or line, or certain beads. You may find enjoyment in certain color patterns, or in 3-D versus 2-D designs. It will take time to explore different techniques and gain the confidence to start adding your personal touches.
And finally, says Wiseman, never stop learning. She teaches classes at bead shows, but she also takes classes. Despite her years beading, she still finds more to learn.
"There’s many, many different kinds of stitches, and many different things you can do with those stitches," she says.
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