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March 30, 2011

Crafter's Critique

Are you your own worst critic? Should you be? I have friends who burn paintings they’re not satisfied with. This shocked me initially, but I’m beginning to understand the impulse. After staring at two unfinished (and perhaps unfinishable) canvases for a few years, I’m ready for drastic measures.

"Selma's Garden", my unfinished entry in a spring
PaintOut at T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

Very often, setting aside a project that isn’t working (then returning to it with a fresh eye) works to stimulate new ideas. Sometimes a new perspective can rescue a painting from the burn pile. But sometimes knowing if something is worth saving is harder than saving it.

How often have you been disappointed in a piece that others raved about? Instead of questioning their taste, try to see what they see in it. Next, figure out why you’re unsatisfied with it. Understanding your discomfort can help to ease it, or lead to solutions.

So, what’s wrong with your work?

  • Technical flaws
  • Didn’t turn out like you’d planned
  • Poor materials that didn’t hold up well
  • Didn’t like the color combinations
  • Wrong proportions
  • Doesn’t ‘flow’ well

These are just a few of the reasons (excuses) we find to criticize our own work. Let’s take them one at a time and see how serious these problems really are.

Yes, technical flaws (poor craftsmanship) are frustrating. Needleweaving is done with the ‘good’ side down—meaning that after the weaving is completed and the project is taken off the board, it is turned over to reveal the face of the necklace. Sometimes this is good. It is smoother, and any loose ends are on the back side. But occasionally, flaws show up. I’ve learned not to despair.

First, look for simple solutions. When changing fibers, sometimes a bit of one color shows up where it doesn’t belong. This is a common problem in needleweaving, but easily solved with a light touch of a permanent Sharpie® marker. Or, weave in the correct color over it. If all else fails, add sparkle! A strategically place bead can hide a mistake and might turn out to be brilliant!

If your necklace didn’t turn out like you’d planned, then I’d recommend a different hobby—accounting maybe?

If you inadvertently used poor materials that didn’t hold up well, consider it a learning experience or give it to someone who loves you too much to complain. And of course, upgrade your materials for your next project.

So you didn’t like the color combinations. Why not? Was it the choice of colors, or the placement? Too much or too little contrast? Try to figure out the problem—or maybe the problem is in the eye of the beholder. Colors can have an emotional impact, and what you find unappealing may be just the thing for someone else.

Is something just ‘off’ about the piece? It could be a case of wrong proportions, although this doesn’t happen often since it‘s pretty easy to spot in the pattern. Unless you got carried away and deviated from the pattern—a lot. Take comfort in the fact that you may be the only one to notice.

Related to the problem above, perhaps your necklace just doesn’t ‘flow’ well. Again, you may be the only one bothered by it, but look over each section to determine what you would do differently next time.

And that is the key. You will do better next time, although you may encounter a different problem!  And that’s OK. It’s a process. Of creating, learning and knowing the difference between disaster and discovery.


What was your worst craft mistake, and/or your crafty solution? I’d share mine, but like childbirth, I’ve forgotten the pain and only remember the accomplishment.

March 13, 2011

Picking Up Inspiration

Pastel Painting of Apalachicola Bay, Florida

Nature study can easily become a lifelong interest, and needn’t diminish over time. Identifying plants or birds may seem overwhelming to the beginning birder or botanist, but even experts in these fields face challenges.

My knowledge of flowers, trees and birds is at a level somewhere past beginner, but a long way from expert. At first, learning to I.D. each new species was exciting, but I’ve become complacent about botany and given up learning new bird songs. Why does it feel like an effort now, when once it was a much-anticipated challenge?

I blame my new interest in needleweaving. The more I became involved with fiber jewelry, the less time I spent on previous passions. Fortunately, my older interests are compatible with the new, and my enjoyment of them continues—if passively. In Act II of My Life, nature and music have become the backdrop, albeit a beautiful and inspiring one.

A recent change of scenery brought a renewed interest in all three. I picked up lots of ideas (and treasures) to use in future needleweaving projects. Apalachicola Bay was awash in beauty and its waters had offered up these finds.

Observation brings depth to the enjoyment of nature and music. And so it is with art. A field guide was useless for the broken bits of shells I collected, which left me free to see and appreciate their shapes, colors and textures. Though less-than-perfect, the shells will weave perfectly into a sea-inspired necklace—I can’t wait to begin.

March 12, 2011

Green Beads Come in Many Colors

Around 50 years ago when I learned how to make handmade beads, green wasn’t a buzzword—it was just the way things were done. It was not a throw-away society. The Great Depression was still fresh in our parents’ minds. These beads, though made from common materials, are uncommonly beautiful, and very easy to make.

Handmade Paper Beads
Paper is the main ingredient. Cutting up National Geographic magazines was (and still is) considered sacrilege by some, but back then, they produced the most colorful and glossy beads. Today, many magazines have colorful pages, so those collections of National Geographics are safe from the scissors. Fashion magazines provide a great source, and no one will mourn their loss. Here’s what you’ll need to begin:

Old magazines
Glue stick, or clear-drying glue
Toothpicks, or plastic coffee stirrers
Piece of foam to use as a drying rack

  • Cut magazine pages into elongated triangles. The base of the triangle can be from ½ to 1½ inches wide. Length can vary too. The longer the paper wedge, the thicker the resulting bead. Try eight to twelve inches for a start, then experiment. To get the most efficient use from the paper, alternate the pointed ends with the wide ends when cutting out the triangles.
  • Starting at the bottom of the wedge, lightly coat the back side of the paper with glue stick or craft glue. Glue stick won’t be as messy. My sisters and I made beads in the days before glue sticks. We used mucilage (remember that?) or rubber cement.
  • Beginning at the wide end, carefully wrap the paper around a toothpick or coffee stirrer. When using toothpicks, don’t make the first wrap too tight, or it will be difficult to remove from the beads.
  • Coffee stirrers are great because you can wrap several beads around one stirrer and the beads won’t stick. You can even leave the stirrer in place and cut it at each end of the bead with an x-acto knife. This way you can add a sealer to a series of beads at once.
  • Continue wrapping until the bead is complete. You may need a little extra glue on the tip to secure. The appearance of each  bead will be a surprise. It’s fun to see them take shape and reveal their true colors. (Black and white paper is OK too.)
  • After you have several assembled, stick the toothpicks or coffee stirrers into the foam. Paint with water-based polyurethane, clear nail polish, or white glue. Again, keep the finish coat away from the toothpick. These make pretty durable beads, especially if clear-drying glue is used as a topcoat.
  • When dry, remove beads from the sticks and create multicolored ‘green’ jewelry by stringing them on beading wire, nylon line, or elastic cord. These materials weren’t commonly available when I made my first necklace—we probably just used heavy thread or fine yarn.
  • Scrapbooking or origami paper also makes nice beads. They’ll be colorful—but not green—unless you use scrapbooking scraps. Wallpaper samples or remnants work well too.
  • Don’t forget fabric. I’ve seen lovely fabric beads trimmed with novelty yarns. These beads were wrapped around narrow plastic drinking straws. After they dried, the straw was cut close to the bead ends and left inside. These can be strung on heavier cord. If you sew your own clothes, you can make a matching necklace this way!

Times change. When I learned to make these beads, coffee stirrers didn’t exist since ‘coffee to go’ was unheard of. So was the abundance of jewelry making supplies.
I need to ask my mother where she learned to make the beads, and thank her for teaching me how. I enjoyed passing on the craft to my children. Now my daughters are grown, and I’ve discovered a new use for the beads. It’s often hard to find beads with holes large enough to use in needleweaving. These paper beads are perfect! Give it a try. Create elegant jewelry and precious memories, without precious gems.