28 September 2015

My Passion for Bead Weaving

It's been some time since I last beaded due to carpal tunnel syndrome. My hands nowadays feel occasional sharp pains and numbness, that I've given up (temporarily) on holding on to a needle to thread through tiny beads. Nonetheless, my passion for beadweaving cannot be stopped, and hence this blog post

In Singapore, we do have many DIY jewelry makers who uses beading techniques. When I visit artisan markets and bazaars, it saddens me when customers bargain our prices down because they do not realize the efforts and long hours we take to make a beautiful piece of bead work. Perhaps we have too many simple handmade jewelry sold at such markets. There are some sellers who put a bead on a thread and call that beadwork (oh well, I do like simple 'zen' jewelry too)

There are not many beadweavers in Singapore. I particularly adore Helen Tang-Lim intricate beadworks and her Peranankan beaded slippers (kasut manek). I'm no expert beader like her yet, but here's my take on beadweaving and what I've learned over the years of making handmade jewelry :)

Bead Weaving

Bead weaving involves a needle running thread or thin wire in and out of beads to create a flexible network of bead fabric. A beading needle of size 10 or 12 allows for multiple passes through the tiny bead holes. Professional bead weavers are fond of using beads and tools of popular brands which are known for their consistency in quality. Some popular Japanese brands include Tulip beading needles, Toho seed beads and Miyuki Delica cylinder shaped beads.

I find that there are mainly two forms of bead weaving techniques - Bead Loom Weaving and Off-Loom Bead Weaving. I tend to use off-loom techniques more often, as it can be pretty cumbersome to prepare a bead loom.

Bead Loom Weaving

Bead Loom Weaving involves warping threads on the beading loom, ahead of weaving in the beads in a row by row fashion. I love the bead loom works of Erin Simonetti I learned from her blog to decorate my bead loom works with edging on the sides

I made this houndstooth bracelet on a Clover bead loom and shared it in a beading facebook group, very happy to be invited to join Erin's bead loom group to learn more about beadweaving. The retro design body is woven with two types of Miyuki delica beads. The white beads are round, while the black beads are 2-cut hexagonal. I then embellished this white and black bracelet with picot edging using size 15 Toho beads (my favorite hematite color) and finished with a beadwoven toggle clasp and bar.

Off-Loom Bead Weaving

Off-Loom Bead Weaving means a beading loom is not required, as beads are threaded and stitched in particular fashion to create different designs. My personal favorites are peyote stitch, brick stitch, right angle weave RAW and 2-needle daisy chain stitch. And I do practice herringbone stitch, tubular netting and spiral stitch occasionally.

Peyote Stitch

The peyote stitch is one of the most common beadweaving stitches, and is widely used in the beadwork of many cultures globally, including Native American beadwork. Essentially, the thread works it way in a zig-zag fashion to place beads in a brick-laid manner, but the starting of peyote stitch can be somewhat challenging.

When you perfect the basics of this beadweaving technique, you can easily zip up flat peyote strips to create bead tubes for earrings and necklaces, or wider strips to make rings such as the beaded heart ring above. With more practice, you will also be able to make the beaded toggle clasps and bars, and dazzling rivoli bezels such as the pink earrings below!

Brick Stitch

While the resulting beadwork of brick stitch looks similar to that of peyote stitch, both beading techniques are worked very friendly. Personally I find that brick stitch is so much easier to start – from a simple ladder stitch to form the first 'base' row, then you start stacking on the 'bricks' layer by layer 

For this pair of black and gold diamond earrings, my starting row of ladder stitch is at the widest point. And then I build on my 'bricks' to form the pyramid on one side, and then another pyramid on the other side of the ladder stitch, thus resulting in a diamond shape piece

Like above, I start these pastel heart charms with ladder stitch to create the widest point, but using 2 beads on each row of ladder stitch. I then form the pyramid at the bottom by laying the 'bricks'. And then I added on some beads to form the rounded portion on the top of the hearts.

Right Angle Weave (RAW)

This gold and pink crystal bracelet is made by me sometime in May/June 2014. The wide bracelet is made using a right angle weave base formed by stitching together shiny golden lined seed beads from Japan. With a summer color palate in rose peach and light topaz, I embellished the beaded base with Swarovski Elements crystals. This beadwoven bracelet also featured a beaded toggle clasp and bar that can be work as a focal piece.

Tubular Netting

Don’t be fooled by how complicated the tubular netting technique looks! In fact, when one of my JC friends wanted to learn how to make this, I asked her to follow a simple YouTube video by Jill Wiseman.

Tubular netting allows you to sophisticated-looking beaded ropes just by switching around the colors and types of beads used. For instance, the upper photo shows an coral and bronze bracelet which center-portion is stitched with tubular netting using faceted coral Czech glass and various Japanese seed beads, and the thinner ends of the bracelet made with herringbone stitch using even smaller beads. The lower photos show a cream color pearl necklace with pearl-like ceylon finishing Japanese seed beads.

My Beading Journey

Self-taught in various jewelry making techniques, I have more than 15 years of beading experience and was often refining my techniques through long hours of trial and error. After all, practice makes perfect! Sad that I have to put a temporary stop to my interest during my recuperation period.

While many beaders prefer to rely on pre-planned beading designs, I actually enjoy an organic process that allows the beadwork to evolve naturally as I combine each tiny glass bead with each needle stitch. Often I do not know how the completed piece of jewelry would look like until I have completed beading and embellishing!

I am the one-woman-operation behind Romantic Handmade Jewelry by Foong, and am responsible for customer service, product photography, packaging and shipping etc. While it’s a long list of tasks to complete before each jewelry piece arrives at her customers’ hands, it has always been a happy-tiring process I have enjoyed over the years. Today, my beaded jewelry are worn by customers from as far as USA and Canada :)

Romantic Handmade Jewelry by Foong at an outdoor bazaar

Depending on the complexity of the bead work, it would normally take me 3 to 6 hours to complete a piece of beaded jewelry. The houndstooth bracelet worked on a bead loom took me a week, as it was difficult to follow a bead pattern which I charted on graph paper (opps!) and had to spend much time on the picot edging with tiny size 15 beads.

While some of the bead work may look complicated for a beginner, it is in fact made up of several simple beadweaving techniques. For those interested in learning bead weaving or interested to purchase any of the above bead work, you are welcome to contact me