Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Beadworkers Guild 2023 challenge - Fur and Feather

This is a long post, so take a cup of your favorite brew and find a comfy seat to read a bit of my beady adventure. I could say it short, like... I made this. But that's not what this blog is for. This blog is about my iterations (experiments and discoveries, be they good or not so good) with beads, and the longer the make of a project, the longer the post, generally ๐Ÿ˜„. So... got your cup? Let's go.

At half past midnight on the 12th of March... after a shocking amount of trouble-shooting, beading and unbeading, decisions, additions, abandons, starting overs, pain everywhere, facepalm, "head in both hands", and a near-beady burn-out, I finished my BWG challenge submission with intense joy and relief. Here are

"Nanuq, Natsiq, Ukpiq and Ukaliq"

which are the names for "Bear, seal, snowy owl and Arctic hare" in Inuktikut, a language of natives of the great North.

I went through many emotions on this project, from despair to delight, and  from panic to relief. In February, I thought that I would never finish it on time - the deadline was 1st of April but for me, abroad, that meant posting the parcel with the beadwork mid-March. I heard a voice (yes, really) in my head, repeating every day "time is running out". The last month, every single moment I could, I worked on it. In the end I was exhausted, with everything hurting, neck, back, hands, fingers, joints, arms, etc, but if I hadn't done it, I would not have finished it on time, and I am so, so happy with what I made! I cannot even express how proud I am. 

It was really very difficult - from both a technical and emotional perspective -, but the result is even better than planned, because I added things that were not planned initially.

I am happy that I can finally show it and tell you more about it, because..

to remain silent about something I love so much is really hard, and if you remember well, there were several other things that I also could not talk about.

Fur and Feather - Theme interpretation

My first reaction was "I will not use fur!" Feathers sounded OK, because birds molt... Fortunately, it became very quickly clear that real fur wasn't asked for, but also... that the theme was about both feather and fur. So I could not make something just with or about feathers...

I have a crazy muse who has enough plans to keep me busy until beyond my earthly existence, so there are always several things on my wish-to-make list, and one of these things was a polar bear. I have a thing with polar bears. Very strong emotions. It must be my totem animal. That is one of the reasons why I actually delayed beading it. It didn't feel right so far. But of course the muse already started to poke me...

This box was part of my inspiration.

I kept an old tissue box since a long time, because I found the illustrations so cute. When hubby accidentally binned it, it had to come out of the recycling bin! A bear, a bunny and a robin are depicted. I had something Christmassy in mind with this: to place bear and bunny in a bauble! I didn't really care to make the tiny robin. Not that I couldn't: I made an itty bitty tiny crow years ago, companion to a little Maleficent doll...

The theme of the challenge had me think: apart from being soft and fluffy, hence not easy to use in needlework - and often unethically traded-, what do fur and feathers have in common? what are they for? Well, looking at the polar bear, the answer was simple: to keep their owners warm.

Nanuq is not snow white - he is the colour of the sun.
His skin is black and his long, coarse guard hairs,
which protect the plush thick undercoat,
are hollow and transparent and reflect the light.


Of course the bunny made me think of an Arctic hare, and because I had a large amount of white beads left over from my Princess Check pouch project (published in the January issue of the BWG journal), I thought of making a Polar Project.

Ukaliq is a master of camouflage - his fur turns
brown-grey in the summer


I already couldn't think of anything else, so I opted for a snowy owl and planned on using real feathers, which satisfied two of my other obsessions: 1) to see if my "Open Heart" beaded bead could become an owl's head as it was telling me ever since I designed it, and 2) to use the feathers collected during years from my little zebra finches.

Female 'Ukpiq' have many black spots, but males
become completely white.

So down the rabbit hole I went, again, for a crazy, puzzling, at moments terribly frustrating, exhausting-but in-the-end-fabulous beading adventure.

Young natsiq - it takes 6 to 8 years for a seal
to become an adult, going through several changes.

 Planning and studying

Before starting to bead, I hung out with each creature during a while. I watched photos and videos (for example this very poignant one (watch it later) to study their colour, posture and movements, because I wanted my critters to have a natural look. 

Believe me that this was the hardest study that I've ever done. My heart broke when reading about the melting of the Arctic, climate change, hungry polar bears, drowning seals. It was awful. I've always feared that the polar bear would be my Nemesis and it started to really bother me, but I remained strong, and the project became more and more meaningful. I imagined creating a protection around these beautiful and extraordinary animals.  

Finch feathers - tails and left and right wing feathers.

The making of this project

Time: It took a little over 4 months to bead. 

Materials: the same bead for nearly everything: opaque white! 

But I also used white pearl Ceylon, a mix of grey (for the seal), opaque black for details, transparent ab, and a few yellow opaque seed beads. Some in different sizes...
I also added Czech spike beads, Czech crystal bicones in matte crystal, a huge amount of Chinese crystal rondelles in navy, teal and sage for the water, transparent Austrian crystal bicones and white pearls in various sizes for ice and lace, topaz Chinese crystal rondelles and various gemstone chips for the tiny tundra, black glass pearls, black matte bugle beads, transparent glass thorn and flower beads, several odd beads to stuff heads and bodies, 1 big half round Toho seed bead... and even plastic transparent Hama beads - to create the floe and tundra foundations, eg. canvasses to embroider. 

It was all about snow, ice, water and warm white fur and feather coats so it was rather hard on the eyes.

Thread is a major design element in this project. The difference in colour between the 'white' animals and the snow comes from the thread. This was another obsession that I had since long: to see what the same white opaque seed beads look  like with a different colour thread. I aimed for a "warmer" white for the fur and I really love how it resulted in subtle differences. The bear was made with gold KO, the hare with natural (tan) KO, the snowy owl with ivory KO, the ice and snow with transparent nylon. White KastKing braided fishing line was used for the lacework to withstand the sharp holes of the crystal beads.

And of course I used acrylic baubles. Initially I had only 5 and 8cm baubles, then I chose 6, 10 and 14cm baubles. I sacrificed one bauble of each to make the lace and ribbons around them, because the beads scratched the acrylic glass while working and so the baubles became less transparent.

Designing decisions.

Thread was intentionally left apparent and dyed under the owl's eyes and on the seal's cheeks, for it's mustache. 
The owl's head can turn 360°, just like the real owl! 
The beak needed a little  brainstorming: I used a large demi-round by Toho and must say that it was a tour de force to have it sit right. I am really happy with how it turned out.
The big ice floe - which took forever to embroider with beads -and the tiny tundra foundation for the hare were made with plastic Hama beads, ironed hot to form a semi-rigid canvas to embroider with opaque white beads. This, together with the extra acrylic baubles, made the project become more pricy. I bought the large and a smaller plastic 'plaque' with pegs. The large plaque could only be used once - it became wobbly because of the heat of the iron, so that was not very cost-efficient... Under the tiny tundra, the mineral soil is represented by topaz crystals, jasper, pyrite and labradorite plus a few black seed beads mimicking plant roots. After all, Labrador is home to all the species shown in my project.

When portions in the "polar circle", as I called it, came off while beading, I decided to not repair it, but rather embrace the "melting" spots of my ice pack and enhanced them with Austrian crystals. Oh and for those who are interested in this: the mini Hama are near as small as, if not smaller than, the Delica beads in size 10. One has to be careful to not disturb the plaque with the beads otherwise they won't remain in place. In other words: don't sneeze!

To embroider the canvas obtained, it took an entire week, doing nothing else... It was hard on the hands because I had to push the needle through very narrow holes.

Hex cut transparent ab seed beads are spread
for a realistic aspect of glistening snow.

I hesitated a lot to add "water" - I added it only when I'd found the right shiny beads for that.

From above, the deep water looks dark blue. Under the ice floe, the matte crystal bicones, spike beads and green-blue crystals represent the teal-green universe of the seal - the colour of the water as seen from below the ice.

Technical aspects:
For the animals, I assembled shapes made with geometric Peyote stitch, like puzzles: petals, triangles, zigzag tubes, half-drops and even tall open warped hexagons (for the owl's legs) were used. Those who attended my Muserie workshop last year or bought the recently published pattern will know what this is about. 
Some 'wrong' makes...

For the Polar bear, I first made the arms, using a zig-zag method like for my old Skadi earrings. It was not easy to find the right count and thread path, but in the end, this allowed a smooth transition from body to arms to paws. 


For his shoulders and butt I used a small and a big petal. It was a mystery until the very end to see if that butt was the right size, which it miraculously was. 

The paws took more attempts than any other part of the animals. I studied them thoroughly, and to have the number of toes right, I had to start over and over. Of course I had to show this in photo because Nanuq is now attached to the ice floe. Did you know that the bear's 'heels' are nearly invisible, tucked inside his furr? Here too! I also love the look of the 'skin' under his armpits - just like a real bear. Proud designer here ๐Ÿ˜Š

My first bear head looked more like a mouse head, but the 2nd was good. It took 4 wrongs for a good bunny head and for the owl it took 3 or 4 tries. For the seal, the first try was nearly the right one but it also took a second attempt. Same for the body.

Natsiq first try - it shows that I watched more
baby seals than juveniles :D

For the seal, I made petals in which I incorporated Helen McIntyre's nifty acute increase (as taught in the Guild's Journal issue 93).

It is hard to see, but I also made his tiny tiny tail (with darker beads) between his two finned feet. Seals are part of a family of marine mammals called pinnipeds, which means "who have feet like fins".
To give the hare enough detail without it becoming too big, I used 15° for the legs and ears. It has to be said that the smaller a critter, the harder it gets.

For the snowy owl to have an optimal, smooth increase in size, it took a bit of unbeading half way the making of its torso, but the legs worked out right immediately.
I am stunned myself at how the legs came together so well.

Without its feathers it looked very odd, but I kept the final image on my mental screen. I added the feathers at the very end, when all the beading was done - feathers are super fragile and this is also the reason why I kept the Christmas bauble idea: this way, it would be protected. The wings were included with a method which normally holds feathers well, but many of the finch feathers were so thin at their base, that they could fall off the beadwork. This is why I used a little bit of glue for security.

Of course there were lots of minor issues to address, but I also big ones. For example, to make the seal was a late decision, as an answer to a big issue: alone and off-centered, the bear had the floe tip over. With the seal as counterpoise under the floe, this doesn't happen anymore. Everything under under the flow, from seal to crystals, contributes to balance, but the floe became a little less flat. That said, despite a big glass bead inside the seal's body, the bear still is heavier than the seal. This is why I glued a portion of the floe to the inner wall of the bauble, something I really, really hoped to avoid... Fortunately the glue looks like water, so it is not as terrible as I feared it would be... Also, if it moved around in the bauble during transportation, the baubles would arrive completely scratched at destination. Reason why I also glued the tiny Tundra to its bauble (also with heavy heart).


Now, seals exist everywhere in the world, but harp seals clearly enjoy the very cold waters in the North. Only their very young babies are completely white. After a crucial lesson to learn to swim, these cuties are left alone on the ice where they were born, quite far away from the pole, to shed before starting to hunt for food themselves and head towards the North. This is the reason why this 4th critter is not white like the others.

Last but not the least, making the lace was... humbling. I had never tried anything like this before and actually thought that it would be quite a fun, quick & easy make. Hem hem... Nope... ๐Ÿ˜…
Just to give you a sense of size: the large bauble's contour is as long as a collar, that of the medium bauble is as long as an anklet and the lace around the small bauble could make a bracelet.
Lace for the large bauble - WIP.

To find the right curves and have everything sit right around those baubles was subject to a lot of unbeading. With each new addition I prayed "please don't pucker, please don't ruffle". But of course it ruffled, again and again, until the right bead count and size was found. Trial & error and patience is the only road for this type of work, and most often the ruffle appears only after the last bead is added in the circle. 
The lace is meant to bring the baubles together, to unify the universes of Air, Earth, and Water. I love how Hubble stitch and my Lyda chain create the look of hundreds of tiny little trees covered with snow, and so I used it for a snowy lace look at the bottom, and of course thin ribbons, to avoid covering too much of the glass.

Video of lace in the make:
These ribbons also would keep two halves of a bauble together in case it opens up (you never know).
To save my fingers from nickel in needles and tendons from suffering too much I used nitrile "glove fingers" (here to embroider the bottom of the floe, which was not an easy ride). My lack of grip on the needle is an EDS problem (you know, the Zebra kind of issues that I have)... but still, should you have tired tendons or fingers, this can help in case you are not able to have a good long rest!

I made videos of the baubles. I hope that it will give you a better view of the project.

I bought a stand to display the 3 baubles in the UK, and it was sent directly to the Guild. I hope that the photographer will succeed to catch the beauty of it all, because I found it very hard to photograph the baubles.

List of Stitches used:

Bead mosaic / melting Hama "Mini"
Bead Embroidery / lazy stitch and various other stitches for a layering effect
"Perfect edge" stitch as per Jamie E. Cloud
Picot stitch
Circular Peyote
3D Peyote (body parts for the animals)
Cellini peyote (owl's head)
Netting (lace work, top of baubles)
Huichol (under the owl's chin)
Stitch in the ditch
Herringbone stitch, flat
    "    "    circular
Square stitch
Ladder stitch
St. Petersburg stitch
Brick stitch
1-, 2- & 3-drop Hubble stitch in the round
Spaced-out Hubble stitch
Flipped Hubble stitch (lace work) (letting the units tip over).
Diamond Weave (icy point join
RAW (owl's tail, snowflakes, lace 'ribbons')
PRAW (lace 'ribbons')
Chenille stitch (top of baubles)

Plumasserie (feather work)

and perhaps I should add: a bit of DWYC...  Do-what-you-can-stitch. ๐Ÿ˜

I tried to include MRAW (little snowflakes), but as explained, these would not have done the project justice, and a bit of Albion (abandoned paws), but I tried.

This project did not win in its category, but still is a winner: thanks to the many stitches used in the way they were used, it won the Founder's Award and it also won the Public Choice Award, which are chosen among all categories. That made my heart sing! Thank you very much to all who voted for it!


I'm sorry if this was a bit long, but it was quite a mammoth job...

So, thank you for reading this "mammoth" post.

And now I am procrastinating a bit.

I hope to be back soon :)


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Doris medallion

 Last year, I got a sweet message from a woman named Doris. She said that after reading my blog post about my BWG challenge entry of 2020, the Fantasy Chess Play, where I mention that I love the Neuschwanstein castle in Bayern, she wanted to send me something related, but needed my address for this.


So I gave her my address and then the wait to see what this could be started. I fantasized about it. Maybe it was a water-filled ball with snowflakes inside? No idea. After a while, I wondered if it had been lost, but fortunately not. For some reason the envelope got returned to Doris, so she could send it again.

When I opened the letter, I found a beautiful hand-crafted Christmas card with a little "frame" with a brand new 2-Euro coin inside. One side of the coin was struck with the image of the Neuschwanstein castle.


Doris bought it several years ago and had been the only one to touch it, until she sent it to me. 

I feel very honored, Doris, that you offered me this little treasure. The coin is really beautiful and I love it. 

Of course I had to make something beautiful with it, and here is what it became: a lovely medallion made with a Cellini Peyote ribbon, with a special rope with lots of little variations made with hexagonal Diamond Weave

 I used precious metal seed beads (gold and platinum- plated) and 3mm faceted gemstones in a yummy camellia rose-red and am very pleased with the result.

At the back, the Cellini bezel shows well.


A leather cord can be used too.

The rope is 3-unit based  and the bail is made with a 5-unit start. 

I love to see the coin from this angle, where the details in the metalwork show so well, how the castle is not flat but really 3D (with relief).


I hope that you like it too.




Sunday, March 19, 2023

Chaudfroid, or Uncle Bob's periple.

This beading experience was one of the most satisfying (chaud) and frustrating (froid) ever. To explain this, I have to explain first that the batch of Permalux beads that I received from Preciosa Ornela in 2021 - ages ago - were the crappiest beads I've ever had in hands (they are not anymore, but!) I am a geometric beader at heart, and even though I tried very hard, I could not bead with these beads without the coating chipping off. It was a thick coat though, and the colors were splendid, so I was terribly bummed.

Preciosa said that they knew about it (ah bon?), that the problem had been addressed (cool!), and asked if I could try to create something with techniques that would not result in too much damage to the beads? ๐Ÿ˜’Apparently a question of cost and time running out. I tried. After all, Preciosa make tremendously beautiful photos of beadwork. (on the right). But it was not fun. Beading has to be fun. It may be challenging, but not for this type of reasons.



Later, I learned that other designers had received new batches to replace the bad one, and apparently they're much better, which is good to know.

But sometimes you need lemons to make lemonade! This is what happened.

Not wanting to keep these beads, I poured them one after the other on my beading mat without putting them back in containers. I made several things using coraling and fringing and the result was nice, but it was not really what I wanted to make. However, I ended up with a most delightful ocean of color on my tray and thought "gosh, if only I could keep it this way".


 That woke up the muse (fast asleep until then): Use Uncle Bob! The skull Ezra gave!!! Do like those who poor paint in water and tadam! Ooooh. That sounded exciting!

I had everything at hands to do bead mosaic but never really "dared" on my skull. "Something" was missing. Now I had the most delightful colors to create what I envisioned, and so I turned it into something I had never seen before:

Bead dipping!

And it was super fun!

 My inspiration came from an advertisement by Mercedes Benz that I saw in 2014 or so:

For the note: the finished skull should be called "Beaders Brain", but Uncle Bob is how my hubby called him years ago. Uncle Bob has made many appearances at Halloween, and now we cannot call him differently, even if he looks different now :) You will discover, if you read further, that he unfortunately doesn't wear his name well at all.

First I painted the skull with a special "concrete" paint. then I "mosaiqued" Pip beads into flowers on the skull, which I painted gold.

Then, on the left side, I added 'gold' foil, crystals in settings, cup chain and crystal mesh, to illustrate the left brain, the analytical and calculating brain.

On the right side, I added glue and then rolled the skull in the beads, starting with the jaw first. Well, that went well! So satisfying.So much fun!

Of course, after I did the jaw, I saw room for improvement and that was to mix the colors a bit more and include tiny forget-me-not's, and then I rolled the entire skull. 

There remained tons of little spaces to fill and I needed more glue (in a syringe), tweezers and a looot of patience to obtain the result I was after.

It goes without saying that I tried to add huge crystals, and other things (flowers, etc) to the eyes, but that looked really creepy! So I left them empty. One can imagine all sorts of expressions like this.

Of course I ran out of varnish when I needed it the most, because I was also running out of time. Bless the husbest who ran to get another spray.

I sent photos of the drying skull to Preciosa who said that they loved it. I wasn't sure so I preferred to ask. A couple of days later I posted my big box, which was quite an expensive matter, but in my mind, Preciosa's photos are worth an effort. With a sight of relief I now could lean back and look forward to seeing them.

But then............

The war in Ukraine broke out.

The box got stuck at customs.

I had given the correct TARIC number for a sculpture made with "other" materials but perhaps they thought that it was a real skull... It is a replica used for biology class after all, but still: the Swiss would not have accepted to transport it if it had been something not ok! They have "molecular sniffers" for this.

It took well 2 more weeks for this to be sorted, and so it didn't meet the deadline, but also, the advertisement team feared that it would trigger unhappy feelings and preferred to send it back without making photos. I explained that the whole project had nothing to do with death. It was a skull, ok, but it represented a beaders brain! I suggested making photos and let them sit in a drawer if needed. 

Well, skull came back but photos never got out of the drawer - if they ever made any. I have no idea about this, they never told me. When they finally published the first photos of the campaign, it started with a sweet collection for children, and a lovely fairy-tale-themed poster gave me hope for the Fall, at Halloween.

When they posted their Halloween photos past year, it included a skull, but not mine. I understood then that they wouldn't use it. December I wrote to them that without news, I would publish the photos of my work in January. 3 projects that I cannot talk about is just too much! Even 4 considering some designs part of my Muserie Workshop! 3 months have passed, it's nearly Spring, the Princess Check Pouch has been published in the meantime, and now I need to move on.

I can make collages with my GIMP too! And even if not perfect, I am quite happy with my efforts.  "Skull Stories" represents the idea that the skull landed on a pile of magical books amongst which one invited it to participate in various tales. It was an interesting exercise in using layers and transparency etc. It sure asks for a lot of time and in my case, starting over after too many errors, but I "got it".

Skull Stories

Skull design, beadwork, photography and digital composition by Cath Thomas 

Image of burning flames and books by Mystic Art Design. Image of globe by loulou Nash. Image of palace by Dorothe. Image of merlin by gagagart. Images of sitting and standing women by Dina Dee. Attribution was not required, but I think that it is only fair to thank all these talented artists for their lovely work and their generosity.

And if you feel like trying some bead dipping too, I highly recommend it. It's therapeutic.

I made the photos below with my brand new light box,













and a gif :)
Hope you like it    


Thank you for reading me!