Monday, December 25, 2023

A lovely end to a difficult year.

Looking back at it... it's been quite an 'annus horribilis'. Not very long after my MIL passed, my father left this earth too, short before his 92nd birthday. I didn't get a chance to see him irl one last time, although this was planned - but my husband ALSO ended up in hospital at the same moment, and nearly died - they nearly let him die and then saved him in extremis. He needed me here.

My dad with his partner An,
photographed by my MIL at her place.

My dad had a bad fall resulting in 2 broken ribs. The doctors decided against surgery because of his age, giving him no other option but going in a care facility, wearing a corset all the time, completely dependent. Although he didn't complain, I know that he would have hated that. He contracted a chest infection at the same time, probably Covid, and passed away. I could only see him one last time through Zoom......
I've decided to be grateful for these two things: that I could see him (he clearly recognized me despite his slowly progressing dementia), and that he didn't have to finish his life in a care facility, suffering every day, away from his friend(s) and family. I still have moments of pure frustration when I think about it. Life can be so mean. And then I think of what he always said "you've got to make something out of it somehow - and you do that so well, with your beads".

So I bead on. And thankfully, I cannot complain, beady wise. Rather the contrary. Beading is and will remain my life-line, my occupational therapy. It is also a way of creating bridges between me and you, so that it remains a source of joy. There is no fun in beading all alone. I'm grateful that there are still Zoom beading meetings.

Two projects that I love dearly were published this year in the Beadworkers Guild Journal, the Princess Check pouch & hounds tooth earrings and the Spindle Berries. The latter surprisingly ended up gracing the cover of the October Journal. Doesn't it look really nice?!


In May, my Polar Project got awarded the BWG Founder's Award in the Yearly Challenge which theme was Fur & Feathers. I learned recently that this kind of artwork is also called Craftivism. I like that!

I didn't include it in the challenge submission, because it would have been too long (we may only use a limited number of words to talk about our inspiration) but when I created my polar project for the Beadworkers Guild, I felt the urge to write this poem, which I didn't add to my already too long article about it:


Oh let me see
the frozen arctic sea,
where polar bears frolic in the snow,
and baby seals change as they grow
and watch Northern lights glow.

But not now.

Let me delight in the sight
of silent snowy owls in flight,
above a tundra covered with ice,
the frigid kind of paradise
for arctic hares to colonise.

But not now.

When I'm old,
may there still be this land of cold,
where each and every amazing creature
has a thick coat of feathers or fur,
to stay snug and warm
even in a bitter-cold winter storm.


In fact, Nanuq, Natsiq, Ukpiq and Ukaliq are a beaded poem. I am really proud of this project. I promised our lovely new Challenge admin, Elaine Wood, that I would send her a photo of me with this award. Instead of making another bad selfie, I decided to ask a professional photographer - Jo Simoes -, but the award took some time to arrive here and, believe it or not, my hairdresser succeeded to mess up my hairdo twice, so it had to grow a bit before taking an appointment. Then I caught covid and my hair nearly became too long. I nevertheless love the photo - styling and make-up myself, photography Jo Simoes:

Yours truly with the Guild's Founders Award

This year, again, I've done plenty of things that took a lot of time and which I cannot show. I wanted to publish more Muserie designs, and do Octavio, but I've got only one head and two hands... Last year was the same, so in 2024, I think that I will do things a little bit differently. Don't expect miracles though: I have an allotment in a communal veggie garden since short, and I love being there each time the sun is not around, which happened nearly too often this Fall. 

I could make the two necklaces below: a  spindle berries necklace & earrings, made for the jumper I'm wearing in the photo with the award, and a similar yet more Art Deco one, with olive branches, which is another piece I've been wanting to make since long. I hope to write a pattern for the olive branches soon, but the materials are hard to find, which might be really annoying for those who want to make the same piece. I am actively looking for substitutes.


I could also finish a "last minute" something that was waiting patiently for attention. Perhaps you  remember that I wrote an article about my new Puluz light box? (I still wonder how I could live without it.) Well, the first photo in that article shows a bead embroidered pendant with a lush fringe which I made within the framework of a Meet, Mingle & Make meeting of the Guild. I could not make it entirely to my muse's desire, so I promised to redo and show it if I could find more of the madder rose fire polished beads I needed more of. I could. And so here is the result.


Which one do you prefer?

The muse and myself prefer the new version because the fringe still has an arrow design pointing down, but also an arrow pointing upwards, like an elevator. And well, yes, it is sooo lush, and quite Art deco-ish and a bit of Art Deco is something that I like too.



Now could you please help me to choose an avatar for my future articles and blog posts, FB profile pic, etc? Jo Simoes's offer included two photos, so for the second one, I chose a to wear a dress, with my Thétis épaulette - my entry in the 2022 Guild Challenge. Here too, the jewellery was made for the dress.

I like both photos. Perhaps one for the winter season and one for the summer? Which one do you prefer?



The more I look at them, the more I prefer the one with the jumper. 

Note that I still had sparks in the eyes from the beautiful show of the Sokol Company who presented their absolutely wonderful adaptation of the book by Saint Exupéry, the Little Prince

When hubby and I caught Covid (our first time - we were really sick), it felt like this was a very bad ending to an already too hard year. I had to find something to change that to the title that you are reading above. So... still sick, I booked the seats to boost our spirits and beat the Covid. 

We beated it. We had a wonderful time. Husband was as happy as me. The video below gives a good impression of how lovely this show was:

We're still tired and taking it easy, but it's all good now!

2023, good bye!

And to you: thank you for reading me, for following me, for supporting me. 

I wish you all a wonderful Season, be it Christmassy or not.
Have a wonderful time and a wonderful start of the New Year. 

See you on the other side!


Saturday, August 5, 2023

Storage update

We had a great evening with the Beadworkers Guild on the Thursday Zoom meeting during IBW, when we talked about storage hacks. Not only useful, but so much fun was had. All the lucky attendants later got an email from Sylvia Fairhurst with all the links to the best storage hacks and solutions we knew of, including a link to my past article about the subject

Perhaps you will remember it? I had a larger space for my beading than I have nowadays. It now is a "handkerchief-sized studio". Hopefully I will soon have more space again. But the storage solutions, which also include many great tips from other beaders and designers, is still worth reading.

Now today, I have to show you what I chose for my numerous seed bead tubes, because back when I wrote "Bead organized", the solution hadn't been found yet. And boy, have I been searching and searching!!! Photo of the 10 trays in place:


I already had Kallax units (they were called Expedit back when I purchased them) and fortunately IKEA still sells accessories for these units fortunately IKEA finally sells clever storage accessories for these units. And they are compatible.

During one of the lovely Chloe Menage's Zoom meetings, she kindly shared her storage solution. She has a very big Kallax storage unit, and among other things, in there she had little trays adapted to the "cubes" and plastic trays. These trays were not real trays but boxes, of which she used both the box and the lid for trays. I immediately fell in love with it,because I had been searching for a better solution to replace my transparent A4 document tray tower that was getting too small for my growing seed bead collection, and also old and a bit damaged... and so noisy! Hard plastic trays are terrible, whereas this box is just the right material.

I could not be happier with the result. 

If you love beading and are interested in this solution, all you need is 

1 small Kallax unit

 1 or more inserts

4 or 8 more boxes from Weltonboxes (resulting in 8 or 16 "trays")


(sold by Westonboxes on their website)

and there you go!

 Happy organizing! 


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 😄. 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 😊

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... 😅
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. 😁

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 :)