by Vilma Dallas      

Designing with glass beads is easier than designing with precious and semi-precious stone beads, and a lot more fun, although I often combine the two. Just keep in mind that your objective is to make that special bead look good. Since glass beads come in an infinite number of sizes, shapes and colors, you are limited only by your imagination. It is helpful to know ahead of time the colors and color combinations you like best and also the general themes you prefer and that way you won't be tempted to buy a bead that, although beautiful, doesn't speak to you in that special way. Fine, but what if you've succumbed anyway to that siren call "Buy me, buy me!"? Well, believe it or not, sooner or later the bead itself will tell you what to do with it. You don't have to utilize it immediately - sit it around where you can see if often and if that doesn't do it, put it out of sight for a while. (even if it's a long while) And - - sure enough, most likely, when you bring it out again it will come to you as a bolt of lightning exactly what to do with it.

Quite often you see a beautiful bead being worn on a chain. This is fine for a temporary arrangement, but to me it says "I really love this bead, but I just couldn't think of anything to do with it". The beginning of designing for your special bead lies, unfortunately, in having a large supply of what I call accessory beads, smaller beads from 2mm to 6mm, a few larger, and many smaller, such as seed beads.

I have literally thousands of accessory beads and probably millions of seed beads. Now, you don't have to have anywhere near the size of my stash, but I rarely have to go out hunting for those smaller complementary beads to match or blend with my "special bead" because I usually already have it. This is where knowing your color preferences comes in handy because when you see smaller beads in your colors you can buy them secure in the knowledge that they will be used, if not today, then at least tomorrow. I see so many people at Bead Bazaars who have just bought a big bead and are desperately searching, to no avail, for other beads to match. "Accessory beads" are never expensive, so it's a good plan to collect some ahead of time. Speaking of matching, keep this in mind, they don't have to match !! People often ask where did I ever find those small beads to match the big one? Well, if you look really closely, you may see that they don't "match" at all, but there is a close color relationship that your eye has blended with surrounding beads so that they APPEAR to match. Marvelous things, our eyes. Of course, if your large bead has a blue in it with a hint of purple, you can't get away with using blue beads with a hint of green, but you can use blue beads that have either more or less of the purple.

Now, let's assume you have your stash and you've just purchased the most beautiful bead you've ever seen. What to do next? Well, most of the time, what I do next is to come up with a name for the piece. "A name?" you say, "what is this? This is not a painting!" Oh, yes it is, a painting with beads, even if it is only a single strand. Giving it a name to begin with will help to direct your choice of accessory beads and the shape of the piece. Sometimes I only have in mind the general theme and then the name comes later. If you can't give it a name by the time you have it finished, it probably does not have cohesiveness. A name could be something as simple as "Blue on blue", or something more evocative, such as "Guinevere's Gift". A necklace should either tell a story or create an ambiance. If it does that, people will continually be stopping you to comment on your beautiful necklace.

Now to actually start - - - first, I gather all the other beads I THINK I'm going to use and place all of them on the table or surface in front of me. There may be hundreds of beads or simply a sampling of all the beads I have in colors to match, blend or contrast. Be sure to include various shapes, sizes and differing textures. Include metal beds as well, although sometimes I use them and sometimes I don't. Now I KNOW I am not going to use all of the beads in front of me, but I don't want to limit my options, so they are all there. Looking at this collection, I begin to form ideas for combinations I "think" will look nice and also further my theme or story. Again I use the word "think" and not "know" since often what I think will look nice doesn't. So then I start to string the beads up. If I have arranged a pattern on the table that pleases me, I will proceed immediately to the permanent necklace using the stringing medium for the finished piece. If I am not sure, I will temporarily string it on nylon fishing line since that makes it easy to add or remove beads. Sometimes there are many changes to my original concept and if I am still not sure, I will string it all up on the fishing line and let it sit around for a while, looking at it from time to time till the final format has firmly jelled (which may or may not be the way it currently appears). Now, if all this sounds rather vague, it is not. I know there are rules that people use for combinations of shapes, for balance, for using the color wheel, but have you ever seen something that follows all the rules precisely and is "correct" but there is still something missing that you can't put your finger on? Well the thing that is missing is inspiration!

Now for the nitty-gritty - - what do I use for stringing materials? Mostly I use a 3-ply nylon upholstery cord.  Once upon a time, there was an article in Ornament about a woman who was considered a 'master stringer' and that was what she used, so I decided to use it also. Since it is 3-ply, if you need a thinner strand, all you have to do is separate the strands and have either 1-ply or 2-ply or left alone, 3-ply. And of course if needed you can double it, making 6 plies for a very heavy necklace. This stuff drapes softly and easily, it is much more pleasing to the eye than SoftFlex which I only use occasionally for very limited applications when I'm seeking a stiffened effect. Never, never use nylon fishing line for a finished piece - - it dries out and breaks. Never, never use cheap findings - they tarnish and ruin the appearance of your necklace and you either have to live with it or re-string your necklace with the quality findings you should have used to begin with. Brass is especially bad, in no time at all it turns dull and ugly. If you like the brass look, seek out bronze, it gives the same look and will stay good looking indefinitely.

I hope this has been somewhat helpful. The mechanics of construction can be found in any of a number of books, so there's no need to mention them here.


           click image to enlarge
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This is the start of a necklace.  The large lampworked bead is by Andrea Guarino who simply calls it "wire bead".  To me, however, it looks like some planet in a galaxy far, far away.  That, of course, would be much too long for a name, so it will be called "Stargate", after the TV show on channel 31.  It will be strung vertically, like a pendant with multiple strands of pewter charlottes and since I cannot imagine even a galaxy far, far away to be devoid of other heavenly bodies, it will also incorporate stars and asteroids and other dark planets with rings like Saturn. 

Of course, this is planning, and although these are the components I THINK I will use, others may or may not join the list.................


THANKS for the insight!
To reach Vilma call 303-469-1968


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