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Friday, June 30, 2006

Busy, busy, busy!

Phew, I just finished adding 17 wonderful website to UK Beaders and have updated the shops map with 5 more stores for you to visit!

Earlier today (OK as it's now the small hours it was technically yesterday) I posted details of our first group challenges, with a couple of wonderful UK themes.

The first was inspired by the queens 80th birthday celebration - The children's party in the palace. I watched the whole thing on TV and thought it was great fun. This theme allows lots of scope with many different creative avenues to be explored.

The other challenge is a bit more specific and involves using the colour red. Why red? Because of all the amazing British icons that are red including Routemaster buses, telephone boxes and royal mail post boxes!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Site updated - problem fixed!

Just a quick update to let you all know that I recently upgraded the site so now you will notice there are no adverts spoiling the site and getting in the way.

When you click on a link to any of the sites listed the site's address will show up in your address bar so you no longer have any problems in book marking any great sites you come across when using the UK Beaders site.

Friday, June 23, 2006

What Are We Doing? no. 4

Hiho, Silver!

I confess: I've strayed from the fold. But only slightly. I have paused in my contemplation of Things With Holes In Them, and started looking at shiny things that really are shiny.

It started because I wanted sterling silver ball-end headpins. I looked around, and finally settled on some that proved to be too thin and floppy for what I wanted them for. But I'd bought the big bag with 100 of them in it, so I had leftovers. I'd never bothered with sterling silver headpins before, so it amazed me how quickly I used them up. It was like they were made of chocolate instead of metal! I hadn't touched a headpin in years, but now I kept thinking of more and more things to do with them, and suddenly they were nearly gone.

When I'd been out shopping for them in the first place, someone showed me how easy it was to make my own. I could get all the supplies for under £50, including a torch! I'd had no idea I could get by so cheaply. But the process of cleaning the pins seemed very tedious, and I opted to wait. Now that I needed more, though, I kept coming back to the idea of making my own.

What finally tipped the scales was finding out that fine silver doesn't require cleaning - you melt the end, dip it in water, and you're done! The easy way to clean the sterling silver ones, of course, is with a tumbler... which I don't yet have. So considering the amount of time I could spend scrubbing my little friends, I thought the tiny extra price of the fine silver was worth it.

I made two batches: one in .7mm, one in .4mm. The .4 ones are so fine that they're very nearly useless, but not quite. 3mm stones and smaller will work on them - although I think I'm going to find pearls scare me least, on those. The larger ones are very nearly just too pretty to hide inside a bead!

But this has raised a dilemma for me - melting metal was fun. I liked the idea that I could control the shape, and then it would be permanent. I can't help hoping this is something I can keep doing and expand on.

Monday, June 19, 2006

What Are We Doing? no. 3

What Are We Doing? #3

I'm posting later than I expected. Sorry about that! But I promised to talk about some of my plans for the bead group I started in London, and while life has been overtaking my beading a lot, I think having some concrete goals keeps me from straying too far.

Most beaders would agree that they all have a secret goal of making a living by selling what they make. It's hard to know where to start, though, or how, or if you should, or who to ask, or... see? Once you start looking for questions, it's easy to get lost in them.

I thought that we could start simply. A logical first step seems to me to be to test the water and see what kind of reaction our work gets. I would like us to adopt a charity, and try to raise some funds for them by auctioning some of our work. I had originally thought this would be something we'd do some evening and make an event of it, but one of the group members suggested that having the auction online could give us a broader audience and possibly attract bigger bids. The charity I had in mind is Macmillan Cancer Support. Having relatives who need care, and knowing many people who have had cancer or had loved ones who did, I'm particularly in awe of the work of this group. If it went well, I'd love to make it an annual event, and properly adopt them as Our Charity.

The nice thing about a charity auction is that it would give us a chance to see what sorts of things people liked, what they bid on, what styles got interest, and all that kind of thing while freeing our brains from the mind games we play when selling for ourselves. "Well, those beads cost me £35, so I need that plus the time it took to string, and I had to buy crimping pliers..." "Ooo, if my necklace makes at least £200, I can afford to get away this weekend instead of staying home and watching paint dry..." and all that. Once you donate something to an auction, you're free to cheer it on with less personal pressure, and pay more attention without an attack of stage fright as your creative offspring goes under the hammer. Plus the money goes to a great cause, which never hurts!

The next thing I wanted to try after that was getting together to fill a table at one of the markets. There wouldn't be the pressure of having to generate a table-ful of stock all by ourselves, and display it, and cart it all by ourselves, and we wouldn't all have to be there all day. We could do it in shifts, and some people might not have to come at all. Again, we could learn what items brought people closer to the table to look, which actually sold, what prices people seemed to like, and maybe even see which markets fit our styles best.

After that, try a regular stall for a while, and if that went well, a shop! And of course there's the question of keeping track of the money through all of this. I would love to pool our resources, maybe having a fraction of each sale go into a group fund, and use the money to purchase tools for the group - things we might not buy on our own, like kilns, tumblers, torches, and so forth. And of course communal tools would need a home, so renting a studio somewhere would be logical - somewhere to keep the tools and focus on beading, and at that point of course we could have our meet-ups there!

These may seem madly ambitious, these ideas. But there's no point in having small dreams! If we never try, we certainly won't achieve anything. We might as well aim high, and just see how far we get!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What Are We Doing? no. 2

Last time at the bead group, I intended to start the Box of Uglies. It's hardly an original concept: go through my stash, take the beads I don't like, put 'em in a box and bring them to the group for other people to add their own rejects to and pull out any they want to use.

I'd started a collection of rejects a few months back when I had a big clean-up. The night before the group, though, I couldn't find them. I'd promised in quite a few places that I was going to have uglies, so I had to find something. I went through all of my drawers and boxes and bags and hauled out anything I thought I could bear to part with. I added a few more the next day, but it was a pitiful collection. A few ugly lampwork things from India - the kind you look at and know have never heard the word "anneal" in their little lives - a few chips of howlite dyed to look like lapis, some white glass rounds coated with an AB finish that will last three minutes after the pack is opened. That kind of thing.

And the truth is, they're not that ugly. They're just not durable. The dye will come off - it's not meant to be so thick it has an AB finish all its own. The India ones will crack, probably while the bead release is being cleaned from the holes. The white glass rounds will lose their AB finish in chips and flakes, and then look like little plastic balls from some cheap edging or braid. But while they're in the pack, they look, well, not ugly.

I've been racking my brain trying to come up with some excuse for why I bought these things, but there it is, really - they looked good at the time. I was just starting my stash, and was buying nearly anything. Even things like plastic beads that looked like metal, molded into huge southwest-style things that would go with bolo ties. And I really, really hate bolo ties. But I thought at the time that I needed a sizable collection of all one kind of bead to try some designs with. Practice beads, for experimentation purposes. True enough; but they were so ugly I could never bear to open the bag.

Now I've reached the stage where I know that bead release in the hole is not a good sign, dyes rub off, crystal will cut thread or, if not, it isn't very good crystal, and big-eye twisted needles aren't that much use for the things I do. But occasionally I find a blind spot yet. I sent some bracelets to some serious beaders as part of a gift exchange, and at my request one of them suggested areas where I could improve. Mostly this meant upgrading my materials. For example, I have some seed beads that are very irregular. I've always seen this as a good point, because it meant they were easier to fit around odd shapes like chips or other sizes of beads when doing freeform peyote. My complaint about them has always been their colours - they're regular, boring ol' opaque jobs, just a shiny finish. Not satin, not AB, not greasy, or anything else; nothing to hide the not-very-nice shade of green. I also have them in yellow (a particularly nasty, sickly, faintly greenish shade), red, and black. The red and black are all right, if boring and again with the odd shapes. But it turns out the irregular shapes strike other people as a problem, even more than the colour. I also used some clear glass ovals that looked like highly-polished beach glass, in a soft, sea-foamy, minty transparent green. But they had visible seams and were irregular, lumpy shapes, which again made them come off as seconds. Why did I never think that? I can only guess familiarity bred acceptance. I could see flaws in new beads, but any that had lived in my stash so long became invisible, even if I used them regularly.

I was always reading the advice, "Buy the best you can afford," but not quite getting it. When you're trying your first wrapped loops and they look like some form of semi-sentient spaghetti is trying spell something for you in ancient Sumerian runes, you really can't bear the thought of doing that out of silver wire next to a luscious pearl or sleek lampwork. So you buy base metal wire and turn your fingers green and end up with a bunch of earrings featuring plastic beads fit only for aliens, who will take one look at them and retract their ears into their heads in self-defense. (Aliens can do that, you know.)

The problem is you should start with the nice stuff. You really, really should. The worst thing that can happen is you'll end up with a wrapped loop that looks more like three blind men competing in their first-ever speed mummy-wrapping event. So what? The secret is that it's still gold, or silver, and all you have to do is snip it off and put it in a bag, and when you've collected a handful of screw-ups, you take turn them in to a jeweler. or mail them off, and they pay you for your scraps. At the very least, practice with copper. No one may take scrap copper, but if it works, it can still look good. Yes, it may still turn skin green, but it's a step up from using nickel, and if you practice, by the time your skin is green you'll be looking to move on to sterling silver anyway.

And as for the beads, again, they retain their value no matter how often they're reused. It's still lapis, it's still lampwork, it's still Bali silver, it's still a half-ounce of dichroic Delicas or diamonds or whatever it was before you stitched it or stuck it on a wire or thread. They're infinitely reusable. That is, if they were usable in the first place. Which brings me back to my task, which I'll have to go back to when I finish writing this - cleaning out the uglies. I have developed some bizarre fondness for a bag of ugly yellow seed beads. It's not a happy yellow. Yes, I do have hopes of doing a yellow necklace for sister who adores a particular shade of yellow, but this yellow is not it. She would recoil from these in as much horror as I do. But why weren't they the first things in the Box of Uglies, then? Do I feel sorry for them? Nostalgic, because I bought them in the US? Embarrassed that anyone else will see that I bought them? I can just about justify my unwillingness to throw out some of the other beach-glass look-alikes - some of the druks might work, and there are some triangular ones that seem nice, and yes I remember using them in a necklace for my mother, which she loved. Maybe mothers just love anything from their children, but there it is, and I have to live with it. Or rather, I have to live with the beads that I can't bear to get rid of.

My advice is to save yourself the trauma I'm going through - don't buy the uglies in the first place. You never know what you'll get attached to.