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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.

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