My Life With Beads
I have been making jewelry as a hobby for a long, long time. Since college. I don’t even want to tell you how long ago that was.
I got started by spending time with a friend. He was a geology student from Columbia and his roomate was dating my best friend. Therefore, he and I were thrown together quite often as our respective friends spent quality time together.
He had a little sideline business: he made strung bead jewelry and sold it at local rock concerts. He and I would settle down contentedly with frisbees full of beads and bottles full of beer and make necklaces, which he called “snecks” (snakes). He would then take them and sell them to drunk college students. I kept the ones I made. That was what got me started with the jewelry; then it was just stringing but later I got into beadweaving, wire work, metal work, chain maille and enamelling. It all started wtih the snecks.
I started dating a guy who played Ultimate Frisbee and that just went hand in hand wtih homemade jewelry. I always had a tacklebox of beads to put together at all the tournaments that I went to with him. Unless I had to play. Which was always a nightmare, and I longed to get my beads out instead.
I made necklaces and gave them away to my friends amongst the players, and sometimes their children. Other players did jewelry too and we would swap. I have an interesting collection of jewelry made by my friends!
When I moved to New Orleans I added lampwork glass beadmaking to my repertoire. I sucked at it, and I made the ugliest little beads ever but I got to learn the fun of playing with a blowtorch out on my bedroom balcony. I continued to make jewelry and one of my friends even found me a venue to sell some of it. I didn’t sell much. But it was worth a shot.
There was a bead store there that I started to frequent. I went to the French Quarter and made a friend who sold old African trade beads, which I bought in abundance. I also bought antique Mardi Gras beads, which were actually real glass beads from Czecholslovakia. I have a whole collection in a bin up in my attic.
When I moved to Atlanta for my first real job, I also had my first real money. I spent thousands of dollars at the local bead stores and hundreds more on lessons. I learned seed bead weaving, which is still one of my great talents and loves. I learned peyote stitch first, and by God, I peyoted everything that was vaguely circular that would sit still long enough to stitch it. I started taking classes from national masters who travelled from city to city teaching. I met a lot of big names and learned a whole lot of great stuff.
I moved to a small town in Alabama, to be closer to my parents since I got married and my husband and I planned to start a family. My jewelry making lay dormant for a couple years, since the nearest bead store was 45 minutes away, and I was occupied with my first house.
I picked back up the beading with a vengeance when I got pregnant though. I guess I feared (correctly) that I wouldn’t get to do it much once the baby got there. I made tons of pieces, both strung and beadweaving.
After my daughter was born, I picked up a new habit. I begin to attend the Bead and Button show, which is the largest retail bead market in the world, and which bosts hundreds and hundreds of classes from the finest instructors the world has to offer. I’ve been every year since A was born. The trip is a several thousand dollar proposition, since it lasts a week and two weekends, and I fill every single available moment with classes. I’m not going there to sit around, no way! At Bead and Button I picked up wirework, metalwork (in a primitive form) and enamelling.
I also taught myself chain maille from an online store called Urban Maille, run by a wonderful woman named Aislyn who sent out fabulous kits with great instructions.
For several years, I went to many local craft shows and sold my jewelry there. I even had my own tent and lighting and table setup. It was big stress getting all set up and broken down, but the part in between where you got to man your booth and sweet talk everyone who came by was a blast! My husband actually seemed to enjoy it too. I had to give that up when my partner and I had to go on every other night call because we had to fire our partner, who was a bonafide sociopath.
This last year I went through a beading frenzy and made many dozens of jewelry sets and many more dozens of earrings. I began to photograph them all and put them up for sale on Etsy, which is an online shopping system for artisan made goods. I must confess, I have not made all that many sales. My husband’s friend has been one of my best customers. I check Etsy every day to see if I have made a sale, and I very rarely have, but I keep checking. I keep adding new pieces in case something catches someone’s eye.
I have been enamelling everything that doesn’t melt or catch on fire, and putting the enameled pieces into jewelry.
Basically I have been a confirmed bead addict for the last twenty seven years, and I have loved every minute of it. I anxiously await the day that I can retire from my day job and spend all my time making and selling jewelry.