Monday, November 30, 2015

Re-Birth of the Sun - Winter themed challenge and Giveaway.

Winter Solstice Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
So today we're launching the last AJE challenge of 2015 and this month it's another of our themed events where we invite you to join us in designing beads, jewellery or decorative items inspired by a chosen subject and this month the theme is the sun.

Now that might seem a little strange when those of us in the northern hemisphere are cold and gloomy but the sun is actually very appropriate for this time of year particularly as we approach the the Winter Solstice on December 22nd.

"The winter solstice, the rebirth of the Sun, is an important turning point, as it marks the shortest day, when the hours of daylight are at their least. It's also the start of the increase in the hours of daylight, until the Summer solstice  when darkness becomes ascendant once more."

Throughout time many cultures understood the astronomical phenomena that divided their year into half light and half dark (and was so critical to their survival) celebrated the midwinter sun with festivals based on the need to preserve light and ensure the return of the sun. To ancient people it seemed that the sun may never return once it dipped below the horizon so they practiced rites to call it back and sought to capture it's light.

Around the world many ancient and sacred sites are oriented to capture the rays of the sun and moon at certain points of the year. The picture above shows the rising sun of the winter solstice as it shines through the carefully aligned standing stones of Stonehenge.

New Grange in Northern Ireland was originally called An Liamh Greine - the 'Cave of the Sun' and for a week either side of the winter solstice the sun shines through a narrow slot above its door and pours down an 80 foot passage into a chamber where it strikes the back walls and lights up intricately carved spirals and solar discs. The triskele, or triple spiral is a tripartite symbol composed of three interlocked spirals. The triple spiral is an ancient Celtic symbol related to the sun, afterlife and reincarnation. The light remains for approximately seventeen minutes and then fades again.
In ancient Egypt the sun was revered as a symbol of life and Re, or Ra, the Sun, was the chief of the gods and became the central figure of a reformed religion under the name Aton, bestowed by Pharaoh Amenhotep.  The early Egyptians believed that he created the world, and this is why the rising Sun was the symbol of creation. The daily cycle of the Sun moving across the sky represented creation and renewal.

Limestone carving showing Pharoah Amenhotep offering gifts to the sun god Aton
The Egyptians also used architecture to convey the significance of the solstice with the great temples at Karnack, Thebes and Abydos built in such a way as to focus the rays of the midwinter and midsummer sun directly into the heart of the temple enclosures.

Winter solstice sunrise at Karnack
Winter Solstice celebrations were also to be found in ancient America in the form of Soyaluna ceremonies held by Hopi Indians:

"The Hopi Indians traditionally believed that at the time of the Winter Solstice, the sun had traveled as far from the earth as he ever did. Only the most powerful humans could persuade the sun to turn around and come back to the pueblo. The purpose of Soyaluna, which is still held among the Hopi who live on the mesas of Arizona, is to prevent the disappearance of the sun at the time of year when the days are at their shortest.

The main ceremony takes place in the kiva, a large, circular underground room that can only be entered by climbing down a ladder through a hole in the ceiling. Hopi priests prepare the kiva by scattering cornmeal around the floor. On the west wall of thekiva, a stack of corn serves as an altar, surrounded by stalks and husks. Each family has given some corn to make the altar. At the solstice, everyone assembles in the kiva for rituals designed to bring the sun back for another agricultural year."

Hopi Sun characters symbolize life, growth, strength of spirit, and abundance and most Hopi accounts of creation centre around Tawa, the Sun Spirit.

Hopi Kachina sun spirit - by Linda Henry

So as you can see the sun and it's rebirth at midwinter have been hugely important across time and many cultures so it seems like the perfect inspiration for a bit of modern day creativity don't you think? We'd love you to join us and take part and here's how...

Theme challenge details

1. Giveaway- This theme challenge DOES include a giveaway! ( This will vary each time.) I will be giving away these two ceramic sun pendants to two winners selected randomly from comments on this post. The pendants are porcelain stoneware, glazed back and front and decorated with lustre.
  • Winners selected Thursday December 3rd.
  • You must have an active blog.
  • Please leave your email and blog address in the comments

2. Goal - Have fun! Try something different! Be inspired to make something that fits within this theme. This can be an artist bead, a component, or a finished piece of jewellery or decorative piece.
You are free to use any artist bead/component in your design, from an AJE team member, of your own creation or from another artisan bead maker...

3. Share/Reveal - Due to the holidays the reveal date for this challenge has been extended to Sunday January 10th 2016

If you would like to be included in the blog reveal on the 10th, please private message me (Lesley) via Facebook  Since this is open to all, this is the most efficient way to be included. Messages need to be received by January 8th to be included.

if you're are looking for components to inspire your designs I will also have the following selection available in my Etsy shop...

And Caroline has some new designs available in her shop too...

I hope this leaves you raring to take up the challenge...I'll be back with some more inspiration before the reveal date and in the meantime I'll be looking forward to seeing some sunny creations to warm up my January!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Component of the Month November - The Reveal

Lichen Cabochons

I've been waiting excitedly all month for today, the reveal day of my Component of the month challenge. The AJE Team plus special guests were each given the choice of a lichen pendant or cabochon to create with and I'm bursting to see what everyone's made... I hope you'll join us in the hop!


Friday, November 27, 2015

We Bead Thankful

At this time of year, a person can't help but think about the things they're thankful for.  Friends, family, food, safety, shelter, courage in times of know, all that good stuff.  While pondering all the change in my life in the last couple of years, taking time to just be thankful is heartening and mildly overwhelming.  And though it may seem unimportant in the overall scheme of life, I am so incredibly thankful that beads became such an integral part of my life.

I knew I couldn't be the only beader that felt this way, so I asked my beady friends, and have come up with a list of reasons that we are thankful for beads.  I hope that these sentiments resonate with you as well!  Take a few breaths away from the festivities to ponder...why we bead thankful (in no particular order):
10) Concentration - How many times have you been beading/making beads/sketching designs and someone starts talking to you?  Do you even hear them?  I am thankful that beading has helped hone this laser concentration focus, as I am able to apply it to all aspects of my life.  At work, when the department is in a flurry of activity and phone calls, I am able to keep one ear tuned for my name, and the rest of my attention on my projects.   Beads are the reason I can concentrate when a chore or project really needs to get done.
9) Determination - Ok, I will admit this publically, I can be a perfectionist - it is really hard for me to overcome what I perceive as my shortcomings.  However, when I am not good at something new the first go, I am thankful that beading has taught me the determination to not give up.  I remember the first time I tried to teach myself peyote did not go well AT ALL.  I actually gave up and put the instructions aside for several months.  But I was determined to learn the secrets of this stitch, came back a few weeks later and made another stab at it.  Nope!  Studied other instructions (this was all before internet tutorials) and finally had success!  Recently I have been applying this determination to the ballroom dance classes we've been taking...learning movement has always been a challenge for me.  However I keep trying, and am starting to feel and SEE the improvement now...Thank you beading for the determination to continue.
8) Challenge - Speaking of things that are challenging...I am so incredibly thankful that beading has taught me to seek joy in challenging myself.  After all, without challenge, art becomes stagnant. Challenge yourself to learn a new stitch/technique/media.  Challenge yourself to make something you didn't have the skills to create a year ago.  Part of the reason challenge has become so integral to my beading mindset the last few years is because I have had certain techniques mastered for quite awhile.  I have challenged myself to explore the more conceptual realms - such as how I use color, shape, texture, and scale.  This has helped me to discover and grow beyond my own self imposed limitations as a beadwork artist.
7) Mindful Relaxation - Beading is my meditation.  If you are not familiar with the concept of mindfulness, I highly encourage you to read this book - it's an incredibly applicable introduction and lesson plan on the subject.  However, I suspect that as you learn about mindfulness, you will come to the conclusion that some aspect of your bead process is a natural meditation for you as well!  I am never more present in the moment than when I am in the middle of a large project.  I am able to turn off my thinking brain, and just be...just breathing and beading.  Thank you beadwork for creating peace in my mind, a way for my brain to recharge, a time for me to simply be.
6) Coordination - As a whole, I have always been fairly clumsy.  This is part of the reason whole body movement (sports/dance/plain old walking) can be challenging for me.  But beading has taught me great hand/eye coordination.  This has lead me to excel at typing, paper shuffling, and many other real life job skills.  While I might trip over my own feet or fall up the stairs on a regular basis (yes, UP), I can thank beadwork for my fine motor skills.
5) Gifts - Who doesn't love giving someone a gift?  I love being able to watch someone unwrap a gift, see the appreciation on their face, and knowing that you were able to make them feel that with a simple gift.  I am thankful that my beadwork habit means there is a large stash of gifts at my fingertips.  Find out a coworker's birthday is tomorrow?  No problem, choose a pair of earrings!  A good friend's birthday coming up?  That's when I really have fun...I love nothing more than creating with a specific person in mind.  I am constantly observing the people in my day to day life (family/friends/coworkers), cataloging their preferences in accessories and jewelry, keeping a mental list of who might like what.  When you make something specifically for someone, they inherently know how much time and energy you put into the gift.  Handmade just means MORE, and I am thankful that I can use my skills to make someone feel appreciated.
4) Sharing - There are so many ways to share your passion and knowledge about beads and beading, each one of them rewarding in their own way.  I love teaching people to seed bead that have never picked up a needle and thread before - to see their delight when they have a sample or the beginnings of a project in their hands makes me happy.  I love talking to people about how universal beads are, how integral to the "human condition", how beads connect us to our earliest ancestors and to cultures around the world.  Nothing delights me more than hearing someone say, "I would like to learn that - it looks like fun!"  Whether you are simply sharing your insights/tips/tricks with other beaders, or actively teaching someone who has never beaded before, we can thank our beads for this connection.
3) Artists - Beadwork gives me a connection to other artists, in any medium.  I know people all over the world that are world class leatherworkers, quilters, embroiderers, glass artists, potters, woodworkers, painters, sculptors, etc.  On some level we all understand what the other person goes through creatively - the hours of R&D that lead up to their current mastery, the time that went into creating the particular piece you are looking at, the particular aesthetic of each individual artist...we get each other.  One of the best conversations I ever had with another artist, was with my friend Bob.  He is a world renowned leatherwork artist and instructor - we spent an evening digging through my jewelry boxes talking about all that goes into a piece: technique, time, and soul.  It is the same for his work - each piece of Bob's is a reflection of his refinement of general techniques, years of practice, and his desert rat hippie soul.  I can thank beads for allowing me to connect with other artists on this ya Bob!
2) Creative Outlet - I do all kinds of arts and crafts.  I am never happier than when I'm up to my elbows in a project, digging through materials and supplies, letting my right brain have free reign.  Over the years I've tried lots of things, put beading aside for a few months, while I exercised a new found crush on some other creative project.  But I've always come back to beading - it's the only creative outlet that has stuck with me through everything.  For many people, beading is their first and only creative outlet.  I am thankful that beading can be a creative outlet for me and so many other people.
1) Friends and Community -  Speaking of bead people...This is absolutely the number one reason I am thankful for beads.  Over the years I've worked at 4  bead stores, taught classes and cultivated new beaders, and been absorbed into real life and online bead communities.  I am thankful that beading has brought so many amazing lifelong friends into my life.  One of the best things about making friends with bead people is that you already know you speak the same language of creativity, color, technique, and generosity.  Everything else you have in common is bonus!  If not for my online bead friends, I would not be here sharing with you now!  The Art Jewelry Elements blog and our fantastic contributors are what got me back to blogging after a 4 year hiatus.  The last year of coming up with things to share with all of our readers has been challenging and rewarding.  Thank you all for being a part of my bead community.

I hope you all had a fantastic and love filled holiday.  Please tell us how you bead thankful!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

3D Printed Beads

3d printers are huge right now.  People are creating all sorts of things with them, everything from food to household items, medical devices and so much more.  Just google "What can you make with a 3d printer?" and you'd be amazed at the things that will come up!

My husband built a 3d printer, gave it to his brother and then purchased another one (he's working on building another at the moment).  I wondered what it would be like if we tried printing beads.

Our M3D printer from
Our particular printer works in two different types of plastics.
Spools of PLA 
For making our beads, we are using spools of PLA (polylactic acid).  This is a biodegradable plastic derived from renewable resources.  This type of plastic is popular for making prototypes and comes in a wide range of colors.

Running the printing software
In order to print, you create what you want using design software (google sketchup).  Then you take what you designed and process it through a software program called a "slicer".  This takes the object you designed and cuts it into many tiny layers that the printer can print.  Once this is done, you run it through the printing software that turns your design into a 3D object.

Before you start to print you must first heat the tip of the printer head and then insert the plastic until it comes out the other end of the extruder.  Then you are ready to go!  As you can see in the above video, the printer first creates a base for the object to be printed on top of.  

Here you can see the bead starting to form.  Think of it like icing on a cake.  The plastic is being pushed through the extruder and then builds layer upon layer.  Instead of icing, it's heated plastic that will cool and form into a solid object.  

Plastic bead in progress
Once the object is complete, you can remove it from the printer.  The base is removed by popping it off with a sharp object (Xacto knife).

Finished low resolution bead
For this bead, we ran it in low resolution so it's pretty rough.  You can print your objects in higher resolution and then do some clean-up work to them.

This particular design came from Thingiverse.  Thingiverse is an open-source site from MakerBot where people upload their designs and share them for free.

If you'd like to learn more about 3d printing, then check out MakerBot.

Happy Beading!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bead retreat + Beach retreat = Bliss

Dunes at Dewey
Beads and the beach? Beach combing? Hanging out with friends old and new? Stitching and shopping? Sign me up! 

And so it happened that three of us ( Diana, Jenny and Sue) arrived at Dewey Beach DE for the final Bead My Love retreat of 2015. I had attended last year (my post is here) and loved it! The beach off season is gorgeous, spacious and just as stunning than in summer time. Sue greeted Diana and I with the picture (above) while we were still on the road. 

Meg and Moggie host multiple retreats during the year, spring and fall/ weekend or weekday. Included in the registration are some meals, a few perks, instruction, an outstanding project kit... Camaraderie, friendships, relaxation - all free with the package. ( Bead My Love site for details) The retreat welcomes all levels of seed bead experience, and everyone is bound to learn and be inspired! 

My view across the table! Love it! 
Sue at work - and the progression of her piece from kit to halfway completed. 
Susan: I loved taking this workshop because, first, I got to hang out with Jenny and Diana and I don’t have any beady friends here in Pittsburgh. I loved this workshop second because I never have time where I can just sit, spread out all the beads, and be creative. This gave me uninterrupted time (except for talking with beady people) to just create, and not worry about what’s the plan for dinner or having to be anywhere! Meg does a great job teaching and is available for questions and demos the entire workshop. It was a lot of fun and I would definitely do it again!

Diana's kit, learning peyote, and the progress steps in her fab scarab piece. 

Diana: The Bead My Love bead retreat was wonderful! One of the great things about this retreat is the relaxing, pressure-free environment in which you get to create. There was no set project so you picked a kit and created your design from start to finish using your imagination (and massive supply stash). Everyone was friendly and encouraging and it was fun watching their projects take shape. The best part of this retreat though (besides finally learning peyote bezel), was getting to spend time with my friends just beading and beach combing. I hope to take another Bead My Love bead retreat in 2016!

Jenny's workspace goes from organized to jumbled as a few different projects take shape. 
Jenny: What can I say that they haven't already said? I do quite a bit of bead embroidery these days and I relish the retreat as a place to play, to learn, to experiment, and to relax. It was great fun to have a beady sleep over at the family beach house! I feel energized and tired, with new ideas percolating. 

There were beach walks and beach combing. 
The off season rates/ retreat pricing are quite reasonable, but we three stayed at my MIL's beach house. Pretty nice, huh? We took advantage of the beach whenever we could! And we were gifted with great weather!
Diana's found treasures, Jenny's impromptu found bead dish, Sue's finished piece!, Jenny planning yet another one... 
 Dinner out in Rehoboth Beach, DE - great seafood! Great fun! Then the next day? More beading, its a win-win situation.

Dinner? Seafood? yes! 
 I knew many of the attendees from last year's retreat. Lovely to see new friends again and what they are up to... Simply walking around the room and viewing other's WIP was inspirational. Everyone is ready to share a technique, offer ideas, and discuss.
We loved seeing our friends and colleagues cabs! Can you spot a Lisa Peters cab? A Staci Smith polymer pair? And a Celtic cab by yours truly.
Diana, Jenny, Meg our hostess, and Sue. 

And now we are all home. Unpacking our loot, finishing our pieces and starting anew. I mss them already! Until next year... bead all the things!

Goodbye ocean... until next year. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Crescent Flower Tutorial

I had so much fun creating this piece I just had to share it.  And for those of you who read through to the bottom there is a surprise announcement.  So without further ado I present you all with my Crescent Flower Tutorial.

Materials list:

  • Czechmate Crescent beads 
  • Rounduo beads - Potomac Beads 
  • 15/0 seed beads 
  • 11/0 seed beads

1) Pick up 8 11/0 seed beads.  Form a circle by passing though only the first bead added.  You will be making several passes through.
2) Pick up 1 11/0 seed bead and pass through the next 11/0.  Continue all the way around for a total of 8 beads and exit through the first bead added in this step.
3) Pick up 11/0, 15/0, 11/0 and pass through the next up bead creating a picot.  Pass through the next three beads and repeat all the way around.
4) Exit the next three beads in base circle.  Repeat step 3 adding picots on top of first picots. 
5) Weave through beads to exit top 11/0 in top picot.
6) Pick up 15/0, Crescent and 15/0.  Depending on which way you are stitching will determine how the crescent sits you want the points facing inwards.  Go through the 11/0 in the bottom picot.
7) Pick up 15/0, go up through crescent
8) Pick up 15/0 and pass through top 11/0 at the beginning of step
9) Go through all the beads just added to reinforce. Weave through beads to exit top 11/0 in next picot set.
10) Weave through to exit bottom 15/0 of picot.
11) Pick up 2 11/0 and pass through 15/0, 11/0, 15/0 of next picot.
12) Repeat step 11 and exit first 2 11/0 added.
13) Pick up Rounduo pass through 2 11/0 on opposite side
14) Pass through second hole of rounduo and through first 2 11/0 beads.  Repeat to reinforce.
15) With thread exiting rounduo pass through 2 11/0 beads on the side and repeat to reinforce.
16) Weave through to exit second hole of round duo and repeat step 15 on opposite side.

The next steps are for attaching the flowers.

17) Weave through beads to exit back side of crescent 15/0.  Pick up 3 11/0 creating a picot, weave through to exit middle 11/0
18)  Pick up 8 11/0 and pass through starting 11/0 and next two 11/0
19) Pick up 11/0 and pass through next 2 11/0
20) Repeat step 19 adding 3 new 11/0 as "points" pass through the last 2 11/0 skipping the "point beads" weave through to the top 11/0
21) Pick up 11/0 pass through the 15/0, 11/0, 15/0 in next flower.
22) Pick up 11/0 and pass through "point" 11/0 in first flower.  Reinforce and knot as desired.
I hope you enjoy this tutorial.  I have decided that I love playing with beads so much that I will be making and sharing more of my original designs with you all.  Let me know what you think of this design and if you would like to see more.  I would like to get you as addicted as I am to weaving with cool beads.

So I promised a surprise.  I was approached by the folks over at Potomac Bead Company and they will be making a YouTube video of this design.  I can not wait for that and as soon as it is up I will let you know or you can click the link to subscribe.