Designing beadwork is a metaphor for life!


I’ve recently had a lot of people contacting me to request a blog about how to start designing beadwork. Well, the funny thing is, if you’re human and alive right now (if you’re reading this, I assume you are!), you already know how to start designing beadwork. Is that a strange thing to say? Is that in any way helpful to you? Well, read on and find out…

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Explaining the design process

A lot of people seem to think that designing is something you have to learn how to do. So, if you are one of those people, you can cut straight to the chase and just take this online course. (Don’t be fooled by the title…the skills you will learn are valuable for literally any kind of beading project).

For now, let’s get back to my analogy.

I believe these steps sum up the design process:

  1. think of an idea you want to try
  2. take out the beads and try it
  3. if it works, great! If it doesn’t, modify it or scrap it

Now, if you are an aspiring designer and that gives you enough information, off you go and get designing! Please make sure to some back and share what you make…you can leave a comment at the end of this blog. Or, if you turn it into a pattern, add it to the patterns section in the beading directory so everyone will know where to find it.

If, on the other hand, you want a bit more detail about what those steps entail, keep reading… (And, I promise to explain why I’m offering the ‘life’ analogy!)

Cupcake beaded box pattern: an example of an idea in designing beadwork, Katie Dean

Designing beadwork starts with an idea

You probably managed to work this out! So, I’m guessing that your real question here will be one of these:

  • how do you come up with an idea?
  • or, what constitutes an idea?

I’m actually going to answer both those questions together. An idea can be anything that inspires you. It might be that you want to create an actual ‘thing’ out of beads. For me, one of those ideas was creating a cupcake. Another, creating a rose.

An idea can also be a desire to work in a colour scheme. So, it might be that you’re out for a walk and you see a field of poppies. Suddenly, you think, the red and green or red and gold (depending whether they’re in a field of wheat or a field of grass!), would make a great colour scheme. There, you have your idea.

On the other hand, it could be that you have bought a new outfit and you want to create some jewellery to wear with it. There’s your idea.

Rose beaded box pattern: another idea for designing beadwork by Katie Dean

The analogy with life

For a lot of people, ‘design paralysis’ takes place at this point. Are you one of them? Are you sitting there thinking, ‘that’s all very well, but I never have ideas’?

Well, think about your life. For most people, we start the day with an idea of what we plan to do. Maybe that’s a list of things we have to do to please others (looking after family, going to work). Perhaps it’s a list of things we want to do (beading, or gardening!). It probably also includes some items we have to do to survive.

My point is, as your day starts, all of those things are nothing more than ideas. You might call them ‘plans’, but really it’s the same thing. It’s something you think of that you want to turn from a thought into a reality.

Taking the next step

So, let’s follow that life analogy first. What do you do to turn your ‘plan’ into reality? If it’s something basic like doing the grocery shopping, you follow a set of steps that you already know how to do. Maybe you vary them from day to day. In this sense, I mean, maybe you go to a different supermarket. Probably the items you purchase are a little different each time.

Maybe one of your plans is to do something new. So, you don’t know exactly what steps to take to get there. Let’s say you’re planning to visit someone that you’ve never visited before. You might need to find the route to travel to get there. You might get lost on the way. Maybe you have to get a little creative in finding the route. Probably your first journey to this new destination isn’t going to be as straightforward as it will be next time you do it. But you’ll find a way to get there.

Valentines Cupcake beaded box pattern and kit, Katie Dean, Beadflowers

How does this translate into designing beadwork?

Well, if I’m going to elaborate on the process for designing beadwork, let’s use those analogies for starters.

Maybe your idea was to make a Peyote stitch bracelet using a different colour scheme. Well, that’s more like the first analogy. You know the basic steps: how to work in Peyote stitch and how to make a bracelet. So, the experiment you will be trying is working out the colour scheme and pattern.

What if, like me, you decided to make a cupcake? This would be more like the second analogy. So, you have an idea of the destination, but you’re not quite sure how to get there.

You would need to decide what technique to try first – rather like deciding which route to start driving. You would also need to decide which beads to use. Would Superduos, seed beads or delicas be best for this? Well, that depends on the idea in your head.

It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to make your cupcake first time around. But each time you go wrong, you’ll learn something new and get closer to your goal.

The point is, as with your new driving route, you’re going to give yourself the best chance of getting there, if you have knowledge before you start. So, that means knowing as many beading techniques as possible. Knowing what beads are available and what they’re like to use. You can gain this knowledge by ‘playing’ on your own, or by making designs from others.

But, be aware, if you do make a lot of other designs, don’t end up copying (either accidentally, or deliberately) those ideas! (You might want to take a look at the section on copyright here)

Margie Deeb: The Beader's Guide to Jewelry DesignClick here to get this book

Designing beadwork: the final step

As with life’s plans, not all beadwork design ideas are meant to ‘come good’.

The process of turning an idea into reality is often messy. Maybe you discover that your bead colours just don’t play’ together. Perhaps you realise halfway through that you chose the wrong technique to build your structure.

But sometimes, these ‘mistakes’ morph into other things. So, you might end up with a beautiful piece of beadwork…it’s just not the idea you had in your head when you started.

How often has that happened to you in life? You started with a plan to go to the supermarket, ended up bumping into a friend, had lunch instead, found you no longer had time to make it to the supermarket, so ended up with a scratch meal for dinner and pushed the supermarket visit back to the next day. Well, did you look back on your unplanned day and think how rubbish it was? Or did you have a great day – just not the one you planned?!

What’s my point here?

My point is, anyone can design their own beadwork. There isn’t some special skill that you need to learn. Most of it, like life, comes from experience, trial and error. So, if you sit there and ask someone to teach you how to design, it’s a bit like asking someone to teach you how to live.

Yes, I absolutely can provide you with a helpful framework to get you started. I can give you a list of skills you should learn. I can also offer you moral support as you go through this process. And, if that’s something you would value, then I strongly recommend you enroll on this online course.

But you don’t need to pay me (or anyone else) to help you start designing beadwork. All you need to do is take out your beads and start playing right now!

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