Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Multi-Faceted Challenge: Swarovski and WireKnitz in Bead Embroidery

UPDATE: I am pleased to announce that the piece I describe below won the competition!

Back when I started beading with patterns years ago, I used to substitute out crystals for other materials whenever I could.  I love beads that shine, gleam, shimmer, and glow, but the sparkle of crystals wasn't really part of my aesthetic.  Later, on a whim I decided to enter the Fire Mountain 2011 Swarovski jewelry design contest with my creation Night Queen's Crown, and in the process, ended up gaining a new level of appreciation for crystals.

When I saw that Swarovski Create Your Style was running a bracelet design competition in connection with this year's Bead and Button Show, I was excited for a new challenge with crystals.  As soon as the marketplace opened, I hurried around the showroom floor acquiring my individual beads from the participating vendors. Here's some of what I collected:

These faceted beauties eventually became part of this piece, titled Modern Baroque Cuff:

My boyfriend described the finished piece as "chaotic," my  mom thinks it looks "messy," and my sister kindly noted that it is "different from what you normally do."  It certainly is more busy and less cohesive than most of my work, yet I am personally quite fond of it.  While it isn't necessarily a complete visual success, competing was nevertheless a valuable challenge and I learned a great deal from the process, particularly about combining different materials into bead embroidery in ways that were new to me.

First, the piece had to be 80% Swarovski crystals, and when I pulled together my stash, I found that I mostly had bicones.  The shape of these beads make them fairly uncooperative for bead embroidery, but I did find ways to coax them into laying attractively on the foundation.  The that worked for me was to backstitch multiple rows with a little bit of room between each bead.  This allowed the next row to nestle in between. For curves, using graduated sizes created pleasing results.

However, the part of this challenge that I found most exciting and useful was my experiment using knit wire in the bezels for crystal rivolis.  At the Bead and Button Show, I stopped by and chatted with the helpful ladies over at WireKnitZ   I asked one of their sales reps about using their product in bead embroidery, but she didn't have any examples of that type of application.  I decided to pick some up anyway and forge ahead on my own.

For this piece, I was trying to find a way to use crystal rivolis as cabochons.  I remembered how the WireKnitZ products could be rolled up and wondered if it would be possible to make little "nests" for the rivolis.  I came up with this meandering design to start the cuff design:

The product is remarkably easy to form into different shapes and effects and is quite forgiving if you decide to manipulate it multiple times.  The circular shapes were the "nests," while I intended the sections of knit wire between them to peek through a richly encrusted free form bead embroidered design, serving as a unifying element that would run through the cuff.  I used a few stitches along each ring of knit wire to attach it to the beading foundation, making sure they just picked up some of the bottom of the knit so the thread wouldn't show.

 I then used a bit of E6000 adhesive to temporarily set the rivolis.  Once this dried, I did a standard peyote bezel, starting by working back stitch around the rivoli.  I stitched up straight through the knit wire so it remained visible around the base of each bezel.  I loved the way this looked, but sadly much of the knit wire around the base of each bezel got hidden as I stitched more beads onto the foundation.  I plan to try this technique again, but use seed beads around the base of the knit wire bezel so it remains visible.    You can see a couple of the bezels in this photo below:

I have more WireKnitZ left and am looking forward to trying this technique again, hopefully with more finesse and a better finished design.  Have any of you been experimenting with this product, in bead embroidery or otherwise? I'd love to hear about your techniques and what you've learned about this material.


  1. Entering competitions is an important part of goal setting for me and it looks like it works for you as well. Your cuff is a little unfocused, but not uninteresting, and I do not think we can make art without taking risks. Not everything works out the way we imagine it will. Good luck with your intended jewelry career!

  2. Thanks Marsha, I totally agree about competitions - I would not have done this one if I couldn't find a way to make it a productive experience in terms of taking the risks required for artistic growth.

  3. Wow, what a piece! Really makes me want to get better with my seed beading! thanks!

    1. Thanks Vera! I really love working with seed beads, I think they are my absolute favorite material to work with - seemingly infinite not only in color , cut, finish, etc. but also incredibly versatile.

      One of the ways I got better at working with seed beads was working with beadweaving patterns, but modifying them by substituting different types of seeds when possible. This helped me gain a deeper understanding of how they do and do not fit together structurally.