Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Challenges of My Sea Adventure: Technicolor Tide Pools Necklace

**I am pleased to announce this piece won in both the public and team polls for the August Etsy Beadweavers Team Challenge, themed "Sea Adventures."  Photos of the piece are featured on the Team's Facebook page and you can learn more about the voting results on the team's blog.

Last week I wrote about losing the first version of this necklace in a lake and the hard lessons that accompanied that experience.  It was a particularly painful loss because this design had required multiple innovations and experiments with techniques, bead types, and stitches.  This week I'd like to share with you the techniques I developed and the inspiration behind them.  The in-process photos shown below are from the first version of the necklace...

When I was young my family made an annual trip out to Roseburg, OR to visit my grandparents.  Each year we would make a side trip to explore some of Oregon's natural beauty, and many years we visited the coast to see the dramatic, rocky coastline, watch the sea lions, and explore the tide pools.  Working on this piece brought back many fond memories of those trips and that feeling of awe when I caught my first glimpse of the strange and alien creatures that inhabited the tide pools.  I designed this piece as an abstract amalgam of the colorful anemones and spiky sea urchins that inhabited those tide pools.

The idea for this necklace emerged after a couple weeks of thinking about the August theme for the Etsy Beadweavers Team's monthly design challenge, titled "Sea Adventures."  At first I thought I would do something evocative of waves by reworking one of the many incomplete pieces littering my studio, yet I didn't find any of these particularly compelling.

I had started to give up on competing in the August challenge when inspiration struck.  I had just purchased this beautiful turquoise faux suede cord and was trying to pull together some supplies to experiment with this new material.  Here's what I came up with

 As I collected materials to build the color scheme, the agate spikes and dyed howlite spikes made me think of the sea urchin spikes in my collection:

All of a sudden, I had a design idea for the competition!  I came up with this quick sketch:

The actual urchin spikes seemed too literal for the piece; I prefer a more abstract interpretation, so I decided to stick with the more colorful agate and howlite spikes.

At this point, the challenges shifted to execution.  I started with the central urchin by capturing the largest carnelian cabochon with a peyote bezel.  I stitched in the ditch around the bezel to give it a textural feel and added visual richness.

I then began adding the spikes, working around each one with a similar bezel.  This proved to be difficult, because each new spike seemed determined to catch and tangle my thread.

After getting three done, I realized that I didn't like the angle of the spikes at all.  The result looked more like a bear paw with long claws than a sea urchin, and the angle of the spikes was going to make the piece awkward to wear. 

After much deliberation, I took the bold step of cutting the pieces apart.  I decided I would try to create a sloped section of bead embroidery around the cabochon to set the spikes off at an angle.  I haven't seen this done before, so I had to experiment.  I settled on using multiple layers of beading foundation.  I discovered that by edging new layers with brick stitch before adding the next layer, I could create the slope I was looking for.  Here are a couple images of the process, showing how I constructed the angle. (Sorry about the photo quality, I was working on this piece on a road trip and didn't have the best lighting conditions!)

I continued working in this fashion until I had constructed a large enough angled area to attach the agate spikes.  And to my great fortune, it turned out that the rounds of beads I had stitched in the ditch on the cabs and the spikes interlocked, offering an effective and visually pleasing way to attach the spikes and integrate them into the design:

I was also quite pleased with how well I was able to make these angled spikes interlock between the components:

Now it was time to start attaching the graduated howlite spikes along the edge.  This also posed a challenge because I wanted these spikes to lay flat, not flop forwards or get caught behind the rest of the design.   I found that by using the new two-hole beads I could construct a net around the base of the spikes that holds them in place: 

I was very pleased with how well this construction worked out.  As you can see from this composite photo of the second version, it keeps the spikes from flopping forwards, yet allows them to fall backwards to some extent so that they can contour the body when worn:

I'm very pleased with the results, and although I was initially devastated by the loss of the original, I think I improved the design with the second version.  It is currently for sale in my Etsy shop and I am hoping to do other sea urchin pieces in the future featuring different color schemes and arrangements.


  1. I think this is absolutely wonderful!!! As a former EBW Team member, I believe you achieved the theme perfectly. (I voted for you by the way. I hope you win.) Sloping the material and beads the way you did is truly ingenious. Thank you for sharing. I've discovered your work recently and am in love.


    1. Thanks so much Tamara! Coming up the idea to slope the bead embroidery was no easy feat - I think I spent about 3 hours ruminating over what to do during a car trip :)