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Fashion Colorworks 2014. Flowering Bead World

        by Patricia Parker

Bead artist Patricia Parker

My name is Patricia Parker, I live in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, USA. My introduction to beads came during the summer weeks I spent at my grandmother's house as a child, a time that encouraged my love of needlework. She taught me embroidery, how to knit and tried to teach me to crochet. We made paper beads and I played with beads and her button collection while she sewed clothing and repurposed fur coats into stuffed rabbits and bears.

She also had beautiful flowers in her garden. When I was in high school I discovered seed beads at the local craft store and strung a cardboard loom with sewing thread. I made bracelets and barrettes for my friends and searched local stores and catalogs for more beads. I studied fine art in college and it was during that time I started making "drawings" out of beads.

The beads I use the most are seed beads. I like the way the colors interact, and how small differences like the color of the thread or combinations of beads can change the overall effect of the finished work. I like the similarity to pointillism when making pictorial weavings. The size variations help suggest ways to use the beads when I make dimensional flowers. Sometimes what I make is influenced by the beads I have and other times I buy beads in order to achieve my design idea.

I like to hike and I take many photographs of flowers, water, sunlight and trees. I make collections of images that have a commonality with my design idea and use them as a reference. Color is very important to me which is one of the reasons I enjoy the Fashion Colorworks competition. I like using flowers as an inspiration because their colors make an easy palette for any design. Purple and green are my favorite colors to use together, and there are so many different flowers to make out of beads.

Beaded jewelry by Patricia Parker

My favorite theme is nature, especially flowers, space, water and landscapes. I like to make either realistic or abstracted representations of these subjects. The artworks of Van Gogh, Durer, and Mattioli are some of my favorites. I also like the art nouveau style. I am easily influenced by the surrounding environment and I tend to work when I am alone or I get distracted from getting anything done. The area that I live in experiences pronounced changes in the seasons and I find myself working with colors that are similar to the time of year, the exception being winter when I need a colorful respite from snowy white.

Since I am a self-taught beadworker there has never been the restriction of right or wrong ways of doing things to limit my creative process. I also try not to look too closely at what other people are doing so that their ideas do not influence my work. I am not very good at following written directions but I can usually figure out how to make things through trial and error. I can usually see how the thread path needs to go logically to achieve the desired result, if not always on the first try.

Many years ago when my oldest daughter was a toddler I had the idea to open a bead store in a busy tourist town. I had a small business selling my beadwork, but more often people wanted to know where I had bought the beads. After so many times it seemed like maybe a better plan would be to sell beads. The demand was such that even having very little idea how to run a retail store I somehow managed it for four years, during which time I taught classes, went to bead shows and was generally involved in the beading community, at least at a local level.

After I closed my store I suffered from bead overload and I didn't really bead very much for 12 years until the spring of 2013 when I found myself with some extra time and a lot of beads. When I looked around at some magazines and the Internet and saw all the incredible things people had been making while I was otherwise occupied I was impressed and motivated. I started to make flowers because they can be simple or complex and offer the variety to use different stitches depending on the flower.

Beaded jewelry by Patricia Parker

Many days when I sit down to work I like to do "warm-up" beading like making basic square stitch chains or simple flowers. That way instead of wasting time trying to figure out what to make or how to proceed with a current project I am thinking while making things I can use later. Sometimes I find repetitive and simple beading very relaxing and other times it is tedious. By working a little each day on a base for a necklace or random pieces I find I end up with a finished necklace I hadn't planned on making at all.

Usually I work on three or four projects at once, in different sets of colors. The finished results tend to resemble one another but the change in colors helps keep me interested. Each piece I make tends to incorporate some aspects of the previous work while adding new ideas or techniques. I design as I work, even if I have made a layout that drawing usually becomes another reference and the end result is not exactly as planned.

I never chart my pictorial beading because I lose interest in making the actual piece by the time I have finished the drawing. Working with beads is relaxing. I like to keep it that way, if I think too much I get lost in the details and end up trying too hard and not liking the result. I find working with components easier than trying to make a one end to the other piece.

When I am working I try to move things along by taking small steps, doing what needs to be done; with steady work things eventually get finished, sometimes without my even being consciously aware of it. One of the flowers in my Summer necklace grew from a mistake. The red flowers are based on a brick stitch flower I made using a different starting row that made the petals twist.

Beaded jewelry by Patricia Parker

After playing with the unused sample, turning it around randomly in my hand, I realized it looked kind of like a carnation, especially if I extended the base and gathered the petals. I made a stand-alone petal to fill the center and cup for the base, and eventually I connected them together with a spiral stitch stem. I played with that beaded piece in a subconscious manner for a couple of weeks and one day it just occurred to me what to do. That's one of my favorite ways to work, when things practically design themselves.

My favorite colors are blues, greens and purples. I find that when I am trying to learn a new technique or figuring out how to do something it is much easier to learn when you work with colors you like, even if they are not the right colors for the end result. I search images of my design inspirations to get a feel for color. I also find objects that are the colors I am thinking of to help form my palette. I am picky when it comes to which colors I feel work together and I eliminate elements that don't work with the whole. I like to build the finished piece up by adding more components as I work and making samples out of different sizes and colors of beads, similar to doing sketches before working on a final drawing.

One of my favorite films, Shakespeare in Love, is an example of presenting something that seems so traditional in a fresh way and bringing new life to familiar themes. This is what I try to do with my beadwork. I am inspired by a flower or the colors of a sunset reflected in the water and I work from there. Sometimes the colors of beads themselves make me think of a certain flower and I then try to make it out of the beads. The search for the proper colors to use is never ending, and I usually gather together many more variants of a color then I end up using in my final design.

Beaded jewelry by Patricia Parker

My recent resurgence into bead working came about because my husband suggested that I sort through my existing collection and sell off beads I didn't want any longer. Even though there are a lot of those, I have only added to my stash since then. I have been beading for over thirty years, with varying degrees of involvement, but it has only been for the past year and a half that I have been making seed bead necklaces. I searched contests and discovered the Fashion Colorworks contest.

I loved the idea of using the color triads as inspiration and started a square stitch beaded picture. Most of my older work is flat, but upon viewing the gallery of entries from previous years my daughter suggested I needed to go for a more dimensional look. I started making flowers as a way to teach myself new techniques, much like I did with plants and colored pencils when I had drawing classes. I enjoy the challenge of making things I have never tried before, and there are many bead techniques I have not really explored.

One of the things I try to do is make things completely out of beads with no backing or base because I like necklaces to be as lightweight as possible. I remembered weaving wildflowers into chains and I tried to replicate that look in beads. Each flower blossom is made into a finished component with a bead to act as a buttonhole back. I was overwhelmed by loose thread ends and found that the flowers were much easier to attach that way. I like things as orderly as possible in my work and try to pay attention to details and because I don't like to undo things I have made I end up with as many flowers that I don't use as those I do.

Beaded jewelry by Patricia Parker

The contest deadline is great incentive for finishing projects and for working with beads every day. One of the things I like to remind myself is to not to fight with the beads. So many times I struggle to force the needle through a bead only to discover I have made a mistake that I could have prevented by stepping back and looking at what I was doing rather than pushing ahead. One of the reasons I enter contests is that it gives me direction, or at least a suggestion of what to make, if only by limiting the choices. I like to view each contest as I would a class I was taking, and make sure to follow the guidelines.

The challenge of completing the piece and submitting it is much the same as in school and I grade myself pass or fail by whether or not I managed to finish everything in time. It is also fun, without too much pressure. I think it's a great idea using the scoring rubric. I use that list of criteria as part of my project outline and it is nice to know what the results of the contest are based on. It also helps keep politics out of the voting process and allows the work to be judged on its own merits as opposed to having it compared and contrasted to many things that are completely different.

Working with seed beads always takes me longer than it seems like it should. Sometimes I can make a flower in a half hour, but usually it takes me twice as long because of knots or mistakes or interruptions. I can easily take over 100 hours to finish a necklace, but it is difficult to keep track the way I jump around between projects. I like to make the flowers and leaves primarily out of seed beads and NYMO thread, and I use Fireline for the base and to attach the parts. I like to use cabochons or larger glass beads as accents to the seed beads. I like all the different makes of beads for different reasons. The Japanese beads have large center holes and bright lined beads, and I like their triangle beads.

Beaded jewelry by Patricia Parker

The Czech beads have the permanent colors and the new shapes are interesting to work with. I have a huge bin of French beads, heavy on the pink and purples, that I like for the slight differences in color which allow for subtle gradations. I am constantly buying more beads than I need for a project because I am never sure which ones I will use until I start working with them. Then, when I have finished the one project, I realize I want to work with the beads I didn't get to use yet, and one thing flows into the next. I try to let myself be guided by my beadwork instead of pushing it to conform into a preconceived notion that wasn't properly thought out.

There are so many great bead artists that I have recently become aware of through internet interaction. I am inspired by all the floral designs I see, and awed by the knowledge and work that has gone into making them. I am partial to bead weaving and like things that are not too loud or controversial. I appreciate bead embroidery since I have a difficult time with that process. Most of the time I have limited design ideas when working with larger beads and crystals, and I don't think I will even try to crochet with beads. There is so much incredible beadwork being made right now that is all inspiring. One of my longtime favorite bead artists is Virginia Blakelock. Her amazing bead weavings were one of the early influences on my bead art.

Currently I have been working on some designs that don't involve flowers, things like freeform landscapes and curving, flowing lines in stylized patterns. I have started some bead embroidered space drawings which are at least colorful if nothing else. Every piece of beadwork I see, the more I realize is possible and the more I want to make.

My gallery on

About author:

Patricia Parker, Quakertown, Pennsylvania, USA

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