Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I've Come Unstrung...

aka... MaryLou's Misadventures in Bead Crochet. And it's not so much me that came unstrung as my latest bead crochet project.

It began with a request from a very special customer who wanted to have a bead crochet lariat with a row of pearls in it. The request was for the row of pearls to be in a straight line - if you know anything about bead crochet, you know that it naturally spirals as you crochet, so putting something in a straight line requires a special kind of pattern.

The rope was also to use two shades of 22k gold delicas, beautiful matte finish beads that are very similar in color but have just enough difference to be interesting.

So off we go. I didn't have any bead crochet software, so I used my old standby for making quick graphics - Microsoft Powerpoint. (I've used it for years to do all sorts of things for which it was never intended.) I began laying out the design, and as I played around with some different concepts I thought a pattern of diamonds made from the gold delicas would look nice. I eventually wound up with this:

Looks like a viable pattern, doesn't it? The two shades of gold (which don't have that much contrast), with the dark blue showing where the pearls will go.

The next step in the process, because I know that the spiraling effect of bead crochet can result in some surprises, was to print that out on paper and wrap the pieces around a pencil, lining up the edges of the beads to make sure the pattern didn't go wonky. I was very careful to match up the beads when I made my paper model, and I was so excited to see that everything lined up perfectly!

Having completed those steps and received a big thumbs up from the customer, I proceeded to write out the stringing order for the rope. Bead crochet, you see, requires that you string all the beads for your project before you begin crocheting. And when you string the beads, you don't string them from left to right / top to bottom like you would typically work in other techniques. You string from left to right and from bottom to top. The last bead you string is the first one you crochet, and with a repeating pattern you have to make sure you start at one point in the pattern and end at the same point so you have a continuous design (well, in this case I have to do that because the ends of the rope will be joined in an invisible join).

So I wrote out the stringing pattern (B for bright gold, A for dull gold, X for pearls): B 2A 2B 2A B X 2A 3B 2A 2B 2A 2B 2A B A B 2A B 2A B 2A B 4A B A X A B 3A B 4A B 2A B 2A B 2A B A B 2A 2B 2A B B 2A B X B 2A 2B 2A 2B 2A B A B 2A B 2A B 2A B 4A B 3A B A X A B 4A B 2A B 2A B 2A B A

Fun, right? All of that stuff before the first bead is strung.

But now I have the pattern written out, so I pour out the little piles of delicas onto my beading mat and separate the pearls (the customer purchased them and had them sent to me, but I can't use all of the ones in the strands because some are too large for this project). Thread the needle with my Coats and Clark heavy duty nylon upholstery thread, and I'm off!

See anything wrong with the process so far?

I didn't.

It wasn't until I had completed the 12th repeat of the pattern, having strung 1536 beads, that I happened to notice that the spacing between the pearls in one section of the pattern was UNEVEN. That can't be. There should be the same number of beads between the pearls every time, or they won't wind up in a straight row.


That was Sunday night. I looked back at the pattern, looked at the beads, looked at the pattern, counted, recounted, and decided I needed a night's sleep and a fresh mind to figure it out. Monday morning dawned with pouring rain, the perfect weather for sitting down and focusing on a problem. I came to realize that I was off by a row -- instead of 33 beads between each of the pearls, I had one instance of 25 beads between the pearls in each repeat of the design. It's an 8-around pattern, so I had to figure out how to alter it to add those 8 beads back into the design so the pearls would line up like little soldiers.

Back to my Microsoft Powerpoint, back to fiddling around with the design, and I finally have it! The pattern is still symmetrical, but it's slightly different now; and this time I know it's going to work.

The unstrung part? Yes, you can take that literally. I had to UNSTRING those 1536 beads I had strung before and sort the two shades of delicas back into their little piles. I'm lucky to have good eyesight, a good task light, and just a touch of OCD. Really. Just a touch.

Now it's time to get back to stringing. One last picture, though. This is a little bracelet I made for that same wonderful customer... this one using rondelles in the pattern (no design in the delicas though). This one presented its own set of challenges, as the holes in these tiny little rondelles (which are only 3mm in diameter) were so small that I had to thread each one like a needle. I couldn't fit any of my beading needles through the holes, and the thread I normally use wouldn't even fit, so I strung these onto 10# Fireline. I have to say that crocheting with the Fireline wasn't too bad, although I still prefer the nylon upholstery thread.

Time for more stringing now. I've done 10 repeats of the pattern so far, with about 140 repeats to go... or as many repeats as I can do before I run out of pearls. :-)

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