Bead Weaving or Off-Loom Weaving
Off-loom weaving, or weaving done without a loom, is a beadwork technique used to make earrings, necklaces, bracelets and other jewelry.
Materials are simple: needle, something (i.e., thread or cord) to string the beads on, stones and/or beads. Seed beads, made of glass, wood, seeds, pearls and other substances, are woven into either a two-dimensional "flat" piece or a three-dimensional shape like a cube, a tube or a ball.
Beads vary widely in size from the size of a pencil dot to the size of a quarter or larger. Beads can be uniform in size (i.e., 2 mm seed beads) or highly irregular (i.e., freshwater pearls, seeds, handmade from clay). Needles vary as well; they come with different size "eyes", or openings for thread, and different thicknesses. Depending on the thickness of the thread, the size of the bead hole, and the amount of space left in the bead hole after multiple thread passes through the same bead, one piece might use two or three different needle sizes. The thread or filament used to string beads or weave them into a pattern includes cotton or silk threads, cord, leather, and fireline (i.e., fishing line). All of those come in different thicknesses or strengths as well as different colors.
Bead jewelers learn many pattern stitches such as peyote, herringbone, and right angle weave. A piece can be made from one or a combination of several stitches.
An artist may create his or her own patterns, may use with permission patterns of others, or make work without a pattern, e.g., "free-form". In creating a pattern, the artist must consider how all the components fit together--has the right stitch been selected, do the colors work together well, do the colors express the pattern, have the best type of beads been selected, and so on. The craftsmanship of each piece is an important value of the artist: is it functional, does the clasp work, is it sufficiently reinforced, is it beautiful from all angles, and so on.
Bead by tiny bead, my pieces of beaded jewelry are carefully put together. Beaded work often involves complicated patterns and challenging color decisions; completion of pieces requires attention to detail and patience. Multi-layer pieces can take 40 to 60+ hours to complete.
Beaded jewelry has a fragile side to it. Many beads are breakable—glass, shell, clay. Beads are stitched together with thread—silk or cotton—or, in recent times, with fireline (yes, the same filament used for fishing line). Fireline is favored as having greater strength than thread and as better tolerating any accidental contact with water. Beaded pieces should be handled with care, should not be placed in water, and should not be tugged or pulled. I spend much time reinforcing my pieces to enable lasting wear. If a piece needs to be cleaned for some reason, use a barely moist piece of soft cotton (i.e., old tee shirt) and gently wipe the surface. If taken care of properly, beaded jewelry should last for years.
Beads are small decorative objects, in varied shapes, i.e., round, delica (tube), bugle, superduo, tila, diamond duo, and sizes, i.e., from very small (size 15 about the size of 0.7 pencil lead) to large (size 6, about the size of a drop of water), made of glass, shell, bone, ceramic, plastic, wood, pearl, metal, or other substances. They have one or more holes for stringing, weaving or embroidery.
The oldest example of bead jewelry is a pair of beads made from Nassarius sea snail shells, approximately 100,000 years old. As early as 2340 BC, glass beads were made in Mesopotamia through “core-forming”, using a metal mandrel through glass over fire. Beads were considered valuable: placed in burial tombs, used for trading, religious practices, and for precious gifts.
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