The UBC Beading Edition: Another Pretty Beaded Thing!

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about my love – and frustration – for wire wrapping. Not long ago, when I was setting up my work space (for what seems like the zillionth time in the past few years) I found these cute little wire-wrapped earrings with little hearts on the ends.

Silver-toned wire-wrapped earrings. The earring itself is a post style. At the far end there are little silver hearts
Wire-wrapped earrings. – Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lang

I suppose I have a complicated thought process around earrings as I do around wire wrapping. First? They are – in theory – quick to make. They can require only a half dozen beads or a whole bunch more, depending on the style you want. But their components are fiddly. They can sometimes have minds of their own and, like the wire I wrote about, do whatever they want. And, unlike a bracelet or necklace, you can not fiddle around with them to get them to “sit” a certain way; they either sit right… or they don’t.

But, if I’m honest, if I’m looking for a beading task that provides nearly instant gratification… I reach for my earring findings, and get to work!

The UBC Beading Edition: Wire is a Cruel Mistress

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I love working with wire.

Sometimes, I also hate working with wire.

Several years ago, I took a wire-wrapping class (more on that tomorrow). I leared a few basic techniques that I still use today. I’ve created ornaments that friends and strangers have loved, but that I don’t think I will ever make again.

The cool thing about making a piece with wire is that all you need to make it on the go are a clasp, a spool of wire, a set of wire cutters (bonus if they’re tucked nicely inside a set of pliers), and a strand of two of beads. You don’t have to worry about crimps or covers or anything else… and if you make a piece like this one, you only have to fiddle with one link at a time if you need to rework it (no need to take it all apart).

Each goldstone bead in this bracelet is wrapped in wire, and the wire loops link the beads together
Wire-wrapped bracelet

But wire is also finicky. It has a mind of its own, and does whatever it wants. More than one spool of wire has unspooled out of nowhere on me – once, memorably, in public, while I was making a custom order during a craft show. Sometimes it doesn’t cooperate with wire cutters, and I need to get out my handy dandy tool that dulls the sharp edges. Every once in a while it decides to have a mind of its own and configure into shapes I don’t want it to.

But working with wire is a true adventure… where will it take me next?

The UBC Beading Edition: Figuring it Out?

After I discovered that those little bitty seed beads were not a thing that I (or my then husband) had the patience to work with, I turned my hand to stones… sorta. I bought a travel case that I still have to this day, once spent more than four hours in a bead shop across town, just because I could, bought beads just because they felt interesting and I thought I might be able to use them someday…. for something…. maybe.

It was a time of self-discovery. Anything went. I had in my kit beads of stone and glass and shell, and strung where my muse took me. Quite by accident, I discovered stones. Over the next few months, I found stones I loved to work with (hello, amethyst) and ones that I charge extra for if a customer insists on them (I’m looking at you, pearls!) Glass is always fun to work with, if for no other reason than you’ve got it made if you can find a local glass-blower.

But I didn’t have a style… not really. I wrote before about thinking I needed a focal point on necklaces in particular, and so I made some pieces whose components just didn’t work together. The focal-point idea turned out to be more limiting than freeing. It took ages to discover that I work best with silver-toned findings (earring posts, clasps, crimps, etc.), and figuring out that stretch cord isn’t just for kiddy jewelry. Some designs turned out unexpectedly hilarious – like the time I made a piece exclusively out of shells and coral, which ended up looking frighteningly like a candy cane). Other times my designs turned out better than I hoped (like the time I decided to try out a woven look with probably a couple hundred chip beads on a stretch cord that still gets compliments today).

Today, I have a bit more of a style, but sometimes I get stuck in a trut and just need to try some new things. But that means I’m somewhat skilled in some things and a master of none. The nice thing – and maybe a frustrating thing – about beading is that you can go in so many different directions. The possibilities are literally endless

I’ve gotten some of the most amazing ideas from repairing broken pieces, or having someone ask me to make them something special – either for a special occasion or just because they want to support a local artist. Sometimes those requests push me out of my comfort zone, and that’s always a good thing.

What do you, dear reader, want to read about over the next few days? Are you interested in how-tos? More personal stories? How my blindness informs and hampers my artistry? Photos of pieces? All of the above? Let me know in the comments!

The UBC Beading Edition: Fixing Broken Things

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There’s something about fixing something that has broken – whether due to the passage of time or an accident or incident – that fills me with joy.

Yesterday a visitor to this blog asked if I could direct them to someone who could restring a necklace they have. And today, look what popped up in my Facebook memories?

I love beading.
But I don’t want to make beaded things just to make SOMETHING; I want to make things people will enjoy, to make them feel great and look good, or express themselves in new ways.
But, like writers or artists, I take time away from my craft. Sometimes it’s necessary, due to life circumstances, and sometimes I just hit a creative rut.
Whenever I hit a creative rut (“Beader’s block”), someone seems to telepathically know this, and gives me something to re-string, repair or re-design.
The simple process of taking out my supplies, cutting, crimping, stringing, wrapping, putting things together, jumpstarts my brain and gives me new ideas and motivation.
For all the people who’ve done this over the years, you’ve played a unique and essential role in helping me make more pretty beaded things.
YOU have my undying gratitude. 🙂 “

I think I like repairing things for a few reasons:

First, it turns something unusable into something useful again. That is a great feeling!

Second, it gives me fresh ideas if I’ve hit a rut. In fixing a piece, I’ve discovered materials that I otherwise would’ve never known I like to work with. If a piece is missing beads and needs to be reconfigured, I’ve been able to get creative and put my own spin on it.

Third: Sometimes I get to hear stories! I’ve fixed a piece that broke at a party, restrung a necklace that belonged to someone’s grandmother, and was privileged to connect with neighbors I didn’t know I had… all by answering “yes” to the question…

“Can you fix this?”

The UBC Beading Edition: Now it’s Your Turn!

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Tonight, I turn this blog post over to you, my readers! For those of you who’ve been around for a while, or who have started with me on this Ultimate Blog Challenge journey…

I am clearly not the only one who has picked up and put down beading off and on over the years (just read the comments on earlier posts!)

So this post is for you!

For those of you who have stuck around with beading consistently over the years, what’s kept you with it?

And for those of you who have expressed interest in picking it up, either for the first time or after an absence, what direction do you want to go?

For anyone who’s dabbled in beading, past or present, what materials or styles bring you joy? What spurs your creativity? What stifles it?

I want to hear from you!

The UBC Beading Edition: Starting Again

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It was Christmas morning, my first Christmas as a married woman. My husband and I giddily anticipated sharing the gifts we had purchased for each other. The passing of time has dulled the memory of what I gave him that Christmas, but I definitely remember what he gave me!

It was a square stand, with four rows of five drawers each – each drawer containing removable dividers – and a small mountain of beads in little baggies inside!

I was flabbergasted!

“Where… how… this is amazing! But… like… what gave you the idea?” I sputtered as I opened all the drawers and found more treasures inside.

“You told me that you used to love beading as a kid, and sometimes wish you could pick it back up again. Well, now you can!”

For the record, I have absolutely no recollection of this conversation, which is really surprising (people who know me tell me I have the memory of an elephant). But clearly some conversation somewhere spun this totally amazing idea into my (then) husband’s brain, and he took it and ran!

Neither of us had any idea about beads, tools, wire, or anything, really. I was back to stringing seed beads on wire, but I needed tools! Luckily, there was a local bead shop in my area, and when I told them to talk to me like I knew nothing – which, well, I did – I got outfitted with a mini plier kit, a pair of scissors, another spool of beading wire, and some well wishes for my next project.

My table-top case for beads was great! But it was far from portable. At that time, I traveled a lot in order to train and compete in a sport called goalball. This often had me on buses and trains, and I needed something to do with the hours I was sitting on my backside en route from one place to another. I went to a local craft shop, grabbed a travel organizer, filled it with beads, and boarded a plane.

I should’ve known something was wrong when there were beads in the bottom of my bag. Not only was this container sending seed beads tumbling out the tiny opening in the back… but all the dividers were movable, sliding ever so slightly up and down as the plane hit turbulence. I came back from my trip with a very colourful – and very disorganized – travel case. My husband spent weeks with a rounded bead retriever, painstakingly sorting through all of those beads, getting 90% of it done, only to have our new kitten decide that the tray would be fun to go digging in… And – with the patience of a saint – he did it all over again! We remember you fondly, Dasher!

I learned to bead by just doing. This was before Youtube tutorials were everywhere, and most of what was available wasn’t in accessible formats. I was able to get my hands on a “for dummies” book on the subject, which provided decent enough descriptions that I could figure a bunch of things out without seeing the pictures. But I definitely had a few false starts along the way.

I remember with fondness the first piece I made for someone else. She had worked very hard to graduate from University, and as part of my graduation gift, I made her a chain necklace with multi-coloured cubes that hung at various points around the chain. I loved the finished result – and so did she – but I couldn’t say I was crazy about working with chain. This was before I had a tactile measuring tape, so I had to use the spacing of my fingers to ensure an even look. But my friend loved what I had done, and I felt a sense of accomplishment, and wanted to make more.

But I still didn’t know what I was doing! I knew what I didn’t like – chain was annoying and finicky – and seed beads were proving to be frustrating for myself and my husband. I needed a travel case, and maybe some more tools… so what was a budding beadsmith to do?

The UBC Beading Edition: A Pretty Beaded Thing!

I am grateful every day that I no longer have any of the beaded “mpasterpieces” I made as a child. It would be a minor miracle if I did!

I am also eternally grateful that most of my very early pieces have gone on into the bead soup in the sky.

This necklace is in shades of brown and red, with a faceted piece of Tiger Eye in the middle
Autumn themed necklace

This picture, however, is probably one of the first pieces I made that I still have. (Not for lack of exposure) I made it at a time in my crrafting journey where I thought that you needed a central piece to make your piece “pop”. So I took this faceted cube of tiger eye and made an autumnal themed necklace. To me, it it’s quirky and fun, but maybe it needs a little work. Maybe I’ll repurpose it into something else. Or maybe it needs to be here, just as it is.

I no longer hold to the idea that a piece needs a focal point – most of my current pieces don’t have one. But it was a fun creative endeavor.

The UBC Beading Edition: Where it All Began

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I honestly don’t remember where my first packets of beads came from. I don’t remember the type of thread I used, or how I crimped the clasps on to my creations…

But I clearly remember sitting in my living room, watching the nerdy TV shows my childhood self enjoyed (and my adult self still gravitates to) with my favorite Disney themed TV tray across my lap and a bunch of canisters of beads to choose from.

My first creations were… colourful, to say the least. I think (though I can’t be sure) they had no discernable patterns – in shape or size or texture or colour. My fingers wanted to create something tactile and unique, something as appealing to the touch as many things were to the eye.

I remember seed beads – little tiny beads that my little tiny fingers threaded onto whatever wire I could get in whatever combination came out of the film cannister they were stored in. Long tubular beads (for some strange reason I vaguely recall dubbing them “bugles”) were generally silver toned or other neutral colours, so I put them with everything. My personal favourits were plastic three-pointed beads that came in a variety of colours, but when you stacked them on top of each other the points filled out the hollow space of the bead beside it.

Writing this all out makes me a little embarrassed for my childhood self. My vision was such at the time that I could tell colours apart on REALLY big things (like buildings or cars), but not clothes or jewelry. But I was a kid in the early 90s, where you could wear whatever colours you wanted, because anything went (snap bracelets, anyone?). That’s how childhoold me remembers the nineties… or was that just me?

Our local mall had a bead shop, called the Bead Loom. I remember wanting to go in every time I went to the mall (and we went a lot!) to get some new bugles, and – I think in retrospect – just to go to a store where, as a blind kid who was not usually allowed to touch stuff, touching the merchandise was not only permitted, but encouraged! I loved the rows and rows of trays, all filled with beads that I could actually hold in my hands! I was very happy there were so many beads, but sad that there were so many of them I couldn’t afford. For a while that’s where a lot of my allowance money went (I think my parents might have chipped in when my purchases went over-budget… that memory is hazy though).

For a couple of years, that’s what kept my fingers and mind occupied. That TV tray contained (and prevented) many a disaster if my fingers tipped over a cannister of seed beads, or when I trimmed the wire of a completed piece only to learn that I’d cut it too short and my colourful creation tumbled off the wire (for the record, sometimes that still happens, and also for the record I still cry like a little girl whenever it does).

But, as many childhood hobbies, beading fell by the wayside. I somehow understood that the pieces I made when I was six or seven – all splashes of colour in all kinds of directions – weren’t as “acceptable” when I was nine or ten. The bead store in the mall closed down, I discovered my love of music, and started to pursue other things. I had all but forgotten about my foray into jewelry making for more than a decade and a half, when an off-the-cuff comment set me on the path that I’ve been following – sometimes in fits and starts, and sometimes with great gusto – ever since.

Ultimate Blog Challenge, Part 2: The UBC Beading Edition

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So… remember last year when I decided to do the Ultimate Blog Challenge, and blog every day for a month, and how I thought it would make me blog more?

Um…. that clearly didn’t happen!

Not dissimilar to last year… my life is getting busier. Last year, I started a new job that I still haven’t blogged much about (sorry! I really am!)

This year…. I’m going back to school!

Which I will write about…

Later.

When I thought I would try again with the Ultimate Blog Challenge, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say, and what I could blog about every single day for 31 days… because, let’s face it, last year I was all over the place! I wrote some pieces I was extremely proud of, and at least one that made me laugh the entire time I wrote it. But there was no real cohesion; it was like my brain took all of its random thoughts for 31 days, spit them out somewhat eloquently, and called it a day.

I don’t want that to happen again.

So… I have a plan!

For those who have stuck around from the beginning (I am so unbelievably grateful for all of you, by the way!) remember a long long long long long time ago when I wanted to write about my love of beading and jewelry making?

That time is now!

Every day for the next 30 days, I will blog about this hobby. I’ll blog about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the creative process. I’ll share pictures of pieces that have been sitting stored away for a very long time and maybe you’ll decide you like them and get in touch so you can have some of your own. I’ll make more pieces now that my beading room no longer looks like a teeny tiny home office with glaringly white paint on the walls and is actually a place I want to be!

And maybe I’ll share some of how I do this all with not much usable vision… because that’s both part of the challenge and the most boring part of this process.

Come and join me!

My Sorta Kinda Maybe (in)Accessible Life: A Lot to Unpack…

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It’s been a while… I know. There’s been a lot to unpack, both literally and figuratively (more on that in another blog post). But I had some pretty interesting experiences in the month of April, culminating in racing my most recent half marathon. And, in an emotionally complicated twist… I received something for free because of an inaccessible system.

Work: Nothing New to Report

I spent the second half of April back in the office. It felt both exciting and surreal, and with the benefit of hindsight it still does. I did, however, have to outsource use of GWS #2 ($50); to be honest it’s getting really old. Apart from that, I’m getting annoyed with the changes they made to GWS #3 – finding anything on there is like a technological maze! (you need THIS information? click on this button and then that link and then maybe you can have it). But, as much as I can shout about intuitiveness being part of accessibility, I can honestly say I could do everything I needed to.

1 outsource: $50

Let’s go Shopping!

I was super excited to attend a local rock and gem show at the end of April. It wasn’t far from my house, and wouldn’t be hard to get to…

Except…

The address for the venue could easily lead one to thinking it was on the street. But there was a big sandwich-board sign directing traffic through a parking lot, behind another building, and facing the street half a block east. There was nothing on the event web site or web page indicating this, and there would be absolutely no way to get your friend who uses a wheelchair into the building…

At the show, I found some amazing stones. I bought a stone I planned to use for a project I’ve been unable to complete for the past several months, was able to touch carved stone statues (I almost brought home a carved jaguar that was AMAZING but would’ve been really heavy to carry home!), and bought a strand of beads that I still maintain will work perfectly with some of the new awesome presents that came in a care package my Mom sent me when we were stuck inside. People engaged me in respectful conversation, pointed out all kinds of neat tactile things, and seemed happy to be out at the show.

At one vendor table (the one with a carved German Shepherd-type dog), I had a lovely conversation with the couple staffing the table. There were stones that I liked, and some that did nothing for me. I had several stones in a bag, and went to pay… And the tap on the credit card reader wasn’t working (apparently it was a thing for most of the weekend). The man behind the counter handed me the machine…

And it was a fully touch screen machine.

Fully touch screens are not accessible for a blind person. Unless the credit or debit card reader interacts with a cell phone, there is no audio feedback telling you what’s on the screen, and no way to enter your pin number without providing it to someone else. I put my would-be purchases back down on the table, apologized, and was about to turn and walk away.

The couple wouldn’t hear of it.

“It’s our machine that’s the problem,” the man said. “The tap feature has been annoying all weekend, and it’s not like you should be telling anyone your pin.” he handed me the stones, and even when I offered to see if my debit card would work with the machine, he refused to take payment for them.

I’ve been on this planet for more than thirty years. I’d like to think that I can tell a “pity present” apart from a small gesture of generosity born of a unique combination of circumstance. I read this situation as the latter. I thanked the couple profusely, put the stones in my bag, and continued enjoying the show.

10 minutes of aimless wandering: $2.50 MINUS gifting of stones = a debit of $22.50

Traveling: I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I was telling my partner recently that I have traveled more in the past six months than I had in the past two years. I visited my family over Christmas, and then, in late April, I flew to Vancouver for my first in-person race since 2019 (Hypo kinda counts… but it’s not a racing race… there is a difference!).

I got a ride to the airport, and was able to find security with no problem. Unfortunately, there was another passenger with a small dog that took a lunge at Jenny while we were waiting in line. I was so startled, and couldn’t breathe. Security was kind, and let me know what had gone on (in short, the small dog came at my dog out of nowhere, and my dog was trying to evade it). They offered me a chair and a glass of water, and once I calmed down I was able to go through security.

I don’t know if anyone else experiences this… but I’ve been asked a lot recently if security can “take my phone” so they can scan my boarding pass. I’m not comfortable with this – I don’t know who they are, and I like knowing exactly where my phone is. unfortunately, one agent tried to argue this point with me – “I’ll take your phone” and “How about you give me directions to where to swipe” to “But it would be easier if…”

Because I travel with a service dog, my hands get swabbed every time I go through the airport. This time, something on my hands triggered the censors, so my bag to put through secondary security screening. The agent was describing everything she was taking out of my bag, and putting it back right where it was. I still don’t know what triggered the censors, but let me tell you I was very glad to get on that plane (though less so when I realized the little dog from the security line was five rows in front of me).

10 minute Security screening delay ($2.50) + 5 minutes arguing why handing over my cell phone to a random person in the security line is a bad idea ($2.08 – that’s it?) = $4.58

Health and Fitness: Back to the Start Line

I’ve written before about running my first half marathon, so I won’t rehash that here (seriously, go read that post!) But it honestly felt like Vancouver was another first half-marathon for me. I had no idea what to expect, since I was putting my body through a whole new stress since recovering from COVID/not COVID. But I was ecstatic!

But before you can get to the start line, you need to get your race package. Depending on the size of the race you register for, you could be picking up your package at a local shop, a community centre, or (in the case of Vancouver) a convention hall. The hall was big, crowded, and was designed to make you go ALL the way around every single exhibit to get the pieces of your kit: Race bib (100% required) at one table, gloves (which I didn’t realize until I got home hadn’t come in the bag with my bib and other odds and ends) at another, race T-shirt (optional, depending on how many races you’ve run) at a tent at the far end, and (because I just like to be difficult) my Run Happy singlet at another table. I’m glad I didn’t go alone, because that was… not easy!

I can only imagine how much effort and organization it takes to put together a race of this size – I felt overwhelmed figuring out how my parents would connect with each other and with me and my guide on race day morning. Since I don’t drive and don’t know Vancouver well, I wanted out of piggy-in-the-middle – I just held my phone while everyone coordinated their wheels. And I am eternally grateful that everything there went off without a hitch.

Once we got to the start line… that was another story. The race was started an hour late due to a suspicious package found on the race course. Because of the delay, my guide and I thought we could make one more trip to the porta potties before we took off running. No sooner had we reached the line than we heard that the race would start in three minutes. The Canadian national anthem was sung, and the elite runners took off, as we wrangled our way into the crowd. We weren’t in our starting corral anymore (where you start the race based on your optimistic finish time), but we just decided to enjoy the journey… what else could we do?

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t even particularly consistent. But we met runners on the route – the woman from the Netherlands who asked if she could take our picture and share it with the blind running group there (yes!) and the runner we traded places with five or six times on the route, to the dozen people who called me inspirational as they ran past me (for the record, that feels weird).

And I gutted it out. I think COVID/not COVID affected things. I think the late start affected things. I think – and know – I can do more. But I am proud of that race in a way I don’t know that I would be proud of my fastest Half.

But once you complete the race… you have to get your stuff. At the start line, you find a table based on your bib number, and your stuff gets put on a bus to the finish line. So while you’re exhausted and hot and wanting to drink a gallon of water and eat a massive bag of chips (just me?), you get to navigate a throng of runners and supporters and find the table with your stuff on it – again, not a thing you can do without sight. Thankfully, the bags are all see-through, so it’s very easy to describe the bag’s contents in the event that your bib number falls off the handles.

I’m coming back to the “you’re so inspirational” comments I received on the race course, because, while they have always sat funny with me, they’ve never sat that heavy and awkward as they did on May 1. It’s not like you can have a long philosophical conversation about how inspiration porn is icky and gross, but my lack of sight doesn’t make me inspirational. It really REALLY doesn’t. It does contribute in some unique ways to how successfully I can run – sometimes finding guides for training runs and races is a challenge, the location of training runs can make transportation an issue – but I had to fight a lot more than blindness to get to that start line. COVID-not COVID was terrible, and took every ounce of energy I had. I’d been dealing with burnout for a very long time (if I am being honest, I think I’d tried to outrun it when I was running flat out in 2019). But we all have our stories of why we run, and what gets us out there; and maybe I’m just frustrated that all people see is woman who can’t see goes running. For the record, that’s boring. And because I couldn’t say that a dozen times on the race… I’m saying it here.

How do you put a dollar value on this? Honestly… you can’t.

The Bottom Line

The end of April (and beginning of May) saw me stronger than I thought I was. but I did experience some hiccups along the way. I’m respectfully submitting an invoice in the amount of…. $32.08.

A comment was left on a previous post that maybe I am undercharging for work I have to “outsource” because I should be able to do it myself but cannot. I think I agree. If anything, this exercise has taught me that we can (and should) put a value on our emotional labour, and the time and loss of dignity we experience based on societal perceptions and inaccessible design. But we can’t really put a dollar value on it… can we?

Oh, and in a happy coincidence? The day this post was published, I got an email from my mortgage provider – the one whose inaccessible web site started this experiment. They have overhauled their web site, fixed the issues with screen reader access, and plan on rolling out a full update next week. As of this publishing, I was able to access all the features of my mortgage.

Sometimes, if you speak up, someone somewhere is listening.