Saturday, June 24, 2006

Mountains & Streams
Improvisational Bead Embroidery
In Progress
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, bead artist
Here is Mountains & Streams (shown finished in previous post) about one third complete. You can see the Kaffe Fassett fabric that I chose for this piece. By the way, I'm really not a fabric snob. Other than a preference to work on natural fabrics such as cottons or silks, all fabrics are possibilities. Most of the time, I buy fabrics without the slightest idea of what I will do with them, choosing simply on the basis of "love at first sight." I wouldn't have known that this lovely ikat fabric was designed by Mr. Fassett, except that the clerk made quite a point of telling me.

When I begin working on a piece, I go to my fabric stash and pick out something I love at that moment. A few weeks before starting this commission piece, I'd been to the quilt shop on the mainland, where I picked up about 6 fat quarters and a half yard of this ikat fabric. Being on top of my stash and very lovely, I chose it for this piece. Next I gathered a bunch of beads I loved, the colors of which were naturally influenced by my fabric choice.

The size of the piece was determined by the fact that my customer wanted it the same size as Moss & Wildflowers, which she had seen in one of the classes I taught at Quilt Festival. So, the first step was to cut the fabric to about 9 inches square, cut a piece of acid-free interleaving paper to the same size, draw a rectangle of the finished size (6.5" x 6") centered on the paper, and baste the two together around the lines of the drawn rectangle. The paper is a stabalizer, so that I can keep my stitch tension fairly tight without puckering. The basting stitches, showing on the fabric, provide a beading guideline and show the image area. In the picture above, I folded back the extra fabric border, but you can see my red basting stitches along the top edge.

Time to bead!!! Sewing the first beads on a piece this large can be daunting. I often begin by dividing my "canvas" with lines of beads. Then I can work on one small area at a time, which seems much less difficult. This piece was no exception, so I began with lines of silver beads, which eventually started to look like mountain peaks. Then, to further divide the piece into workable areas, I sewed on diagonal lines of aqua beads. These lines immediately suggested streams or rivers.

At this point, it was pretty obvious that I was headed toward mountains and streams as the subject of my work. Yet, this isn't "forced" in any way. I don't try to make a realistic picture. I don't even try to make a picture at all. It's just in the back of my mind somewhere that this seems to be about mountains and streams. I continue to choose beads I love, and sew them on somewhere. If I had turned the piece upside down one day, and it had suggested something else, I might have gone off in a totally different direction.

After completing the silver and aqua lines that divided the whole, I settled on the area in the lower right corner, and began to fill it up with beads. The small area on the lower left side was next. I continued to bead one small area at a time, ending with the sky, until it was finished. You can see a nice large picture of it here.


  1. Well, this post answered my size question.
    You demonstrate that it is right to totally trust oneself in the process of making art. This has got to be one of the defining characteristics of what you, Robin, can be felt when looking at your work...your wide open trust in yourself lets things flow and develop so naturally.
    And to think that is what you teach, helping your students to trust themselves too!

  2. Fabulously Interesting : )

    yes, your beading tips were helpful. PRACTICE is the key for sure.

    After I finish up my fair entries I'll have to put a photo album up with my beaded projects -- no where near as kewl as yours -- but I'm just a beginner.

    I took an EGA course on circular peyote (maybe mispelled) for a necklace -- and, I made a couple amulets.

    Your creative beading is an inspiration.

  3. Thank you for giving us all this info on how you created this beautiful piece. You are so giving and willing to share.

  4. Wow - just wow!! I am very inspired by your work to jump even further into bead embroidery!


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