Mistakes or Design Features?

Apr 25, 2008

Everyone makes mistakes--and part of my job is to encourage you to make them! Yes, you read that right. If you're not making mistakes, chances are you're not trying new techniques or new materials or stretching yourself creatively. The question is not whether or not you'll ever make a mistake on your beading project, it's what do you do about it? Do you redo it? Do you try to cover it up? Or maybe you'll use mistakes as inspiration for a future project. When I interviewed Carol Blackburn, author of Making Polymer Clay Beads, I asked her the difference between her former fiber career and her new jewelry making career. She said, "When things go wrong with polymer clay, it's a design opportunity, but with knitting you have to unpick and start again!"

In this week's free project/article, "Turn Lampworked Mistakes into Beautiful Beads", lampwork artist Monica Howard shares her tricks for turning broken or cracked beads into wearable pieces. Even if you're not a lampwork artist, dealing with mistakes is something that we all do. Part of the decision of what to do when I make a mistake depends upon where I am in the project. Here are some options I've considered:


 Live with it

If I'm making a project just for myself, I may choose to live with a mistake if I've already finished the ends. (If I haven't, I'll just redo it.) Since I'm often creating jewelry for myself in a make-it-tonight, wear-it-tomorrow frame of mind, I just shrug off the mistake. Sometimes after wearing the piece, however, all I can see is the mistake and I do end up redoing the piece.

At left: One of my "mistake" bracelets. I meant to make it symmetrical, but notice the different number of beads on either side of the center.

Cover it up

This is the beading equivalent of wearing a hat on a bad hair day. This includes doing things like using Sharpie pens to color thread or adding fringe to a project to cover up a mistake. For me, this feels like a murky area--is it artistic freedom or is it just bad workmanship?  I'd love to know your thoughts on this!

Start over

This is my choice if I'm making something for someone else, including magazine and contest submissions. I abandoned my first attempt at a square for the Bead It Forward Quilt because I didn't realize until too late that I had miscalculated the number of rows. Since this was a charted design intended to be placed just so on the square, I could not simply remove a few rows to make it the right size. Sometimes it just needs to be perfect!

Fix it

Sometimes you can fix your mistake without starting over completely. For example, when working on my second attempt at a square for the Bead It Forward Quilt, I got off track.  (Too much CSI and not enough beading!) A couple of rows later, I noticed that a few beads were in the wrong place. Rather than starting over completely, or even undoing several rows, I simply cut out the few problem beads and restitched that area.

Get Inspired


Sometimes a mistake will generate a new idea. For example, when I was working on a second version of the Ladder Rings project, I accidentally added an additional, slightly smaller bead to the edging and noticed that it made the edging ruffled instead of smooth. Because of that mistake, I ended up deliberately adding more beads to the edging of the silver and brown ring, creating a unique variation of the original project.

How do you handle mistakes? Share your thoughts on the website.

More Free Projects: Today's free project/article is: Turn Lampworked Mistakes into Beautiful Beads by Monica Howard. If you're not a lampworker, remember that you can always check out our free project library for other projects you may have missed. Use the topics page to find projects by type or check out the popular projects page to see what's hot.

Michelle Mach shares free beading projects and tips every Friday on Beading Daily. If you have questions or comments for Michelle (including suggestions for future free projects), please post them here on the website. Thanks!

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on May 16, 2008 2:35 PM


Mistakes give me faith that I am learning. When I first try a new stitch, I tend to make mistakes and always take them out and correct them. I am rather stubborn and don't give up; thus learn from those mistakes and see how I made them....not to mention the benefits of practice.

Comment by: Suzan R | April 25, 2008

One thing I do frequently in the case of a bracelet or necklace (something that can be worn as a pair) is to make another one with the 'mistake' on the other side. then you can wear the pair as a complete set and it will work. I remember once I completely screwed up a pair of earrings I was working on and unfortunately did not have enough stuff to make a second one of the one I liked. Instead, I made two smaller earring of the same material as the original one and that is how I wear them. I think a lot of 'mistakes' can be huge design additions if you give them half a chance.

Comment by: Lindsay K | April 25, 2008

When I first started beading a little over three years ago I would get frustrated and give up on a project if it didn't come out right. With some classes under my belt and a renewed sense of artistry I no longer look at these as mistakes, but a new and artful way of displaying my beads. If it is really bad I'll take it apart and start over often times coming up with a better way of doing it and often times a better design. Sometimes mistakes can be a blessing. Brenda M.

Comment by: Brenda M | April 25, 2008

Since I sell my pieces, my criteria if I make a mistake is to ask "will this affect the quality enough to make it not sell?" I am amazed at how keen customers' eyes can be. So I usually err on the side of perfectionism and correct the mistake. "Quality first" is my motto.--Kelli P.

Comment by: | April 25, 2008

A Bracelet moves as you move your arm, so 'center' constantly changes. Necks usually do not move altering the 'center' position, therefore 'center' should NOT vary from exact center position unless its elements are positioned off-center to compliment an off-center garment. To be sure, model the necklace before finishing.

Comment by: Karen A | April 25, 2008

An off-center bead on a bracelet is minor, since bracelets twist around on your wrist when you wear them. A necklace is different, and I would just restring it to make it right. As for most mistakes, if they are apparent I will redo the project - I want my work to be first quality!

Comment by: Amy W | April 25, 2008

Assymetrical pieces are so much more interesting than the common, perfectly arranged pieces, especially bracelets. Funky, fun, and one-of-a-kind pieces are great! You can buy machine-made, perfectly arranged pieces everywhere, yours can always be unique, often because of your mistakes. cw

Comment by: chris w | April 25, 2008

Before I even saw the ladder rings I did a ring similar to that, with bugle beads as a wedding ring for my son. He loves it but it keeps stretching. I've restrung it three times so far. Don't know what else to do. Tried to prestretch the polymar thread but it still seems to stretch. He just doesn't wear it much as values it.

Comment by: Renie S | April 25, 2008

If I make a mistake with colour I call it the bead gremlin, and leave it, it makes the peice unique. If its a count mistake (i am a seed beader) then it usualy has to come out,cos it can be seen.

Comment by: Tina H | April 25, 2008

I have been working with Polymer clay a lot lately, and a mistake is just a happy accident that makes an interesting bead. I usually don't begin with a preconceived idea, but let my hands and the clay guide me. One advantage with the clay is that if you are not happy with the result...just moosch the clay and start again. Sandy G

Comment by: sandra g | April 25, 2008

My most common mistake is thinking I have the wire pulled tight before I crimp, and then end up with a small amount of wire showing anyway. Sometimes I redo completely, but sometimes I can add a crimp cover on each end to fill in the space between the last bead and the crimp and crimp cover on the end. If it is done right, it looks just like a silver or gold metal bead that belongs there.

Comment by: Joyce E | April 25, 2008

I love that you spoke so positively about mistakes. When you read all the books and magazines and look at all the talented designers out there, everything looks so perfect. It could make one feel a little inferior. Thanks for mentioning that even the experienced designers make mistakes and are okay living with them! I make them and I don't mind living with them.

Comment by: Lisa C | April 25, 2008

if it's for me, i might let it go, though usually not, as i am a bit of a perfectionist. if it's for a client, then, most definitely, it gets taken out, or re-done or whatever is necessary to make it exactly right. all my client pieces are commissioned, and discussed before i make them, so the client knows exactly what it's supposed to look like. as Kelli P. said above, it's amazing how keen the customer's eyes are. i will admit, though, that i have learned a lot by making mistakes, even if i do take them apart and start all over again! take care and God bless. smiles- ladyleadfoot!!!

Comment by: lady l | April 25, 2008

Sometimes correcting a mistake is solved by ripping out. BUT, if you have recently started a new thread and knotted both new and prior, and woven the ends in, ripping out is VERY difficult. I prevent that by starting a new thread without knotting and weaving in. I wait until I am way past that area with no problem.

Judy Pollock

Comment by: | April 25, 2008

I admit to being a little neurotic when it comes to mistakes. If I err or simply don't like the way something turn out, I have been known to take it apart and start over. I also sell my pieces, so I do work hard to make them just so. I loved your bracelet "mistake," however, as I agree with Chris W. that assymetrical pieces are so much more interesting to look at and wear. I actually prefer making assymetrical pieces whenever possible. They are also great for using leftover beads!

Comment by: Lisa A | April 25, 2008

I admit to being a little neurotic when it comes to mistakes. If I err or simply don't like the way something turn out, I have been known to take it apart and start over. I also sell my pieces, so I do work hard to make them just so. I loved your bracelet "mistake," however, as I agree with Chris W. that assymetrical pieces are so much more interesting to look at and wear. I actually prefer making assymetrical pieces whenever possible. They are also great for using leftover beads!

Comment by: Lisa A | April 25, 2008

I'm not above incorporating unintended events into a piece and calling it good. ]However, I've recently decided to give up all hope of successfully following an image-type pattern in peyote. It's just too easy to go off track, and my nerves can't take it! =D

My most common mistakes involve thread: in trying to make sure a piece is good and strong, I'll overload the bead holes with thread and pop a few, or end up with knots that show on close inspection.

But my most frustrating mistakes are errors in judgment -- like trying to save money by buying clasps at Wal-Mart.

Oh no -- did I just admit that in public? =O

Comment by: Carol K | April 25, 2008

Someone once told me that when Navajo people weave rugs, they intentionally include a "mistake" because only the Creator makes things perfectly. Who knows whether this adage is true or not, but I like it! (Especially when I discover I've put the wrong color bead four rows back in a peyote cuff.) -Amber

Comment by: Amber M | April 25, 2008

I am Native American. Unless the mistake is obvious and will impact its acceptability to my bent towards Quality Control, I declare it a Spirit Path and move on. Joni Stinson, Creek-Cherokee

Comment by: Joni S | April 25, 2008

Mistakes give new inspiration. A new idea is born !

Comment by: | April 25, 2008

A lot of times I choose my beads and a basic idea of what I want to create. If I make a mistake I first determine how it affects the item. If I'm determined to follow my original idea, it gets ripped our and redone. Usually though, a mistake (or subsequent cover-up) takes me off in a different direction and I end up with an entirely different piece than what I started out to do. I'd have to say some of my best pieces came out of a mistake.

Comment by: Lorri G | April 25, 2008

It depends on the mistake. With the asymmetrical bracelet, I would add bead dangles @ the clasp to help counterbalance it. Big center beads on bracelets will always make them turn backwards while wearing. The weight in the back has to equal the front.

Comment by: Paula G | April 25, 2008

I have heard that in Indian crafts they put a mistake in on purpose so as to keep evil spirits away. So chaulk it up to that. Sounds good anyway

Comment by: Diane B | April 25, 2008

Mistakes. I never rectify "mistakes" in regards to bead placements. In fact I like to have non symmetrical beads. I almost never have each side exactly the same. I like the quirkiness. My items never look wrong either, because they are balanced in different ways other than size and shape. The only mistakes I correct are those that make the item too long or too short. Gail Macaulay South Africa

Comment by: Gail M | April 25, 2008

often i look at old work and go: hmm it doesn't look quite right. sometimes i undo it, sometimes i just save bits of it and incorporate it into other work. (i work with craft wire and all sorts of beads) sometimes when beading and i find that the design comes out looking odd because it has too many seed beads (visualised wrongly), i just use my pliers and break the bead.

Comment by: Denise E | April 25, 2008

Knowing that I wanted to try my hand at making seed bead jewelry my mother gave me a huge tin from the 1920s filled to the brim with beautiful no-two-beads-alike black seedbeads. They had belonged to my 83 year old mother's great-grandmother. My first attempt with these special beads was a Dutch spiral ropes necklace for her birthday. Making several mistakes along the way, and wanting it to be a perfect as possible, I nearly drove myself crazy re-doing it. The next project incorporating these beads was a tri-color peyote stitch necklace for my daughter's 25th birthday. Finally finished, and just fastening on the lobster clasp, I discovered that I had made a mistake in the patterning sequence about 1/4 of the way from the end. This time, instead taking it apart, I laughed. I gave it to her with this note in her birthday card, " The mistake in the pattern sequence is there as a reminder that life isn't always as perfect as we'd like but it's still beautiful just the same." I told her that if I am ever able to sell a line of jewelry I will intentionally put in one odd bead or a link of gold in a necklace of silver links. L. Mitchell, PA

Comment by: Lois M | April 25, 2008

I will like to know if you have a group of spanish spekers. My english is not good but I try to talk. Iam new in this business. I love it. For many years i was an art teacher and now in my menupause I fine a new way to make may day different. I you understand my letter please let me know if i will fine a spanish group. Thank You.

Comment by: Yvonne H | April 26, 2008

If it's a seed bead project I tend to find a way of incorporating the "error". With larger beads I'll re-thread. Of course there are occasions e.g. a bracelet that's the wrong length, when you simply have to start over!

Comment by: Sarahleigh S | April 26, 2008

Hi, my name is Linda Calascibetta. I have made these ladder rings with Swarovski 4mm and 6mm round beads and seed beads outlines them. If you would like I could send you my pictures. I am new to this group, so i am not sure how to submit them. i also want to submit an entry into the contest.

My rings came out beautiful. regards, Linda Calascibetta

Comment by: Linda C | April 26, 2008

Correcting or not correcting "mistakes" depends on the overall look of the piece. If it distorts the piece then it must be re-done. If it is satisfactory then leave it alone. In beadweaving, it is such a pain to pick it all out, I either leave it alone or cut it apart with sissors and start over. Whenever a mistake is made, always let it be a learning experience and try to never make that mistake again, or let it be a "variation" of what you originally planned. Mistakes won't kill us, but stressing too much over them can make us very neurotic. Deon DeLange

Comment by: Deon D | April 26, 2008

Sometimes I find that mistakes can make a piece look better than what you planned. Joanie

Comment by: Joan E | April 26, 2008

I guess I'm a horse of a different color because my designs have to look the way I have visualized them in my mind or have sketched them. I always, always, always have to correct my mistakes or it makes me feel unsettled and as if the piece were blemished in some way. Guess it is kind of neurotic but hey, that's me! :-)

Comment by: Sally S | April 26, 2008

Wabi Sabi, I'm a zenbeader...put Swavorski crystal bead close to mistake, placement throws the imagination. Beautiful next to ugly. Out-of-box thinking, courage to make a mistake works.

Comment by: Juanita S | April 26, 2008

I would like to know where to go to past free projects. one i am interested in is the wire wrapped rings in the photo in your recent adv in may june issue of step by step beads. no need to publish comment.

Comment by: marilyn s | April 26, 2008

I would like to suggest a basics about soldering. I have been trying to find out what the basics are for using an iron to form headpins, really liked the twiggy brass and silver headpins. but most of the articles and posting only use torches as the heat source. if not an article can you please point me in the right direction? I'm so frusterated,sad & anxious to just do it! Thank you kindly

Comment by: artistic vision | April 26, 2008

So, youve made a mistake! Several things you can do. First: set it aside for a few days, then take another look from a different perspective.........Much of the time you wont see it, and it looks pretty darn good after all, or disasemble it, remelt it, or put it in your fish tank. Its only a learning process. Have fun!

Comment by: Sylvia P | April 26, 2008

I don't see any mistakes in anything. I see variation, personalizeing, and unique. Let your beads talk to you and make their own design. Phyllis C.

Comment by: Phyllis C | April 26, 2008

I'll admit to making mistakes from time to time and when I do, I want to fix it immediately but it has been my experience that if you act like it was created that way on purpose, no one will know the difference. And it's usually the piece that had the unintended 'enhancement' that gets sold first!

Comment by: Ann Marie A | April 26, 2008

My motto for years has been: "There are NO mistakes, only design opportunities."

Comment by: Linda M | April 27, 2008

I have been slowly learning to design and make jewelry, and am starting to branch out into different styles and materials. If I make a mistake, I tend to put it down and look at it for a while, trying to decide if I like it that way. If not, I will take it apart, to the point of the mistake and then keep going. I also might take it apart. The thing I try to remember, is that, many times, mistakes are an opportunity to be creative and learn a new way to work out a design problem.

Comment by: Claudia V | April 27, 2008

My mistake always revolve around color. I will get tubes of beads out and they will look great. Put the piece together and it's all wrong. Any suggestions? Please.

Comment by: Karen P | April 28, 2008

Is covering up a mistake OK or cheating? It depends, I always evaluate each mistake with three questions. 1) Does the mistake effect the structure or durability of the piece? If yes, I fix it. 2) Will my fix to the mistake make it look like I was too lazy to fix it right and it will always be a patch job? If yes, I fix it! 3) Will the mistake provide a "design opportunity" as Linda M said and add more creativity and originality to the piece? If yes, I run with it! No matter what medium I'm working it, I usually find #3 is my solution.

For Karen P and her color question; if your color choices look good when you lay your bead tubes out on your work space but don't look so good when put together in your finished piece, the culprit is probably two fold. First, is the lighting at your work bench conducive to the lighting the item will be worn in? Lighting can change the color of your beads a lot! When that problem is solved, consider the percentage of your color mix. That means that if you are using yellow and purple together and 45% of your beads are yellow and 55% are purple, your finished product will not be near as appealing to most people as a mix of 10%/90% (in either direction). I make sure I always have a complimentary color included in all my color schemes (even if it's 1%) as this will add "pop". Then I make sure my color distribution is one that does not create "agitation" by being too equally balanced. For a good guide, I look at nature photos. I find a color scheme I like and analyze the percentage of each color used as well as the colors themselves. When I picked up several art books on color theory, my work took a huge turn for the better.

Comment by: | April 28, 2008

I make alot of kiln fired cabs. What I used to think of as mistakes are interesting design and color combinations to others. I have found that there are no real mistakes (unless in structure) in designing jewelry. I have sold more pieces of things I thought didn't come out the way I had anticipated. Just shows you not to be disappointed in what you expect, but to look at it in a different light and your piece has new meaning.

Comment by: Cindy C | April 28, 2008

Mistakes? It's a matter of philosophy: Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) says: "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is deciding which ones to keep." Another sage advises: "Always make FRESH mistakes." Personally, as a lampworker, I find that, for instance, when a bead loses one end when removing it from the mandrel (a not uncommon occurrence with a design such as a hair pipe), rather than pitch it out while muttering vile oaths, it affords me the opportunity to try something new and adventurous with electroforming copper around the damaged end. This is really quite a liberating experience,as I have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to learn (and probably wouldn't have the guts to try it with an otherwise good bead.) Otherwise, a broken bead is a boon to some of the mosaic artists that have I befriended over the years, who are always looking for something unique to include in their next piece.

Comment by: ralph mccaskey | April 28, 2008