Create a Digital Beadwork Scrapbook with Beaded Samples or Swatches

Nov 14, 2013

My bead stash holds an embarrassing secret:

I save all my false starts, my poor color combos, those "what were you thinking?" beadweaving bits in old Altoids tins.  Each tin is a mess.  I don't trim the thread ends neatly or weave them in.  Once I've decided that I'm done working a particular swatch, I cut off the thread and toss it in.  I feel a compulsion to save these unloved beaded samples, but until recently, I rarely looked at them.

The Problem

How did this happen?  Part of the problem is that whenever I see a project I like, I want to try it immediately.  (I'm looking at you, Pinwheel Pendant by Sabine Lippert in the October/November 2013 of  Beadwork.) A normal person might make a shopping list and head to her local bead shop or online store and not start until all necessary supplies were lined up neatly on a beading tray.

Not me.  And it's not because I have an immense seed bead stash with every possible size, color, and shape.  (I wish!) I use whatever I happen to have on hand even if it means combining odd colors that make your teeth hurt to look at. Even with crazy colors, I can still get a sense of whether I'll enjoy working the stitch pattern enough to order proper supplies.

The problem with this "toss it in the tin" method of working is the lag time between making the sample and the finished project.  By the time I can work on a longer beadweaving project, I've forgotten the history behind that particular beaded sample.  I can't remember which sample went with which project and what direction I intended to go with it.  This is especially problematic since I rarely follow a published pattern to the letter and the beaded sample may not look even vaguely like its original inspiration.  Sometimes I also create samples without clear pattern in mind, just designing with seed beads, a needle, and thread.

The Solution: The Beader's Sketchbook

I like the idea of taping or gluing samples inside a sketchbook because there's something about being able to touch a finished swatch that pleases me.  You can see how stiff or flexible a certain design will be, as well as have an accurate representation of the colors.

At the same time, storing photos on my phone is more practical.  I never can remember what I need to buy when I'm at a bead show or bead shop (not that it ever stops me from buying beads anyway!). I've started to take photos of my old beaded samples and add my notes.  Not everything will be photographed.  I'll take apart those samples that no amount of TLC could save so that I can use those beads in other projects.

With only a few samples photographed, I'm already feeling so much better about my swatch boxes.  Not only do the photos remind me of old projects I want to finish, but they're giving me fresh ideas for new ones.  It's also helping me document some of the lessons I've learned about certain techniques and materials.  For example, looking at the beaded samples pictured here I can see how much easier it is to make a circle with beads if I make three rounds of circular peyote stitch instead of two or how using triangle beads instead of round seed beads makes a plain band of peyote stitch much more interesting.

What do you do with your odd swatches of beadweaving?  (Or are you the lucky soul who doesn't collect them?)

Michelle Mach
Contributing Beadwork Editor
(I'm filling in for Editor Melinda Barta while she's on leave.)

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D.M.Z wrote
on Nov 14, 2013 4:30 PM

Michelle, I have a cork board that I originally purchased to use for micro macrame. My fingers are a bit stiff, always have been and some things just don't work well for me, micro macrame is a prime example.

So the board is full of my samples and errors........ and some ideas too. It is a real hodge podge but all in full view. Anyone who comes in my bead cave is drawn to it and explores it. I had a swatch of RAW beads, bronze faceted firepolished twisted beads.............I hated working with them as I had to hunt for the holes. I hung up the swatch to remind myself to never buy them again. Needed a band for a copper plaque that I bought and made a great bracelet out of it. So I do sometimes find uses for those swatches. Donna

Ann T2 wrote
on Nov 15, 2013 4:05 PM

I've used them as part of collages and to create charms/streamers for handmade books . . . essentially, repurposing one craft into another.

on Nov 16, 2013 9:46 AM

I like the tin idea. I've been making an ugly necklace every year or so. Combining all those odd ideas into a collage necklace. It's usually interesting and has a theme fun and challenging to put together.

on Nov 16, 2013 9:47 AM

I like the tin idea. I've been making an ugly necklace every year or so. Combining all those odd ideas into a collage necklace. It's usually interesting and has a theme fun and challenging to put together.

Diana GB wrote
on Nov 16, 2013 12:17 PM

I have a stash, also, and imagine someday stitching them together into interesting finished pieces.  Have taped some of them into my workbook, mostly the problem childs that taught me something.

Linda@952 wrote
on Nov 16, 2013 2:06 PM

Up until now I would tear apart most of my mistakes, reasoning that I was not wasting my beads by doing this.  I finally realized that having inherited my mother's 100 pound plus beads, mostly seeds, I was not thinking properly.  Now, if I do not like how a project is shaping up, it is okay to cut the thread and try again, and use my "odd ducks" as teaching opportunities.

Judy Sanders wrote
on Nov 17, 2013 10:25 AM

I take photos of everything I make, copy the directions and slip them in a plastic sleeve. Handy if I want to make again or if someone else wants the pattern.the mistakes are pinned on my wall above the beading desk.

AnnLynda wrote
on Nov 17, 2013 8:26 PM

Hi, Michelle,

I start a new sketchbook each year that has a drawing and/or small photo of each piece I make, including a list of all the materials.  I take notes as I go along, what's working and what is not.  If I don't finish the piece I usually make notes of the reason(s), and put the beads back into inventory.  If I don't finish something within a year, I'm usually not going to do so.  My unfinished projects are hanging in plastic bags on a "Clip it Up" rotating stand where I can see the UFOs  as well as any samples.  So far this arrangement has worked for me but I can see the advantage of having all the "unfinished" and/or mistakes notes and photos in one place.  

on Dec 17, 2013 10:23 AM

My husband, Dave, and I were just talking about ways to capture my beading designs / ideas.  I love the idea of the scrap book and capturing notes about the designs along with pictures of the (almost) finished project as it reveals itself.  Love Beading.