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