Category Archives: Design Process

WeaveWith Week 3: Maybe I should have made a bracelet

My week has been filled with much activity and very little progress. [There was a technology problem developing which gets a chunk of blame but the other half is/was me fiddling with the pattern. See below.]

I have set up my own palette for Bead Creator Pro that avoids the issues I had with too many shiny beads. Since then it’s gotten a lot closer to plug-and-play, at least (and it’s an important qualification) if I’m designing large patterns. Say 8×8″ on up.

When you’re creating a smaller pattern — one that will fit on a Lani, let’s say — you don’t have enough beads to cram in all the details. BCP can’t tell the difference between an important detail and a distracting detail, so it crams them all in there.

Squib as rendered by BCPIt is literally true that there are that many different colors going on in Squib’s fur, but the software can’t account for the fact that the human eye perceives her as a mostly black cat. (Happens all the time when you use the flash on your camera – your picture has more detail than you can see. Makes telescopes work, too. Not so good for portraits.)

Hence my restart before, where I revised the pattern to get a better balance between detail and perception. Worked great until I got to the whiskers.

Monday: whiskers. First three colors I tried completely vanished into the background. Next couple of colors contrasted nicely, but I couldn’t tell the difference between facial-detail-I’d-left-on-in-first-revision and whisker. After much testing, much unweaving and much frustration, I used the hex version of DB507. It’s an odd color for me — pink with 24kt gold iris — but it’s not overwhelmingly pink, and the differences due to the slight changes in color and cut work nicely. That gets me to Monday night.

I spent the rest of the week – ugh – weaving and unweaving to try to get Squib’s face right. I have been steadily reducing the amount of detail and darkening the bead colors, but I finally decided last night that I needed to go back and mostly-manually redraw Squib’s face the way I did below her chin.

Here’s the last revision before I decided to completely redraw her face – that appalling orange color is how BCP displays DB507 — no clue why.

Sphinx v5[Revision 1 worked great for the body but wasn’t strict enough for the face.] I’m still working on that today.

The tech problem: my monitor was dying, and I didn’t know it until it was totally dead. Until Thursday, it was pushing everything it displayed to the red end of the spectrum, so what I was seeing in the software and what the software thought it was showing were much much different than usual (which is saying a lot). Thursday night the monitor gave it up and David let me use one of his (computer artists have lots of monitors), so it wasn’t truly until Friday that I was able to work on the design and get consistent results.

I think I’ve figured out how to revamp the facial detail. Once that’s done it will only take a day or two to finish the portrait, and then I can get back to the Christmas present I’m working on, and “Hope” (the cardinal).

Word for the week: argh!

The Dangers of Weaving Your Own Pattern

I’ve noticed in the past that if I’m using someone else’s pattern or tutorial — beading, knitting, whatever — that I may make changes to the pattern at the beginning, but once that’s done I just go with it. With my own patterns, the “edit” part of my brain never really stops. Most of the time it’s a good thing — I like the changes and stick with them. But this weekend it seems to have led to lots of weaving and a lot less forward progress than expected.

The first setback was that my “original” pattern had way too much going on in Squib’s face. Some non-black colors are necessary, because without them her face turns into a blob with eyes. So I spent a good part of Friday redoing that part of the pattern and then weaving it.


Too many stripes!After:

Final (I hope!) pattern)There are still stripes, but far fewer, and the colors cover a much narrower range of black, greys and browns than the first pass.

I finally arrived at  Row 1, Column 5 on Squib’s portrait on Sunday afternoon. [Remember I am working the pattern in sections, 3 rows down and 6 rows across.]  This is very exciting because it’s the section that contains her left eye — so I can finally see the expression on her face. I got through about fifteen rows or so (each section is 50 rows) when I realized that I’d inadvertently stacked one entire column of beads with opaque black. Again, Squib’s a black cat. But there aren’t really very many places in her portrait where she has hard black edges. So that vertical stripe was painfully out of place.

Vertical black stripe[This picture is taken from the original pattern, the first picture above, not the tapestry.  It didn’t occur to me that it might be useful to take a picture of how it looked before I fixed it. Still figuring out this blogging thing, too.] I “smeared” it out by following the general colors of her right ear, which looked fine. [How did I miss that in the pattern?}

I didn’t go to bed last night until I had gotten her eye finished – she can see me now.

Update 1 Sept 2014


The Kardiac Kitten: A Feline Masterpiece

In December 2008, I met a small sickly kitten who would become my constant companion and my unfailing friend during the time when my mother died from cancer.

Mom lived with my sister Julie, and Julie never met a cat she didn’t like (it runs in the family). Julie had adopted a couple of kittens from a litter of barn cats. Sierra looks like a purebred Siamese. Chevy looked like a weedy little scrap of a thing. I met them at Christmas 2008. Mom’s last Christmas.

Squib December 2008I was in Indiana for most of 2009, spending time with Mom (who was going downhill in stops and starts) and helping Julie, who was working full time and has two kids. Chevy quickly adopted me as the human who was most likely to save her from the various dangers in her new life. Mostly the kids, because they were too young to tell the difference between toys and live animals.

It became clear that Chevy was going back to Texas with me, an arrangement that suited all of us. She’d be better off in a quieter home. And in 2009, she had health problems — mostly asthma at that point — that could be fixed. I could help Chevy feel better, when none of us could really do anything to help Mom.

[In addition to a new home and new friends, Chevy got a new name when she came to Texas. My husband David started calling her Squib. A squib is a small firecracker, and that suited her far better than her original name.]

Squib was scrappy and smart and reckless. She was the top cat, even though our other four cats were much larger — she had cat voodoo. She loved road trips. She slept on my pillow and was always with me when I needed another soul to touch, especially when Mom died. Her ideal weight, according to our fabulous vet, was 7 pounds. She never got there. My friend Jenny refers to her as a perma-kitten.

Squib and ISquib had a number of health problems, most significantly an immune-system condition that gave her horrific gum disease (we were able to fix that) and a congenital heart condition (not fixable). She was the Kardiac Kitten. She survived a number of health crises, but we finally had to let her go in February 2014.

I’d had four years with the most important cat ever.

I’ve lost friends and family and other animal companions. Losing Squib has been like losing Mom, and I’m massively frustrated because I don’t know how to explain it to people. I can write. [Looky here, I’m writing.] But “my cat died” either gets blank looks (from folks who aren’t into animals) or condolences (from people who do share their lives with animals, and understand what losing a companion is like).

I don’t have words for the difference between losing other cats that I loved a lot, and losing Squib. It’s vastly larger and harder, even more than most humans I’ve lost, no insult intended to the people.

Worse, no one realizes that they don’t understand what I mean. “My cat died” seems pretty straightforward, and there really aren’t a whole lot of other ways to say it.

After Squib died, I made a scrapbook. It’s way bigger than she was, and it’s got pictures and poetry and yes, beadwork, all in the attempt to capture what was special about my cat, and why I was so devastated. The scrapbook does that, but I found that I hadn’t gotten the need to express my loss out of my system.

So 2014 has become my year of the cat, as far as jewelry making is concerned. I’ll be starting a gallery of the pieces I’ve already done (and eventually, even stuff that’s not related to cats at all).

Right now, I’m working on the largest piece of beadwork I’ve ever tackled, called A Feline Masterpiece. The title quotes Leonardo da Vinci, who said “Even the smallest feline is a masterpiece.” Well, she was.

It’s been slow going. I don’t have a lot of great pictures of Squib because we just didn’t expect her to die so soon. The picture I wanted to use needed a lot of love and attention in Photoshop, which my husband David generously provided. Converting the pattern to a beadwork design involved a program called Bead Creator Pro, which is by no means “plug and play” – I spent about 40 hours tweaking the pattern into something that captured Squib’s expression and personality. (I’ll write up what I’ve learned about making the best pattern possible, at least with BCP, in a later post.)Cover page from loom patternIn addition to designing a pattern I liked, I had to figure out ways to handle such a large piece. The finished picture will be about 9″ by 9″, and is built out of 23,940 beads.

There’s remarkably little advice out there for bead weavers who want to make large tapestries. I’m making it up as I go, somewhat desperately. I knock containers of beads off my table and I can’t keep track of the number of warp threads I’ve added, and we have kittens who don’t understand about staying off the desk, and… well, you get the idea. I can’t just whip out a few vials of Delicas and get to it.

I’m hoping that what I try will be useful to other beaders, both those doing loomwork and those looking for ideas about how to “organize their process.” It’s under so much construction that my readers should be wearing hard hats.

If I’m really lucky, the experts will leave comments that will help all of us.

I began weaving on 13 June 2014. You can track my progress in the upper right hand corner of this page, and I’m posting photos here on the blog.

As of this post, I’ve finished about 20% of the work. It’s going to be a couple of days before I can dive back into it – I changed one of my background colors and ran out of beads. Argh. Waiting for beads. Again. [I suppose I can start the edging on the left side….]

Progress 16 June 2014My hope is that the emotional significance I can’t put into words will be communicated, or at least implied, by the time and effort it takes to weave this picture. I will always have feline companions. But there will never be another Squib, because the unique combination of circumstances and personality and time spent together can’t ever happen again.

If you’ve made it all the way through this absurdly long post, I’m very very grateful for your attention, and I hope that as I add bead-related content to this blog it will be useful for you.