Battle of the Beadsmith


Battle of the Beadsmith has now become legendary in beading circles. Originally set up by Steven Weiss in 2012, this is an epic challenge for designers around the world. Steven owns the Beadsmith company, hence the battle name. For those of you who don’t already know, the Beadsmith supplies beads, beading materials and tools to the wholesale market. In the course of his business Steven has got to know beaders and shops all over the world. I can personally vouch for the fact that he’s a very friendly man and is incredibly passionate about beading and beaders. In 2012 he had the brilliant idea of contacting some of the designers he knows and proposing the idea of being given 2 months to create a piece of wearable beaded art. Each piece would then be photographed and the pieces pitted against one another for votes by the public and by a panel of selected judges. The set up is a one-on-one battle for each round in which the victors move on to the next round to face new opponents until an eventual winner is declared. Needless to say, this exciting project generated a lot of interest and so the Battle of the Beadsmith was born.

The Battle began life on Facebook and is currently still held on there. You can find the dedicated Battle of the Beadsmith page here. Participation is by invitation only and interest has been so high that the number of participants has grown every year since the battle’s inception. Aside from the beading challenges provided by the Battle of the Beadsmith, this is an amazing experience for the friendships and bonds that it builds. I now count myself lucky enough to know beaders from all corners of the world and to be part of a community that is full of a generous spirit and an incredible wealth of talent.

Battle of the Beadsmith 2013

battle of the beadsmith
Front view of ‘High Stakes’

I was lucky enough to be invited to enter my first Battle of the Beadsmith in 2013. It gave me the opportunity to play with an idea that would otherwise never have taken shape. My 2013 piece was entitled ‘High Stakes’. I blogged about my experience at the time of entering and, unfortunately, I went out in round 1! However, I had the most amazing experience. On a personal level, I pushed my beading skills to a new place. My idea was centred around a few little dice beads that I had seen and bought a few years earlier. At the time they had sparked an idea for making a beaded playing card, which I duly did. However, even at that point, I knew I wanted to expand this into a bigger project. I ended up making beaded dice to go alongside my little beads and I expanded the single playing card into a hand of cards that proved incredibly challenging to perfect. I also used a pack of cards that could be ‘cut’ to fasten and unfasten the necklace…the trick was a magnet hidden inside the two halves of the deck.

Of course, a playing card has a front and a back and I wanted my cards to be authentic, so I ended up creating a design that was reversible. I also had to design a back for my playing cards, so I incorporated a nod to the Battle of the Beadsmith (BOTB) in my logo!

Somehow in the course of the two month process, the dice and playing cards evolved into a more general theme of casinos! I added in poker chips, beaded around real coins and created the $ and lucky 7 motifs to create the back focal on the necklace.

Spectacular as all these ideas were, I succeeded in creating a photographic nightmare for myself, making it almost impossible to convey this necklace in photos. Certainly it was utterly impossible to showcase it in the four photos that are permitted for round one, so lesson learned for another time?

Battle of the Beadsmith 2014

battle of the beadsmith
Front view

You might think so, but I’m not so sure! My 2014 Battle of the Beadsmith piece was designed to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. I called the piece ‘In Flanders Field’.

This design was built around two ideas. I wanted to make a bead-woven poppy and I wanted to play more with the idea of beaded clasps and components. The result was a necklace that comprised a huge number of different components, all fastened with an equally large number of beaded toggle clasps. Some of the clasps were single poppies, some groups of poppies and some were the wreaths and cross that expressed the unimaginable loss of this horrific war.

The idea of the components was to create a necklace that can be worn in several different styles. I am still experimenting with just how many different combinations are possible, but certainly this jewellery is one of my most adaptable pieces. I can wear the choker style with a high neckline. The cross alone can be hung from the choker element to fill a V-shaped neck. The full necklace only really works with a strappy or strapless top.

The other wonderful part of the Battle of the Beadsmith is that people get to comment on the entries. For me, as a designer, this allows my work to be critiqued and I get to understand what people like and don’t like. This piece received a lot of praise for the clever design concept and the poppies were much admired. However, it also came in for a lot of criticism for over-used of the skull beads. From a design perspective I can see that this was possibly rather repetitive and it’s certainly something I would re-think. However, there is also a part of me that stands  by my decision there – I wanted to really focus peoples’ minds on the huge scale of death. I also wanted to create a strong contrast between the beauty of nature in the poppies and the poppy field motif of the choker, and the horror of war, symbolised by the skulls and black wreaths. I knew this was a design that would be controversial, but I think design should get people talking!

I’m happy to say that both of my Battle of the Beadsmith designs have had life beyond the battle. High Stakes resulted in a request to design a project for publication in Bead Magazine. The result was this bracelet. In Flanders Field received so much admiration for the poppies that I wrote up the pattern, creating a poppy field bracelet, with the option of just beading a single poppy to wear as a brooch.

Battle of the Beadsmith 2015

Let me start this year’s battle gallery with the admission that I have kept up my record of leaving in round 1. This year there was some controversy surrounding my entry, which I must confess has left me wondering whether this might be my last battle piece, so we’ll see what happens next year.

Battle of the Beadsmith 2015Meanwhile, let me introduce you to Chameleon. I don’t seem to have been able to finish with the idea of playing with components. Chameleon is in fact made up from five separate elements, all of which can be joined together to create a number of different pieces of jewellery. All five elements can be worn as one to create a rope length necklace in black and orange, full of drapes and curves. It feels very feminine to wear.

The five components allow this piece to be taken apart and re-assembled as a series of three styles of necklace, or as a belt and necklace combination, or as an anklet, belt and necklace. You can also play around with the colouring to create all black jewellery or all orange jewellery or a combination of black and orange.

The five elements are: 1. A focal section with reversible components. The inner and outer circles on each are constructed to revolve independently, allowing you to mix and match colours. This piece combines a variety of different beading techniques. 2. Two separate ropes with three layers of drapes. Each can be worn as a necklace in its own right or combined with other elements to create different styles of jewellery. These have been made with twisted herringbone, embellishment and Peyote stitch. 3. Two rope sections that allow the focal section to be worn as a necklace, or the rope sections to be extended to a longer layered necklace. These two sections have been made using a layered netting technique, again with the Peyote clasps.

So watch this space to see if I’m back for another battle in 2016 or whether I decide to accept that my work is not of the level required and simply retire gracefully!

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