Sunday, January 11, 2015

How I became a beadaholic

I've been a bead addict since the early 1980's when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I landed in Santa Fe through a bizarre series of random events and life choices not worth recounting here.  Once there, I found myself enraptured by the vibrant culture of folk art, craftsmanship, and just general creativity-- something that I had, frankly, never experienced before.  Santa Fe is one of those places with a unique energy that has to be experienced first hand, I truly can't summarize it in words.

In any event, I bought some beads at the flea market one day when I saw some gorgeous beaded earrings in a shop on Canyon Road.  They inspired me to try my hand at creating something new.  I was completely self-taught; there were few books on beadwork in those days way before the Internet, and I certainly couldn't afford the books that did exist.  I made a pair of red earrings out of the three colors of beads that I possessed, and actually sold them to the same gallery that was the source of my original inspiration.  From that point on, I was hooked.  I decided to try to make a little money selling beadwork, and my formula was simple: I would spend 50% on new beads and materials, and keep 50% to try to keep a roof over my head.  My rent was $150/month and I ate a lot of 59 cent burritos at Taco Bell, but being single and having no one but myself to support, and by selling random garage sale finds at the flea market in addition to doing beadwork, I managed to keep body and soul together.

My stash of beads slowly grew, and I prudently specialized in earrings rather than larger pieces, realizing that they had a much higher profit/cost ratio.  With just a few beads, I could create a pair of earrings in two hours.  I would then put them on consignment in a small number of exclusive shops catering to wealthy and discerning clients.

I did a certain amount of loom work, usually with new Czech 2-cuts or with hex beads.  When I look back at the few pictures that I have of those pieces, I am amazed at how few colors I truly had.  Note the homemade loom: being broke meant that I had to improvise everything I owned.  This loom is constructed from a long 1x6" board, two pieces of scrap wood, some screws, and two men's hair combs.

Meanwhile, my collection of beads started to expand beyond my basic palette.  I had always favored vintage 3-cut and needle bugle beads-- partly to set myself apart from the Native American beadworkers who used "crayon colors" and seed or hex beads-- and partly because I loved the iris and matte finished that weren't commonly being produced at that time.  Bear in mind that this was before Miyuki Delicas and Toho Treasures hit the market.  Bead colors were much more limited then, but I found myself compelled to collect every possible shade that I could find.  I didn't realized it at the time, but I had become addicted.  I was collecting for the sake of collecting, all the while telling myself that I needed all of those beads for my business.

By the time my son was born, I had dozens of colors in various sizes and shapes.  I kept my beads in test tubes, always cutting them off of the strings right away (I wish I had some of those antique hanks still intact!).   (Oh, and just a tip, the rubber stoppers will oxize the silver linings and finishes, so don't use test tubes!)

Work table in 1984
Here you can see, sort of, that I had trays of beads all along the windowsill (which is how I discovered-- to both my delight and consternation-- that lined beads can fade).  All of my beeds at that time were seed, bugle, and pony beads; about half or more were very old vintage beads, including a nice collection of French metal hanks.

By the way, see the spool of Nymo on the table?  When I bought this at a Taos bead store, I remember the owner saying that I was getting a "lifetime supply".   Well, turns out that might be literally true.  I just used some of that thread this morning and the spool is still half full.  But I digress.  (Again-- :-).

By 1985, having a child to care for, I got a day job with salary and benefits, and I tapered off the beadwork business.  It was getting harder and harder to find sole proprietors who were willing to work with individual crafts people, even on consignment; and I had responsibilities now.  I cut way back on my bead purchases once I stopped selling a lot of beadwork-- although, living in eastern Idaho, I could not resist periodic $50 to $100 bead splurges at Mangum's (now Beader's Paradise).  And of course, my 50/50 ratio was completely untenable by then.  I had given up all pretense of reinvesting my earnings back into my beadwork business.

Fast forward to 2015.  Nowadays I have so many beads that I have to keep track of them in a database (roughly 3500 different seed, bugle, gemstone, crystal, and miscellaneous small beads).  No, I still don't have every single color of Delica (although I'm close-- they just keep making more, which is a beadaholic's dream anyway) and it would be impossible (short of winning the lottery) for me to be able to acquire every type and color of seed bead manufactured today.  The color palette has exploded into an almost infinite variety.  When I do the math, I realize that my bead addiction must be a very common condition, after all.  Just walk through the Bead and Button show sometime, and you will find thousands of us all in a single place at the same time.  Do they have a 12-Step Program for us yet?