What Your Bead Stash Is Saying About You

What's in your bead stash? Have things gotten a bit out of hand?

I recently heard a new phrase. It was from a knitter but it could just as well be about a bead stash or a fabric stash. It was the acronym SABLE which stands for Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy.

It got me thinking about how we fill up our physical (and mental) space with stuff.

At one time I had over a dozen of those cardboard office tote boxes full of fabric. At another point I had two boxes full of dyes, waxes, and tools for batik. I've had at least a half dozen boxes of weaving or needlepoint yarns.

I'm guessing I'm not the only beader who also has a few boxes of quilt fabric, a large supply of watercolors and watercolor paper, a respectable supply of acrylic paints, a few boxes of yarn, some assorted needlepoint canvases, a large supply of fabric that wants to become clothing, lots of sewing notions and accessories, and. . . well, you know. . . Does any of this sound familiar?

It's Okay to Move on to New Interests

I don't want to sentence anyone to sewing up every bit of fabric they own, or using up their entire bead stash before they start something new, but it is worthwhile to take a step back every decade or so and take a look at our own pattern of embracing and letting go of our activities.

The Beginning of a Bead Stash

When I started beading a decade ago, I did some work with seed beads, then got involved making earrings and stringing necklaces. I bought a lot of assortments of beads and kits containing a dozen sorts of beads in a single color plus some earring findings.

But I didn't buy just a single color of those. No, I bought a bunch of those kits in different colors. I used up a lot of those beads, too. I even bought the "Boss's Bead Bag" at Fire Mountain Gems more than once, and had a great time sorting out the odd collection of beads and findings in each bag. My bead stash was growing.

I played around with bead looms and drafted and wove a few simple loomed patterns for myself. I made brick stitch earrings with fringe.

The bead collection grew, with more seed beads taking up space, but I kept acquiring other glass and stone beads for Future Projects, some of which actually got made

Finding a Direction

I had already collected a lot beads before I took Joanne Strehle Bast's workshop on "Painting with Comanche Stitch" at a Bead & Button Show. After that workshop I settled down and did mostly that sort of pictorial work for most of a year.

Then the program for the next Bead and Button Show came out and since I'd had such a great experience with the Painting with Comanche Stitch workshop, I was busily looking for another class that would be equally inspiring. All the classes that spoke to me from that catalog were for polymer clay work and I came pretty close to signing up before I slapped myself on the forehead (a V-8 moment) and realized that such a class would take me totally off the track that I had been following so productively since the previous June.

I almost fell for it, and while I'm sure it would have been a fun trip, it would have kept me from developing myself as a bead artist, and led me down the familiar road where you wander from this to that to the next thing.

I think I am most vulnerable to such distraction and redirection when:1. I am frustrated with the work I am doing or stuck at some point where I can't resolve an issue in my work, or2. I feel like I have learned the basic process and can't think of any new fun applications of it, or3. I realize that I don't really like this kind of work after all.

Now, I am fine with going off in a new direction when I can't find any more pleasure in the current one, but I think I'm kind of a wuss when I wander off a path just because it gets difficult.

Direction and Your Bead Stash

If you have found a direction in beading or any other art or craft, then you may want to consider how you want that direction will affect your bead stash or stash of other supplies. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. Do you really want to buy assortments of beads? Assortments are fine for beginners. They can be a way to buy some beads that may work well together, especially if you are feeling a little timid about combining colors at the beginning. But for most experienced beaders, the assortment is not likely to meet your needs, however pretty it looks in the box.

2. Can you allow yourself to imagine that you will create amazing work, even if it seems a long way from that crumpled ball of beads and thread you are holding now? Because if you are willing to imagine creating cool work, you can now begin to imagine what needs to happen between now and that cool future work. Then ask yourself if the beads that are now tempting you to buy them have anything to do with that future work. If not, just admire them and let them go to someone else's bead stash.

3. What is your own history of changing directions and media over the years? Do you tend to change media or focus every six months? Every five years? If you take some time to think through your own past, how often do you make a major change?

Impulse and Your Bead Stash

Obviously, you get to make your own decisions about what to do at each point in your life, but if you know that you change directions with great frequency, you might consider not buying so far in advance of your needs. Maybe practice a little "catch and release" shopping where you put the stuff you think you just can't live without in your shopping cart, roll it around the store for a while, then put most of it back where you got it and only buy the stuff you need right now. I actually do this pretty often and it has the added benefit of giving you extra exercise as you walk around the store at least twice. . . .

Retail experts say that we are much more inclined to buy a thing if we touch it or hold it. So, maybe you don't even want to put that stuff in your tray or shopping cart unless it is really going to advance your art.

Your Bead Stash and Your Working Style

When I am working on a major piece, I collect a lot of seed beads of potentially useful colors and finishes. I'd like to blame this on buying a lot of stuff from catalogs and online, where it is harder to see how the beads will work together, but I do pretty much the same thing in a bead store. I accumulate a lot of colors, and only use a fraction of them.

If I were wiser and thriftier, I might return the unopened colors for cash or credit. But I seldom do, unless I have accidentally ordered the jumbo package of a color I decide not to use.

Because I have done a number of portraits in beads, I have a pretty large collection of size 11 and size 15 beads in colors that might appear on faces, including the muted blues, greens, or purples that may appear in shadows. To me, this is a good kind of stash building and I have no apologies for it.

On the other hand, having a huge quantity of all kinds of glass beads in all sizes in cobalt blue is just impulse buying gone crazy. . . .

A Life in Art and Craft

It is common to wander around, exploring and learning in various areas. With luck, much of what is learned will be useful in other areas later.

It can be useful to notice whether your passion is really in making things or is in buying supplies. . . .

Whether you play with beads to make art, to make jewelry for yourself or as gifts, to create an income with your hands, or just for the fun of it, enjoy your beads. But don't let them suck up all your living space or all of your available dollars.

Happy beading!

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