Shocking Innovations in Beadwork

Presented by Kate McKinnon.

Shocking Innovations in Beadwork

Kate McKinnon

On February 21, 2017, Kate McKinnon, came to us straight from the madness of the Tucson Gem Shows and also from one of the latest work sessions to send the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork Pattern Book to press. This group was comprised of such noted beaders as: Dustin Wedekind, Kim Van Antwerp and Karen Beningfield (South Africa) who, working together, combined ideas and concepts and a whole new theory of beading evolved. Their upcoming book will showcase a “groundbreaking new approach to starting, disrupting, and creating new architectural and modular pieces that will challenge the way we’ve made beading work in the past”. Many of the new techniques that the team has discovered make sizing and starting beadwork so simple that even a beginner can create complex and well-tailored pieces out of a single line of seed beads.

She showed us how, in only one day work session, even a beginner can come away with several perfectly sized bangle starts. Kate shared freely a few of the most exciting of the team’s discoveries, with a gorgeous presentation that was a sneak peek into all of the new ideas coming in the next wave of books from their project. As always, all of the technical information from the books will be free and online, which is where you can catch up with what they’ve already done: . Kate also gave out one of the new book patterns for free (and to share with your friends), and sold and signed the first two CGB books after the talk. She also offered a couple of neat new CGB kits, including the Swivel Hypar Earrings, which include both beaded and origami supplies and instructions.

During her talk, Kate encouraged all of us to submit our beady creations to post onto their next poster. She went into the discovery of how ideas move into development, renovation, and creation of new ideas. Their two books have involved over 300,000 beaders in 350 countries. The neatest thing is that they feel that their work is not proprietary. The beading is not about the work but the beading is one of the oldest endeavors in mankind. The key point is to never give up your beading…keep trying new ideas, new techniques until you “get it”.

Feel free to pursue this obsession, use your ability to innovate into new directions, give yourself permission to obsess in any direction you want to go, and then to communicate what and how you are doing with friends and even outsiders (ie Facebook and Pinterest). Surround yourself with beaders who “get it” and can show you how to evolve your beadwork until you too are there. Many beaders are not (yet) able to bead out of the box and are very happy to bead from directions and kits. Do NOT be discouraged if you are still in this place. Do the first or second piece according to the rules, but do not feel afraid to look at the finished piece and “see” where you can make changes….a-ha!

In trying to fit a piece of beadwork jewelry to a body, the “fit” is the most difficult part to determine. Their group of beaders did a deconstruction of basic pieces and discovered that where you have a piece of peyote, the beads on the line above and below are tied into each other through the threads that continue the construction. This seems very strange, but Kate proved that you can actually take a pair of really fine-point scissors and snip the thread of a line of peyote. This will separate the body of beadwork above, and below, into two separate pieces. All you need to do is secure the thread ends and taa-daa ~ you actually have two pieces that stay intact. This freaked the members out that night. It is shown over and over in their books and she proved it right in front of all of us that night.

The other point was that a circle, beading in the round with no joins, is the perfect pure “line”. When you want to alter that form, you simply do a forced increase. 99 beads in a circle, then adding two beads (think herringbone) in three equal places at 33 beads on each side equals a triangle. 100 beads in a circle, then adding two beads in four equal places of 25 beads each equals a square. The resulting surfaces can become anything and can be changed at any location on the line. It is ALL math ~ the type that looks at shapes and edges and can straddle any dimension. What used to be thought of, in beadwork, as difficult dimensional construction, has now been proven to be EASY….a straight line that gets changed, evolved into a new direction.

Engineers use major machinery to press metal into shapes, beaders use needle, thread, and tiny pieces of colorful glass to basically do the same thing, create something round out a flat piece and flat out of round. She showed various pieces of beadwork and explained how, by simply moving the direction of the needle and thread, a new form evolved. Increases on a square causes the new shape to bend and create multiple layers. Kate was adamant when she explained that “this basic discovery was “wonderful ~ I have been such a fool to not see this before”…..that deconstruction is actually reconstruction ~ just into a different direction.

The amazing part of Kate’s presentation was her explaining how beadwork can also explain various scientific fields. There is a new medical field that uses origami to fold micro machinery so small that it can be inserted into the body to travel to problem areas, unfold, and resolve extreme medical issues. This same technique is being used in aeronautics. Not all fields have benefited, but many of the sciences now communicate with each other to share these new innovations.

Cindy Holsclaw spoke to the bead society earlier about how her dimensional beadwork evolved out of a love of origami and how by visualizing sewing beads in a row, from corner to corner, then placing beads on that line, opened her eyes to a whole new aspect of her life. She creates beaded DNA designs and her mother actually wore a necklace that night that was the ebola germ. 

When a member asked what they used for their beadwork, she stressed using NYMO B or D but on the 3-oz. CONE!! You will feel the difference it makes in your beadwork. It is not the softer thread found on the convenient little bobbins, that has to be constantly waxed, and sold in all of the beadstores ! It is much stronger and really holds up to the dimensional work they create. The needle can intentionally be sewn into the thread and create more of a woven internal structure. Granted, this makes it a bear to unstitch, but it is worth the purchase. (Fire Mountain Gems sells NYMO on the 3-oz. cone, and also check on eBay. It comes in few colors, but the group used the brown in almost all their beadwork.)

The best part was at the end of the night, she informed those attending that the books that normally cost $40 were sold for $25. You seriously need to attend these meetings ~ you miss out on a lot of goodies !! and to Kate directly at

by marilyn peters

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