Sunday, January 4, 2015

Using Your Bead Stash – the Pitfalls of Hoarding Awesome Beads

With the advent of our special “UseYour Stash” Component of the Month challenge, I've been thinking about the giant hoard of beads that I have amassed over the last 20+ years. Man, I really have some cool stuff, rare stuff, old stuff, and stuff from amazing artists. When I started going through things, looking for inspiration and ideas of what I would like to make this month, many different reasons came up as to why all these awesome ingredients are still in their “raw” forms, rather than being made into jewelry to showcase their loveliness. As I know I'm not the only one with quite the stash/collection/hoard, I thought that I would take the time to talk about the reasons why we hold onto these things...and why it can be so hard to create with them.

Memory Lane

These are some beads I've had for a very long time. It always seems like beads that we form a sentimental attachment to are difficult to use. Perhaps it's a fear of losing that connection or memory, but for whatever reason, these beads are still in my collection, after many years. The two blue vintage Czech lampwork beads, are some of the first really “fancy” beads I bought. I can't have been over 11 or 12 years of age, but I distinctly remember paying a whole $5 for the larger one...that was an entire week's allowance! Around the same time, I started appreciating African trade beads, which evolved into an obsession with the bright teardrop shaped glass beads known as Wedding Beads. Again, I remember paying $3 for a single bright turquoise fat drop...oh how indulgent that seemed! And the carved plaster scarab came from a trip to the Portland Art Museum in highschool, to see a traveling Egypt exhibit. I was so excited to find beads in the gift shop, spent a long time picking the perfect ones, and I remember my boyfriend (my very first one) being so pleased that he could buy something for me. My mother was one of the chaperons, but somehow my first kiss managed to occur that day - and spotting this bead in the box immediately brings back the memories.

Beads That Call Your Name

Another category of beads that we seem to have difficulty using are beads that we identify strongly with. They could fit so perfectly into your style, or have a significant motif that you identify with, or be made out of a material that strongly resonates with you. The lampwork beads above are made by a friend of mine named Wilbur (no online presence, but if you're ever at the Oregon Country Fair, you might encounter him). For some reason, Wilbur's beads speak to me. I love his colors and textures – they all remind me of tropical underwater creatures or frogs or snakes – all themes that abound in my beadwork. He is primarily a stained glass artist, so his beads aren't super fancy or technically advanced...and yet, I still hold on to them, rather than creating something marvelous...Why is that?

You might have noticed that I don't use much stone in my beadwork, at least not on a regular basis. I am just more drawn to glass beads, bright colors, and creating with other people's artwork. But there are a few stones that really speak to me, and carnelian is one of them. The rabbit and frog fetish my mother brought brought back for me from one of her spinning retreats when I was I guess these beads fit into the Memory Lane category too. The carnelian donut is huge and glossy, but I've just never come up with the right combination of seed beads to go with it...not for lack of trying either! And the carnelian and agate fish fetishes...oh, I just love them! So tiny, and precisely detailed! It would be a shame to overpower them with too much beading...but I don't want to just use them as dangles either.

I Love It Too Much!

When I was talking with a friend about this topic, her first response was “Oh yes, I have beads I can't use...I want to, but then I won't have them!” I think this is a common thought among those of us that start collecting art beads. With many other types of beads we can rationalize this thought away by telling ourselves that we can find them again, or perhaps an even better alternative will come along down the road. But art beads are usually one-of-a-kind creations – little works of art that will never be duplicated. Like this hand carved tagua nut horseshoe crab...why I'm so entranced by this little guy, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's the detail, maybe it's the technical artistry, and maybe it's simply that I've never seen a horseshoe crab bead before. For whatever reason, I just can't make a piece with him...yet...I still need time to excavate him from the box, fondle him, marvel at the little claws and texture...and put him back.

I'm Not Good Enough...

I think every creative person goes through phases of feeling creatively or technically inadequate, and I particularly find this to be an issue when creating with art beads. I worry that I'm going to take away from, rather than enhance, the other person's work. I worry that my work won't be of the same caliber as theirs. Above all, I worry that the other artist won't like what I've done with their piece! Pictured above is one of my friend Shawn's gorgeous borosilicate glass's one of the first pieces that I bought from him, before we were even buddies. I've made half a dozen epic necklaces with other beads and pendants of his...but for some reason I just can't figure out what to do with this little guy. It's a smaller pendant, and would be easily overpowered by too much color or beadwork. I know the look that I would like to achieve, but I haven't quite managed to conceptualize it in my head yet, a necessary step to my creative process. Back into the box he goes, until I have just the right inspiration, technique, and urge to create with this barnacle-y beauty.

My Personal Dilemma...

I don't want to be a bead collector. I know too many awesome creative people that have amazing, inspiring bead the point where acquiring beads has taken precedent over their creativity. I do have a large, comprehensive collection/stash/hoard/what-have-you...and as much as I love buying/trading/or otherwise acquiring beads, I don't like the feeling that collecting could take over my creative process. Having a comprehensive stash is integral to my creative process – I very much dislike when I don't have something that I “need” for a project already in the house. I view my stash as a creative tool … and yet I still struggle with actually using my “special” beads. 

 Take this massive Venetian hollow glass bead for example. I love the unusual color combination. It took two talented artists to create it – one person did the glass blowing, with the perfectly aligned layers of color, and a second did the cold-work, precisely grinding away at the surface to reveal the layers underneath. Nothing else in my stash is remotely like it...and yet someday I will make an awesome piece with this bead. After all, this was the intention of the artist – for their work to make it out into the world and be made into adornment that can be appreciated as more than a single bead. But I can't let go just yet...

Do you have these thoughts too, as you peruse your stash to choose beads for this month's challenge? Is this something that you struggle with on a regular basis? How do you talk yourself into creating with beads you love? Or do you just lovingly fondle them before gently placing them back into their home in your stash? Please tell us! We would love to know!



  1. What a sweet memory of your first kiss! I love that story. Maybe you should use some of your beads to make yourself something special or display them in a shadow box on your wall then you will always have your very special beads with powerful memories and create room in your bead box.

  2. You KNOW i have the same issues. Every now and then i break thru. I think mostly because i realize its too cool to stay in a box and i wanna wear it or because i have the perfect outfit for it. GREAT post, Linds! =)

  3. What a splendid analysis of why we hoard beads! Perfect.

    You know what the collective noun for a group of beaders is, right? A hoard of beaders.

  4. I too got the scarab @ the Ramses exhibit, & hoarded it for years until I finally made myself a necklace.

  5. Hi Lindsay, Yes I too have beads I can not use, but since I got selected to play along this month (Yeah! it will be my first time participating) I have chosen some to incorporate into my designs. The first kiss bead is a wonderful story. Thanx for sharing.

  6. Great post, Lindsay! I totally have art beads in my stash that meet all the categories you described! I aspire to create beads someday that others will hoard!

  7. Oh my yes..I have a 'collection/stash/hoard/what-have-you...', too. I think your insight about 'not feeling talented enough' to compare to the wonderful talent of the art bead designer/bead-maker best describes 'me' (wow, you nailed that one!). So, I tuck my treasures away..I should probably stop doing that! As you mention..artists make these lovelies for us to use, right? I do love your 'collection' (so glad I'm not alone!)...the tiny carved horseshoe crab is amazing! The yellow hollow bead is fabulous!

  8. Great post. I totally identify with all of your categories.I have several that I don't feel worthy of, but the bring me joy when viewing them. Other than the "I'm not good enough" beads, the solution is to make something for yourself to treasure and don't offer it for sale. You'll get to wear your sweet memories and emotional connections and you'll feel joy every time you do so.

  9. What great memories you have with your older beads. I had to laugh when I saw the carved scarab. I have one of those wandering through my bead boxes and have had it many years. Yours has a much cooler memory attached however. I am totally in love with your hose shoe crab. I would keep him as a pet, give him a name and a special "pen" in my room. Great post.

  10. I don't try to hoard and I don't really have any that I won't use due to an emotional tether to any (yet). For me, it is more that I purchase beads that catch my eye and then they go into my hoard and I forget about them. I would do so much better if I use them as soon as I get them.

  11. This is a great post. I admit freely to hoarding beads, and though I do try to use as many as possible in various creations I'm guilty of overcompensating when "restocking" ie. buying in three times as many as I use so that I don't "run out" (like that would EVER happen!). Recent events have taught me the value of enjoying the creative experience over hoarding the stash, but it's still true that I categorize some of my beads - too many! - as "special" and they're still stubbornly awaiting a project. It's a constant work in progress, this business of de-stashing!


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