Thursday, 16 February 2012

Elephant No. 137: Off-Loom Bead-Weaving

Inspired by a trip to a beading store today, I thought I'd try something I've tried only once before: bead-weaving. And when I say "tried", I mean I made a round bead out of seed beads. And I used an existing round bead as a core.

I covered the history of beads in a previous blog post, so today I'll just say a bit about off-loom bead-weaving. Most off-loom bead-weaving uses something called a "peyote stitch", also known as a "gourd stitch". Although cultures around the world have used peyote stitch in their beadwork for centuries, the name derives from its widespread use by Native Americans for objects used in peyote ceremonies. The alternate name, gourd stitch, derives from its use in decorating gourds.

Fans for peyote ceremony, with beaded handles.

Peyote stitch can be used to produce strips that are flat, as well as three-dimensional objects. The stitch is usually worked in rows or rounds, interweaving the rows with thread as you go. 

Bead-woven baskets.

So much for the general theory of how a three-dimensional object should be made with beads. When I started today's elephant, I already knew that regular rows were likely not going to happen. I mostly decided that I would interweave beads however I liked, as long as a three-dimensional elephant resulted.

I did look at a few patterns for bead-woven animals, but they looked like complicated dance-step diagrams, and made me feel dyslexic. So I decided to wing it. I'm beginning to think I might have a phobia about diagrams.

Beading diagram for a baby chick.

I started by pulling out my trusty stash of seed beads.

I decided to use mostly grey with a bit of pink, and originally started at the tip of the trunk with a slipknot and a pink bead.


I added a couple more pink beads and started on the trunk, but I didn't like the way it was starting to look, so I started over. This time I began by making the back of the head. Well, this was supposed to be the beginnings of a body, but I could already tell that there was no way I was going to have time to make a whole elephant, so I decided that this would be the back of the head.

My personal technique was pretty chaotic, but essentially it's like laying bricks. You create a first row—or round—of stitches. For the next row, a bead is threaded into each gap in the first row. There are lots of tutorials and videos online to provide actual instruction, but the basic technique is not at all hard—well, if done right.

I kept adding beads until I got to the tip of the new trunk, adding a pair of pink beads at the end.

Next, I added some ears, by running a needle through the head from side to side, adding grey beads in an arc around a small core of pink.

To finish up, I added two black beads for eyes and three ivory-coloured beads on each side for tusks, again running the needle through its head from side to side. The final touch was a tiny mouth made of three beads with two pink beads inside.

I like the way it turned out, but I found this far more time-consuming than I expected. I wouldn't be averse to trying a full elephant at some point, but I think I need to practice the proper technique first. And probably have an entire day—or more—to work with.

Elephant Lore of the Day
People have claimed that animals have no sense of altruism. Stories like the following, however, suggest that this may not be true.

American wildlife biologist Kayhan Ostovar describes an unusual encounter he saw between two elephants in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. A forest elephant had gotten his trunk caught in a trap, tearing off the tip while freeing himself. This meant that, until the trunk healed, the forest elephant would be unable to feed himself. And, because male elephants tend to be solitary, he had no herd to help him.

Despite the fact that forest elephants tend to stay in the forest, this one ventured out onto the savanna, approaching a male savanna elephant for help. Walking up to the savanna elephant, the forest elephant placed his trunk into the healthy elephant's mouth, as though to explain the problem.

Although elephants readily help members of their own herd, they don't always play well with others—particularly when it's an entirely different kind of elephant. The savanna elephant, however, didn't hesitate. Reaching down, he uprooted a small acacia tree—an African elephant's favourite food—and pushed it into his new friend's mouth.

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 

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