Saturday, 16 June 2012

Elephant No. 258: Beaded Fringe

I took a bead embroidery workshop yesterday with fibre artist William Hodge, where I learned the proper technique for making beaded fringe, among other things. I've fiddled with beaded edging before, but I've never made a patterned fringe following a graph, so today I thought I'd try making a small elephant fringe.

I've covered the history of beads before in his blog, so I'll just give you a bit of background on the use of fringe on clothing.

Fringe has been added to clothing for millennia. As far back as 3000 B.C., fringe was found on clothing for both men and women in the Mediterranean basin, and appears to have been worn by all social classes. Fringe was usually added to the edges of clothing, such as hems and seams, and either hung in long, straight lines, or was knotted into elaborate patterns. Although fringe was often a separate piece of work that was later stitched onto a garment, "self-fringe" could also be cut into the cloth itself.

As time went on, fringe became more elaborate. Fringes were dyed, knotted, layered, embroidered and beaded. In Mesopotamia, some men even used the fringe on their shawls to sign contracts. Instead of using a signet ring or seal to imprint their personal mark into clay, they would use their own unique fringe.

Over the millennia, fringe has been found in many other civilizations. Among First Peoples around the world, it has long been used as a practical means of keeping insects away, as well as a form of ritual and personal adornment.

Beaded and fringed Native American clothing.
Photo: Hilma Anderson

Beaded fringe on clothing became particularly popular during the flapper era of the 1920s, when dresses featured rows of fringe that extra swing to the dances of the time. Today, fringe remains important among indigenous cultures, although it is largely limited to evening gowns and costuming in Western attire.

Flapper dress with beaded fringe, 1920s.

For today's elephant, I was going to start by sketching an elephant on graph paper. Then it occurred to me that producing a graphed design might be almost as much work as making a bit of beaded fringe, so I used this graphed design from the book The Tap Dancing Lizard by Catherine Cartwright-Jones and Roy Jones. I used the same design for my fair-isle knitting post, and I used the baby elephant in my paper weaving post, if you'd like to see what it looks like in other media.

For beads, I had small glass beads in various colours, but settled on a silvery steel grey for the elephant, and a transparent lime green for the background. For those who know about bead sizes, these are a no. 11, which is a relatively small bead, but not grain-of-sand small.

To figure out how many beads you'd need, you would obviously multiply the number of vertical rows by the number of horizontal rows. To make the full chart above, I'd need 30 x 56, or 1,680 beads. Because I would usually add a couple of plain rows above, below, and to the sides, I would normally make sure I had enough extra beads to accommodate the additional area. Today, however, I anticipated making only the head and foreleg of the larger elephant.

The method is simple: count the number of beads of each colour in each vertical row, string them onto a piece of sturdy thread, and run the thread through the top edge of your fabric or ribbon. Repeat for each vertical. Obviously it's a bit more complicated than that, but not nearly as complicated as you'd think.

I decided to string my fringe from some green cotton grosgrain ribbon in a lime green. I got this stuff from the dollar store, where it came six colours to a pack, but you can get it at any fabric or craft store as well. I chose this kind of ribbon because it's sturdy enough to hold up to the weight of glass beads, and because its weave doesn't deform as easily as many other types of ribbon.

For beading thread and needle, I used a good-quality no. 10 beading needle, and a beading thread called Conso. I used white, since that's what I had on hand, but you can use any colour—including something that contrasts with the beads. It's a good idea to use beading thread, rather than regular sewing thread, simply for durability. If you're going to this much trouble, you don't want it falling apart in a few years down the road. Or even sooner—speaking from experience with previous beading adventures.

I decided I wanted a picot drop at the bottom, so I added three extra beads at the bottom of my strand. To make a simple picot like this, you start looping your thread back up through the line of beads three beads above the bottom of the strand. When you pull the thread tight at the top, this little triangle naturally forms. In essence, it's really just a very tiny loop.

At first this picot might seem counter-intuitive for a fringe with a design in it, as it would make it hard for the fringe to overlap. However, the picot naturally turns sideways. This means that, when the fringe is lying on a flat surface, the picots will spread the design apart; but when the fringe is hanging, the picots make no difference because of their tendency to turn. That was my experience, anyway.

I knotted the top of each strand at the back of the ribbon. This ensures that, if one of the strands falls apart, it won't result in a chain reaction that destroys the whole thing.

There's not much more to the technique. I found it helpful to check the pattern against itself every so often before completing a strand. A couple of times I found that I had miscounted the beads, so I restrung that particular strand. It also helps to run the strand firmly between your fingers before adding the final knot at the top. This ensures that it's lying smoothly and that it isn't too tight, while also ensuring that it's properly seated against the ribbon. If you try this, you'll get a feel for this sort of thing relatively quickly.

It took me about an hour and a half to do the elephant's head and foreleg, by which time I'd had enough of concentrating and counting tiny beads. It's not that it's not an enjoyable activity; however, the counting part, and the matching-to-the-chart part can be a bit tedious.

I like the final result very much, however, and will definitely finish the whole chart at some point. I might even try the multiple colours of one of those pretty Victorian floral designs. One day. Maybe.

Elephant Lore of the Day

In the early eighteenth century, an epidemic was raging through the city of Lucknow, India, leaving the sick and dying lining the streets that led to the palace.

The Baron de Lauriston reported watching as the Nawab—ruler of the region—came out on his elephant to travel into the jungle. His soldiers and attendants made no attempt to clear the road of the area's unfortunate citizens, caring little whether or not they were trampled by the Nawab's elephant.

The elephant, however, had other ideas. The Baron watched as the elephant, without any prompting at all, lifted some of the people out of its way with its trunk, then stepped so carefully around the rest that no one was hurt.

The Nizam of Hyderabad and his retinue, ca. 1895.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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