Monday, 27 August 2012

Elephant No. 330: Bead Soup

A few weeks ago, I ran across a reference to something called "bead soup" in a quilting magazine. In the magazine, bead soup appeared to involve using a single colour of everything from beads to small toys to produce a multifaceted surface. It looked like fun, so I tucked the idea away to use for one of my elephants.

I have since discovered that bead soup needn't involve toys and other non-bead objects. It also doesn't have to be limited to a single colour. In fact, it appears that bead soup simply means a variety of slightly mismatched beads that somehow go together in a visually pleasing manner.

Bead soup mixture by Beverly Ash Gilbert.

The components for bead soup can either be purchased ready-mixed or—if you're like me and have more stuff in the house than you know what to do with—you can put together your own mix. Some people use the colour wheel to figure out a palette for their bead soup. I decided in advance that I was going to use various shades of red, so no colour wheel for me.

Elements—Fire by Nancy Smeltzer, 2011.

Once you have your bead soup on hand, you can use it to make jewellery, quilt blocks, clothing embellishment, and pretty much anything else that might involve beads.

Bead soup cuff bracelets by Andrea Mazzenga.

For today's elephant, this was the bead soup I put together. I wasn't sure I would use everything in here, but it gave me a nice range of beads to play with.

I decided use a piece of grey cotton upholstery fabric as my base. I didn't bother to draw anything ahead of time, thinking it might be interesting to let the shape grow organically.

I started by sewing on a small group of beads. I wasn't sure yet if this would be the body of a small elephant, or part of the head, or what.

This was pretty painless, so I began fleshing out the elephant. Because of the many sizes and shapes of bead, and because there's no need to place beads in precise arrangements, you can more or less sew beads wherever you like. The only thing I was careful about was not placing similar beads right next to one another.

I had by now decided that this was going to be an elephant head. I also thought that, since the beads were so tightly packed, it might be interesting to turn the final piece into a brooch of some sort.

The basic design had only taken me about an hour, so I did indeed decide to tempt fate and turn it into a brooch. I cut around the shape, leaving about 6 mm (1/4 inch) all the way around. I cut a bit of cardboard to fit inside the main part of the head as stiffening, then started basting across the inside, pulling the edges together. This was somewhat tricky, so I forgot to photograph it.

Next, I cut a small scrap of red dupioni silk to hide the mess of stitching inside. I also forgot to photograph that part of the process.

If you try this, and think you might want to make a brooch of your work, I would recommend stitching into a stiff fabric that is also more or less the colour of the beads. The grey fabric showed through in a few places, particularly where I'd stitched the trunk, so I had to add a few beads here and there to clean it up. I also extended the trunk slightly, and the end of the ear.

To finish this, I'll need to stitch a pinback onto the underside. I didn't seem to have one on hand, so that will have to wait for another day.

Although I found it somewhat tiresome to stitch around the final shape and draw the edges tight, I'm quite happy with the end result. I also found the bead soup stitching process kind of fun—probably because it's much less demanding for someone like me than more precise beadwork.

If I were to try this again to make pins—and it's likely that I will—I would make the shape a little more simple, and perhaps not use such a heavy base fabric. In the end, however, I liked both the process and the final piece. In fact, I may even keep this one and wear it myself.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Despite their imposing size, elephants can spook quite easily.

In 2008, two circus elephants were frightened by a tornado that touched down near their enclosure in WaKeeney, Kansas. Although they were in no imminent danger, the elephants decided to make a break for it.

Separating from one another in their panic, each elephant ended up in a different backyard. Nelly the elephant made it into the garden of Gloria and Melvin Folker, where she did her best to evade capture. Although the yard was small, Nelly actually managed to avoid destroying everything as she dodged trainers trying to nab her.

Nelly evading capture in the back garden of Gloria and Melvin Folker, June 2008.
Photo: © AP

When she eventually realized that her exits were blocked by fire trucks, Nelly gave up and allowed herself to be coaxed onto a circus truck. The other elephant, named Trumpet, required a mild tranquilizer before he was calm enough to climb back onto the truck.

Neither elephant was hurt in the incident. Surprisingly, neither were the gardens they invaded. Soon after the elephants were recaptured, the circus packed up and headed to its next engagement.

Nelly evading a garden hose in the back yard of Gloria and Melvin Folker, June 2008.
Photo: © AP

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