August 26, 2014

Bead Embroidery Hair Buckles

Howdy, folks. How's your week going? I don't know about you, but I'm already exhausted and it's only Tuesday. My husband has been out of town since Sunday for a work meeting, and I never sleep well when he's gone. Plus, all the local critters seem to know it's just me here right now and are thus conspiring to overwhelm me with their sneak attacks. I have a Big Ugly Spider hiding between the wall and the dishwasher that has eluded me twice now and survived the heavy duty pot-and-pan cycle, a massive onslaught of daddy-long-legs under the counters and in every corner, lizards darting out at me from under every rock in the driveway, and today there seems to be something that's taken up residence under the stairs outside my (exterior) kitchen door. I can't tell exactly what it is--the sucker runs fast--but it appears to be either some sort of weird, running bird or a very, very small tyrannosaurus rex. I'm almost too tired to be creeped out. Almost.

But I'm guessing you didn't come here today to be regaled with tales of high desert fauna. So how about something a little prettier? Maybe some bead embroidery.

My very sweet friend Jen modeling one of my finished 'hair buckles'.

My first foray into needlework was as a child--I took my first cross-stitch class when I was in first grade (I think my mom hoped it would help me learn how to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time). I actually still have some of the first pieces I made--a series of cross-stitched Christmas ornaments dating to 1985 (or "1P85" as my six-year-old self very carefully wrote on the back side of the ornaments). From there I worked my way up to more in-depth embroidery projects, including throw pillows and wall art. It was a great way to decompress in the evenings and I loved working with my hands. And then in my early twenties my (then) boss let me borrow a book of hers titled Beadweaving by the bead artist Ann Benson. I'd never heard of such a thing! Her work was so beautiful, and I instantly fell in love and wanted to try it out for myself. Now I have to be honest--I skimmed through Benson's book and got the basic gist of the technique, but I've never been much for following super detailed instructions and generally prefer to figure out my own version of specific techniques. So my style of bead stitching might be a bit different than hers. She's the professional though, so if you are interested in learning, check out her many instructional books!

The pieces I was most inspired by were what she calls 'Hair Buckles'. I've never been able to come up with a better name for them, so I've continued to use it...but actually I don't really like the term. I think it sounds kind of heavy and bulky for something that should look delicate and elegant. (I'm open to other suggestions, if you have any.)

Here are a few of the first hair buckles I made, all from gorgeous patterns by Ann Benson (the color schemes are my own).

With the hair sticks, so you can get a better idea of how they work.
Without hair sticks, so you can see a more detailed view of the embroidering.

These pieces are all about 10 years old, and even though my hair has gone through numerous short stages in between the long stages, they've been worn many many many times.

After awhile I branched out on my own and started creating my own designs and patterns.

Maybe you can tell by the fairly generic symmetry and circular style that I was an architectural history student...these pieces were modeled after rose windows (like those found in stone cathedrals).

Then I decided to really let loose (ha!) and design some non-circular pieces...(but still symmetrical, of course!).

(Like the ombre in the top piece? That was before ombre was even popular!
Maybe the ONLY time I've ever been ahead of current fashion trends...)

More recently I ventured into creating a more pictorial piece rather than a symmetrical design. (I can't claim total credit for this piece; it was much inspired by this cuff design.)

Here's an image with all of the later pieces with their hair sticks, so you have a better idea of how they work.

I really love putting all these pieces together; it's not only a fun collection of colorful hair jewelry, but it's a pretty interesting visual (for me) of how my design style has evolved over the last decade. The design elements that have appealed to me, the colors I prefer, shapes, aesthetics, etc. I'd say the last piece--the peacock-esque one--most reflects my current tastes, although it is a little bit more psychedelic with its striped background than I might regularly go for. It was an interesting design experiment and probably my favorite piece overall to create.

If you're interested in some technical details, I generally use plain old manilla folders as my 'bead card'--the card I copy my pattern onto (I use carbon paper and trace the design) and stitch the beads onto directly. I use size 11 seed beads for the majority of my designs, and Nymo beading thread, generally in size 00. Once I'm finished embroidering the main pattern I like to back my piece with actual leather and then add a beaded border to cover the stitches between the leather and the bead card (in my naivete and bullheaded refusal to read detailed instructions on finishing techniques I created my own edging/border technique, so it looks different than how you might see other beaders finish their pieces). I know many beaders use ultrasuede to back their pieces and I've used it before as well, and while it is MUCH easier to sew through than leather I just don't like it. It is so thin that it really wrinkles up behind the piece, and I just don't like the idea of using glue between the ultrasuede and the bead card to keep things smooth; I feel like the hair buckle would really lose some of its pliability. 

Here's an image showing pieces backed with both leather and with ultrasuede so you can see what I'm talking about.

The top piece is backed with ultrasuede and the bottom piece is backed with leather.

And in case you're not familiar with how a hair buckle works, here's my lovely friend Jen modeling one.

I just think these look so pretty in hairstyles, and I can't wait until my hair is long enough to wear them again! Then again, I'm a sucker for anything with beads and/or embroidery, so I'd think they were gorgeous no matter how they were worn.

What about you, have you ever tried your hand at bead weaving or embroidery? Have you ever worn or would you wear a hair buckle? More importantly, do you have a better name for 'hair buckle'?? I'd love to know!


Linking up with:


  1. WOW! You're so talented. These are spectacular. How long does one take? Keep on crafting. You are amazing. Oh. Don't forget to do your homework ;-)

  2. Beautiful work! Thanks for linking up at Gingerly Made.

  3. Umm, wow, I'm so impressed! I've done just a little bit of beaded embroidery in the past, and I enjoy it. But look at you, making all of your own designs--amazing! I've also never had enough hair to wear something like this . :P


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