Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Addiction and UFOs

Long before I became hopelessly addicted to seed beads (and all the stuff that has since followed), I was addicted to books. I can’t have enough books. Cookbooks, art books, history books, photography books, gardening books, great fiction, trashy novels, even a book about weeds. (I admit, I bought that for my husband to arm him in his hopeless yard battles.)

That book addiction is manifesting itself here in the shop. We keep getting more and more new books in stock to feed your love of beads, books and learning. I keep ordering more, new books because I’m also addicted to learning new things all the time. I think this is where all my UFOs come from (unfinished objects – what did you think I meant?) When I start a project, I’m learning something new. Sometimes I can’t visualize where it will end up, but I have at least learned something from it and I’m ready to move on. So it becomes one of my UFO collection.

So, I’m learning…..learning new things from books, learning new things from you - my wonderful customers, learning from the classes we offer here at the shop, and learning that a UFO doesn’t have to be something that hangs over my head waiting to be finished . I’ve learned to let go, accept what I’ve learned and to set it aside and move on to the next thing I can learn.
What prompted these random thoughts this morning was the arrival of a new shipment of books – some are titles we’ve had before, and some are totally new to us. Stop by, have a cup of hot tea with us, and sit on the couch a while to page through some of our new books and get inspired. You might just learn something new!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No Substitute For A Great Bead

I love when I come across a truly great bead, and these Groovy Window tablet beads are a perfect example of what I think of as a great bead. The colors are wonderfully muted and they’ve got a lot of style on their own, yet they will pair well with lots of other beads. We’ve already made up a couple sets of earrings!

So, come on over Thursday night at 6:30 and “make and take” a pair of earrings with these versatile new beads. Michelle will show you how, even if you’re never made earrings before! And, while you’re here, check out our huge new shipment of Czech glass beads. We’re expanding our selection “beyond the firepolish” to bring you unusual sizes, colors, shapes and cuts of the finest quality high end Czech glass we can find. Of course, we still have all the basics, including some fabulous new opaque orange fire polish that will please all our UT fans.

October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we’ve got awareness ribbon beads and charms so you can show your support with your own unique style.

You’ll love all our new beads – they’re truly great beads!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What did you do on your summer vacation?

This question came up recently at the Blount County Arts and Crafts Guild meeting. It was a way for the group to reconnect with members old and new after a summer hiatus. This summer I was fortunate enough to attend a week long workshop at Wildacres retreat in North Carolina and I took the Gem Identification and Appreciation class taught by Ben Smith, F.G.A.

At the end of the week, each class had a representative speak to the whole group of attendees to share with everyone what the class was about. A couple of folks asked for a copy of my remarks, so I thought I’d share them here as well.

As my class representative, here’s what I had to say:

“Who doesn’t love a mystery? Science is the way we solve the mysteries of our surroundings and it is in our nature to satisfy our curiosity about the shiny sparkly things we call gemstones. Ben Smith taught us that gemology is the science we use to identify these shiny sparkly things. We learned how to use the tools of the trade when solving the mystery of a gem: dichroscope, polariscope, microscope, refractometer, leverage gauge, scales, and ways to measure specific gravity. We were then each challenged to solve a mystery of our own by using these tools, reference materials, and deduction to identify our assigned stone.

Everyone’s success is a tribute to the teaching skill, vast knowledge and patience of our instructor Ben Smith. Ben’s instruction also covered how synthetic stones are made, tradional and current industry trends in synthetics and treatments, gemstone care, simple home tests for fakes like glass or dark blue synthetic spinel, and additional instruments like a “black box”, moissonite tester, and diamond tester.

Here are some comments from fellow classmates:
· Exceeded expectations of what we thought we learn and absorb in this time span
· Lots of fun
I personally got reacquainted with my scientific side and discovered I can get lost inside a stone when looking through a microscope.

Most significantly, we were privileged to take part in this particular class which marks the end of an era for this group. Many, many thanks to Ben Smith.”

The last remark is a reference to Mr. Smith having resolved to make that class, (his 55th session!) the last one he will teach.

I would like encourage anyone interested in the lapidary arts to consider taking these classes offered by the Southeast Federation of Mineralogical Societies, who conduct four week long retreats per year at two locations. As a member of the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society, I was able to spend a wonderful week of learning, meeting other attendees, eating very well, and relaxing in a remote mountain environment. There were about 60 participants in nine classes. The instructors are top notch, the setting is incredible, and the value is beyond belief! For more information about the classes, go to

If you would like more information on how to become a member of the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society, I invite you to attend the upcoming Gem, Mineral and Jewelry show hosted by the Knoxville Gem and Mineral Society. This annual event will be on October 16-18, 2009. For more information, visit There will be plenty of folks there to talk to about what we do and how to become a member. If you’ve got kids who are interested in rocks, this is a must see event! (and kids under 12 attend free!)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tucson 2009: How to shop when your senses are overloaded and your feet hurt. Part 3 of a series

Shopping any bead show or even a trunk show requires a certain amount of discipline, a plan, and an open mind. Shopping the country’s largest bead show is not much different, except you need comfortable shoes, water, and lip balm.

Set a budget. Sounds like a no brainer, but it is easy to go overboard because you will see SO many things you love, have to have, know you can sell, etc. Know your limit and stick to it.
Make a list. Keep a list going of specific things you need to buy. List the price you want to pay (and if you don’t know this, spend some time at the show paying attention to the going prices), colors and sizes you want, quantity you need. Get as specific as possible and bring samples or colors to match to make sure you’re getting what you really need.

Make time to window shop without buying. Go to venues you don’t possibly need anything from. Soak in the atmosphere. Ask the vendors questions. Along the way, you’ll see something or get a flash of inspiration that would have otherwise gone unrevealed to you if you were focused on “buying”. Take time to look at finished jewelry. Spend some time looking at the rocks that your beads come from – you may learn something that you can use to make your work more interesting to your customers!
Designate a portion of your budget solely for impulse buying. You will see things that you want but can’t really define why. Treat this amount like gambling – if you make a great decision, you’ll win big with something you can make into a terrific piece or something your customers will love. If it ends up being something that doesn’t work out so well, then you’ve lost nothing because you planned to lose it anyway – like at a casino. You enjoyed the fun of shopping and buying.

Make sure to take a lunch break – you need to keep your energy up and your brain cells at their peak. And when you sit down at one of the many picnic tables in the food vendor area, introduce yourself to other folks at your table and get a conversation going. I have met some really fascinating people this way – nearly everyone there is from somewhere else. I always learn something from the people I meet, and I’ve made some great connections this way.

If you know you want it, and the price is what you want to pay, get it and get it now. The Tucson venues are so large, you may never pass that way again, and the best way to shop for prices is to know ahead of time what you want to pay. If you do see a similar item elsewhere later that’s cheaper, you’ll know that the price you paid is OK because you’ve already done your homework and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you got a fair deal, if not the best one. And, you'll save lots of time later because you won't have to run around trying to find the vendor where you saw something you wish you had purchased.

Most of these rules will apply even if you’re shopping a trunk show or local bead show. It’s overwhelming to see so much all at once. Taking the time to plan your purchases and your budget, and taking a break to reflect will help you be happy with your purchase decisions, and you’ll leave with wonderful things you will use with confidence and style. And, if you happen to be doing your shopping at the Tucson shows, make sure to wear comfy shoes, drink plenty of water and wear your lip balm.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wire Bail with Artisan Appeal

Make this easy bail, perfect for big pendants, and hanging on multiple strands of leather or fiber. The multiple wraps of wire add interest and give it that hand-crafted, artisan look, and it's easy to add additional dangles, or string it over a chain you already have.

Gather: 18" of 26 gauge wire (we used bronze colored copper), one large ceramic pendant, a Sharpie marking pen, chain nose pliers, and nippers. The pendant in the illustration is by Joby Jo Cotter, and we have a large selection at the great price of $8!

Bead: Leaving about two inches of tail to start, hold the sharpie next to the top of the pendant and wrap the wire through the hole in the pendant, around the sharpie, and through the hole again, repeating about seven times, leaving at least another two inches of tail. Neatly wrap each tail around the multiple strands of wire as you would the wraps in a wrapped loop, wrapping three to four times close to the pendant hole. Trim off the excess wire.

This is a super simple, and super easy project! If you would like help, drop by the shop and we'll show you how it's done!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Clever earrings, and no wire wrapping!

We love clever ideas around here. A customer came in recently with some awesome fat vintage crystal drops (I think they were actually buttons!) and she wanted us to help her turn them into earrings to match an heirloom necklace. They were truly unique, fat, drop style beads, and she wanted to include bead caps in the design to bring in the gold from the necklace. Hmmmm – bead cap, top drilled bead, weird shape – how to make it work? The technique we came up with would work great on many kinds of top drilled pendants. It’s especially good if your wire wrapping skills could use improvement!

Try this alternative to a wire wrap when using a large drop bead in an earring :

Gather: top-drilled beads, bead caps, flexible beading wire, clamshell bead tips and crimp beads. You’ll also need your flush cutter and crimp tool.

Design: Place your bead caps on the tops of the beads and see which types will look best on your particular bead. (Of course, it helps if you’re in a bead shop and can try out a lot of different sizes and shapes!)

Bead: Use about 3" of flexible beading wire to string through the hole of the drop bead. Bring the ends together and string on the bead cap to sit over the top of the drop bead. String on a clamshell bead tip, string on a crimp bead and flatten the crimp bead to secure the wire. Trim the wire off, and close the clamshell tip over the crimp bead. Attach directly to an ear wire, or add to a bit of chain for more dangle.

Need help with this project? Drop by the shop and we’ll show you how!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tucson 2009: Getting There and Beading Along the Way, part 2 of a series

I’ve been shopping at the Tucson gem shows for 4 years. Four trips means I’ve seen a lot, and as I embarked on my trip in February and started thinking about which venues I wanted to visit, I realized I had become a little bored with going to the same venues I’d come to depend on as the biggest and most likely to yield the best goods. WHAT? Can I possibly be saying that with over 3,000 vendors to choose from, I’ve seen it all?

No, that’s not what I mean. It’s just that some of the wonder and awe had worn off a little and I began to approach shopping differently now. The first time I went, I didn’t know what to expect and everywhere I looked there was something new, so it really didn’t matter where I went. I tended to choose venues where it looked like it was easy to park. Some were wonderful, some not so much.

So, with 50+ venues to choose from, and only 4 shopping days, how did I go about choosing which to visit?

I have several goals in choosing venues now. The first is to visit the people I already know. This is one of the key reasons I love to go. I love making that personal connection, building the relationships with vendors that will last through the life of the shop. Throughout the year we may talk on the phone, or just connect via email, but meeting face to face, and sometimes even sharing a drink or a meal, improves that connection. It’s one of the things that makes having the shop so darn much fun. It also allows me to see and share the genuine excitement that these vendors have for their products.

Another goal each year is to visit a venue I haven’t visited before, no matter how difficult it is to get there, how obscure the location, or what I expect (or don’t expect) to find there. I went to one this year that had about 10 vendors total in it. Pretty small by Tucson standards. But I found some awesome and interesting things. Beautiful copper pieces I can incorporate into metal clay projects (Yes – I do shop for myself, not just the bead shop!), slabs and chunks of rock I can cut into shiny cabochons (so what if I don’t even know how yet!), and some of the most beautiful rhodochrosite I’ve ever seen. This was a quiet little venue, but as I talked with the woman selling the rhodochrosite, I learned that I have purchased from her before at a booth her husband operates at much larger venue. This particular location was actually a small storefront in front of their permanent warehouse, where they staged their product for their travels to wholesale shows throughout the year. I was the only one with her for a while; we had a nice conversation, and she gave me directions on how to walk through an alley and under the highway over to several other venues I might like. What a truly interesting find!

At that little venue, I developed my third goal for shopping in Tucson which is that it’s not always about finding the next great bead. I learned that sometimes it’s valuable to just relax and look and gather inspiration from all that is there to see. I saw many folks spooning fresh coconuts for lunch in the African village venue, I sipped a soy smoothie from a stand whose proprietor was from London and just came to Tucson to set up her organic snack bar at the show, and I saw geodes filled with sparkling amethyst taller than me! I learned a whole new way of window shopping that lets me relax and enjoy the experience and lets my imagination soar. I pull out my little notebook from my purse and jot ideas for projects, designs, and classes. I record information about oddities and maybe even names of vendors I’d like to remember for future visits.

So, if you ever travel to the Tucson gem shows, don’t sweat about which venues you go to. There is something incredibly wonderful to discover at each and every one of them. And if you don’t go, every year I will continue to bring a little of that magic back to Maryville for you to share the experience.

Thanks for reading - now go bead something!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Project Idea: Grandmother’s Bracelet

We just got in some tube beads at awesome prices. The photo shows one bracelet made with gold filled tubes and one made with our new gold plated tubes - can you tell the difference? The supplies for the gold filled total over $50, and if you use our new plated tubes the total is less than $15! This elegant project is easy to make, and because you're using memory wire, you don't have to worry about the fit!

Gather: Swarovski Crystals in colors representing the birthstones of each grandchild, memory wire (check out the new gold and silver plated varieties!), silver, gold or copper plated bead tubes,3 or 4mm metal or glass beads for spacers, memory wire cutters, round nose pliers.

Design: Decide which order the stones should go in – will you use birth order, or mix them up according to how the colors look together?
Bead: Cut off a length of memory wire several loops long (more if it’s a big family!) Make a small loop at the end of the memory wire. String a couple of the spacer beads, a tube, a spacer bead and a crystal. Repeat with a spacer bead, tube, spacer bead and another crystal until complete. Trim the wire, leaving about ¼” and make a loop with the ¼” wire at the end.


Important tip: always use memory wire cutters when cutting memory wire so you don't damage your other cutting tools.

Need help with technique? Drop by the shop and we can show you how to cut and finish the ends of memory wire. We'd love to see you soon! (P.S. - you can make the bracelet on the right for less than $15!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tucson 2009: Getting There and Beading Along the Way, part 1 of a series

What’s Tucson got to do with beading? It’s where every February, over 55,000 people shop with over 3,000 vendors of beads, stones, tools, jewelry and related items. Other countries hold similar shows and advertise them as “The Tucson of [insert city or country name here.]” Tucson is THE place for everyone who’s serious about this business to shop.

Well, that happened last February so why am I writing about it now? For starters, I didn’t have a blog back then and I really wanted to communicate the gem show experience to our customers. Also, I learned SO much that I am still applying the new information to events and projects around the shop.

Getting there: I personally love to fly, and always look forward to layover time as a great excuse to do some beading or read a good book. I was using frequent flyer miles and was very limited when scheduling my flights and as a result had plenty of stops and layovers. No complaints here because I just see that as plenty of time to work on beading projects!

Staying in Tucson has been wonderful these past 4 years as I am so glad to have good friends to stay with. They are not only perfect hosts, but great fun as well and I look forward to seeing them every year. I’ve heard many different reports on hotel accommodations, from great deals to high prices during gem show. Some vendors with large staffs attending will rent a house and share it.

Getting around is easy with a rental car and a good map. Parking is plentiful at many centralized lots, and taking a shuttle from those lots is sometimes the only way you can visit some of the venues. In one case I was able to find parking right at the front door of a venue, then one of the vendors there gave me directions on how to walk through the alley to get to two more! My little rolling bag squawked at the rough terrain, so I left that in the car in favor of a shoulder bag.

If you go…plan ahead of time so you can get the flights you want, and a convenient hotel room. Bring comfortable shoes, a bag on wheels, a shoulder bag, and cash. Many merchants take credit cards, but many do not. If you plan on attending wholesale shows, register ahead of time, and bring plenty of resale tax ID documents along. Prepare for any weather – some years I have gone it has been cold and rainy and sometimes hot and dry. And, sometimes it’s been both on the same trip!

Beading while traveling: Seed bead weaving projects are wonderful travel companions. The tools needed are minimal, it doesn’t take up much space, and the TSA hasn’t declared beading needles a deadly weapon yet.

Here’s a simple project to take along on your next trip: Beaded Beads. Using two colors of size 11 Delicas, string a base row 16 beads long in this order: 4 color A, 8 color B, 4 color A. Work flat peyote stitch for a total of 10 rows, keeping the same color pattern. Zip together into a tube and secure thread ends. Repeat often, changing the colors as you make each bead. String these together with 4mm glass beads in between them for a bracelet, or necklace depending on how many beads you made (these make great stretchy bracelets!). One of our Delica Starter kits would be great for this – it includes 8 colors of color coordinated beads, two needles and thread. Pack that, plus stretchy cord, 4mm glass beads, small scissors, work surface and conditioner into a small pouch or box and you’re good to go!
Coming soon: Tucson 2009, Part 2, which venues to shop at?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Thanks for reading my blog! If you keep returning, I promise I'll do my best to provide entertaining, insightful thoughts on all things beads.

Here's some of what to expect:
Great ideas, little, big, and which when
Links to other great ideas
What inspires me
What amuses me
And, of course, shameless marketing. But, of course, you really DO want to know about our new products, classes and sales, don't you? If not, well then you can just skip the shameless marketing and jump right to the info you really want.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Little Beads

Oh, we love those size 15 seed beads, yes we do. Local glass bead artisan Robbie Gentry found a use for them yesterday when I offered them to her to try out as spacers inside her hand made beads to keep the wobble away. What do you know? They work for her better than Delicas.

Don't know the difference between a Delica and a size 15? Our expert staff does, and a whole lot more, too. If you do know what they are, then you'll love to hear we just added over 30 new colors to our already awesome selection of these tiny little beads.