Bead Quilling: Kathy King’s Advice on Seeing Beading in a New Way
Kathy King is an award-winning bead artist and jewelry designer who specializes in a beading technique called bead quilling, which she invented. In bead quilling, the side holes of the beads are exposed, and the beading thread is incorporated into the design. This technique opens up a whole new world of possibilities for bead weaving.
Q: How did you get started beading?
A: I’ve always loved making things, starting with Barbie clothes and furniture when I was little, then progressing to paper and clay crafts when I was a teenager. I discovered beads after many hours of wandering my local craft stores after work in the 1990s. I started out stringing necklaces. In 1999, I got the chance to take two peyote-stitch workshops with Carol Wilcox Wells, and I was completely hooked.
Q: How did you discover bead quilling?
A: Bead quilling was a very happy accident. I was trying to come up with a new beaded bead design that wasn’t working—it was way too flat for a beaded bead. As I laid the piece down, I noticed that the thread design looked really cool. I made a note in my sketch book about the piece reminding me of paper quilling, then just put it away. Something brought me back to the idea a few months later, and I started experimenting. I had originally used peyote stitch, but it was too loose. I tried square stitch, and it worked perfectly. The more I play with the bead-quilling technique, the more I love it. It lets me experiment with new shapes because it’s very sturdy but still flexible.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
A: I find inspiration everywhere. I see shapes and color combinations in everything. For example, you’ll frequently find me taking photos of hotel carpets or ripping pictures out of magazines. I also own several art books, mostly non-bead related. Books about tile patterns or cultural motifs from around the world can provide endless design and color inspiration.
Q: Do you plan your designs in advance, or do you just let the creativity flow?
A: Most of the time I just start beading and see where it takes me, especially when I’m playing with new bead-quilled shapes. I have five or six sketch books with designs scribbled in them, but most of the designs aren’t made— although I look through the books when I need ideas. I tend to do sketches for my larger, more complicated pieces, but the end result doesn’t always match my original idea. I create about eighty percent of my work as I go, playing with color and design with no real plan. When I go to bead shows, other beaders always ask what project I have planned for the beads I buy. Usually I have no plan. I just buy what I love, and I eventually find a design that works.
Q: How do you approach the use of color in your designs?
A: I don’t approach color scientifically at all. I’ve never used a color wheel. Instead, I just go by instinct and do a lot of playing. When I create monochromatic designs, I use a lot of different finishes to give the piece more depth and interest. The colors I use in a piece might be inspired by an accent bead I’m using, or I just might happen to be in the mood to use a particular color at that time. Don’t be afraid of color. If a color combination doesn’t work, you can take the piece apart or you can keep adding beads until you like it. Allow yourself to play. I’ve made plenty of “mistakes,” but I’ve learned something each time. Sometimes the color combinations I thought would never work were the most beautiful together.
Q: How do you get out of a creative rut?
A: I never seem to run out of ideas, but I don’t always feel like my ideas are new and creative. To generate new ideas, I like to play with other mediums, such as paper, mixed media, or fabric. I think it’s good to step away from your beads for a bit and use other materials to stimulate your creative juices. Doing so can open your mind to new ideas to try with your beads. Looking at other mediums gave me the idea to add string-art design to my bead-quilled shapes. I also love to spend time (probably too much) looking at other artists’ work in all mediums. Seeing what other beaders are doing makes me want to push myself to try new things.
Q: How does your engineering background play into your beadwork?
A: I’ve always loved building things (Legos have always been popular in our house), and I’ve always liked math. My brain visualizes well in three dimensions, which lets me understand how to create shapes more easily—especially with bead-quilled structures. I enjoy making geometric shapes with beads, and the pieces are so stiff that I can easily use them as building blocks. The logical, mathematical side of my brain loves taking a chaotic pile of beads and creating a very orderly structure.
Photos courtesy of Jason Dowdle.
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