Beading as a Way of Life: Inspiration and Advice from Carol Cypher

Carol Huber Cypher, a professional bead artist, recently came to Interweave to film a course series on her specialty: African polygon stitch and African helix stitch. She ended up having so much information that she filmed three courses in a new series, Exploring New Textured Tubular Beadwork. This series includes the courses Polygon Stitch 101, Beyond the Basics of Polygon Stitch, and African Helix Stitch 101.

Beading as a Way of Life: Inspiration and Advice from Carol CypherWhen I heard that Carol was coming to Interweave I was extremely excited! I had just worked through her book, Mastering Beadwork, and was excited to get some inspiration and advice from the expert herself. Unfortunately, I was out of the office while she was here. However, Carol was kind enough to let me interview her via FaceTime! So I called her up and asked her some questions that I, as a beginner, was dying to know!

Bead Beginnings

Q: How and when did you begin beading?
In the summer during elementary school, I participated in a recreational program. One day, we were scheduled to attend a Yankees game. Many of the kids went to the game, but I stayed and did arts and crafts instead. I first made plastic string lanyards, where you braid, kind of like kumihimo. But after the instructors brought out the beads, I was completely hooked. I now bead 6-12 hours per day.

Q: Many people have used your book, Mastering Beadwork, to create their own jewelry and find a passion for bead weaving. What advice you would give to beginners?
If you’re looking at my book, start at the beginning and work your way through it because each stitch builds off of the previous ones.

Beading as a Way of Life: Inspiration and Advice from Carol Cypher

Manhattan on the Edge Necklace, made with polygon stitch as an example of undulated beadwork.

Beading Favorites

Q: Your book covers a number of stitches. Which is your favorite, and why?
That’s like asking who your favorite child is! I like them all equally. I thought at first I didn’t like the brick stitch as much, but it turned out to be the stitch used in my first published piece. Now I focus on African stitches because they aren’t common among Western beaders. I love to share them with others when I teach.

Q: What is your favorite bead to work with?
I love working with peanut beads. Peanut beads are like seed beads on steroids; they make everything you bead with them look more complex than it actually is.

Q: Where is your favorite place to bead?
Outside! I love to bring a tray with a project out to the table in my yard. I have a beautiful yard, and it’s very peaceful to bead there.

Q: What is the atmosphere like when you bead? Do you tend to multitask, listen to music or audiobooks, watch television? Or just sit down and give all of your attention to your work?
Well, it’s funny you would call those multitasking, because I don’t truly believe you can multitask at anything and have it turn out how you wanted it. However, I do binge watch Netflix when I’m doing any rote work. When I design, however, I’m all in.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration? How do you come up with your next project?
Beads speak to me—sometimes I just take a basket around the bead studio and gather a palette of beads that work together, then I work with that box of beads for a while. I think of beading as minute architecture, and I like to try new structures.

Beading as a Way of Life: Inspiration and Advice from Carol Cypher

Made with ice pearl, this necklace stitched with African helix is an example of high contrast/depth beadwork.

Beading As a Way of Life

Q: How have beading and the beading community affected your life?
My life as a bead artist and teacher satisfies every need I have. When I want to be creative, I can sit down and really spend time with the beadwork creating. When I want to be social, my tribe is out there. I can teach a class or just interact with the community. It really satisfies everything: creative, social, and financial.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?
I go into every class hoping the students see me as a generous teacher. I like to think that I am infinitely patient, as I know that no matter the pace, the students (almost all adults) will eventually get it. So I try to find the best ways to help people get there.

Q: Where have you most enjoyed teaching?
I really enjoy bead societies. The group dynamic in bead societies (such as the ones in Kansas City and Dallas) are so well established and cohesive. While I enjoy teaching in many places, I find the group dynamic of a bead society to be the most fun.

Beading as a Way of Life: Inspiration and Advice from Carol Cypher

A piece from Carol’s third course, Discovering the African Helix Stitch.

Course Filming with Interweave

Q: Tell us a bit about the courses you just filmed with Interweave?
The first two courses I filmed were on African Polygon stitch. The first course covers the basics, for which there are nine different samples. The second course goes beyond the basics, allowing you to experiment with changing up the stitches in a round and adding different elements to the stitch. The final course covers African helix stitch, which generally has four stitches per round.

Q: Do you have any parting words?
Beading is a meditation for me, as well as a way of life. I hope that anyone who reads this or takes my courses will get to experience this joy with me.

Happy beading!
Marissa Bouska
Assistant Editor, Beadwork magazine

Updated October 1, 2018.

To discover more from Carol, including her work with African polygon stitch and African helix stitch, visit the Interweave Store.


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