Contemporary Geometric Beadwork: A Social Revolution in Beads

When Kate McKinnon discovered geometric beadwork 10 years ago, she didn’t just want to follow the thread paths, she wanted to learn how and why they worked. The stitches were simple (peyote and herringbone), but when combined they made structural magic.

Contemporary Geometric Beadwork

Geometric pioneers who had come before her had done beautiful demonstrations of vessels, ropes, and polygons. But what Kate hadn’t seen yet were two important things: easy starts for large open pieces such as bangles, and leaping, soaring, self-supported architecture. Kate formed a collaborative team, and the work on Contemporary Geometric Beadwork, Volume I began.

The ideas were edgy, and the project was open-source; it was clearly an unusual endeavor. Kate blogged about new ideas as soon as they occurred to the Contemporary Geometric Beadwork (CGB) team, and beady geniuses around the world grasped the information and executed demonstrations, which they published; thus new iterations were born. The technical sections of Contemporary Geometric Beadwork Volume I and Volume II were free to all before the books were published, and they remain free on the team site today.

This might seem like a bad business practice to some, but the actual results were beautiful, innovative pieces flowing in from all over the world. These pieces were photographed and became living parts of the work, and the beaders who made the pieces became part of the extended team. And most importantly, no one had to buy a book or take a class to participate in the discovery or the collaboration.

CGB Discoveries

As CGB studied the way the work went together, the team gradually realized something amazing — that any peyote-stitched piece can be built with stored energy just by inserting herringbone increases and loading them with tension. Almost any form made this way has the potential to leap off a table like an origami jumping frog. And as an electrical engineer pointed out to the team, the warped and hyperbolic pieces are actually batteries.

The Kaleidocycle, one of the most popular patterns the team has ever collaborated on, demonstrates many different aspects of engineering and physics. It would be as perfect as a space station as it is as a bangle or a fidget toy. A pattern using tetrahedra to make a Kaleidocycle is free on CGB’s website, and more than 100,000 beaders have made Kaleidocycles through the online shares, even though the upcoming CGB Pattern Book that features this piece isn’t out yet.

geometric beadwork

One of the 7 possible faces of the Primary Cycle, free on the CGB website. Design and beadwork by Dustin Wedekind and Kim Van Antwerp, USA. Pattern free at

CGB in the Future

CGB’s goal online continues to be to share with the world the beauty of beadwork and the scope of the discoveries that are possible. This sharing then generates new ideas, which cycle back. In this respect, Kate believes the project is more than just beading — it’s a social revolution, using basic bead weaving to help understand the natural world, our society, and the way we market and share knowledge as a culture. And Kate is still asking questions, even though the team has solved the basic problems it set out to solve, and the project now reaches a half-million people.

The project has found collaboration in many places, and by virtue of invitation from Erik and Marty Demaine, Kate will be teaching open classes at MIT in Boston throughout the month of January 2019. The classes and work sessions are completely free — you can attend them in person or through registration on the CGB website. Afterward, you’ll be able to find highlights from the classes on the CGB YouTube channel.

Find information about the CGB team, books, free patterns, the Book Blog, and more at Contemporary Geometric Beadwork.

Find geometric beadwork projects with Kate McKinnon and other designers in the Interweave Store!


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