Fluent in Beads: An Interview with Carol Huber Cypher

This is my first official post on the road. I'm at BeadFest Philadelphia this weekend, so if you're at the show, please stop by the Interweave booth and say hello!

I first met Carol Huber Cypher at Bead Expo in April, when she stopped by the Beading Daily booth. I don't know if it was exhaustion from the show or what, but instead of saying how much I loved her designs in her then new book, Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads, I blurted out, "You look just like your author photo!" Luckily, Carol was very forgiving of my momentary lapse into dorkiness and agreed to talk a little bit about her beading background and her new book, Mastering Beadwork.

Carol in her studio

Michelle: How long have you been working with seed beads? How did you get started?

Carol: My earliest beading memories are projects taught to me in a summer recreation program while in elementary school. All the women in my gene pool have an affinity for artful, handcrafted personal adornments (as opposed to mass produced commercial pieces), so I figure it is in my DNA. How lucky that my creative urges result in jewelry. I've been seed beading seriously for at least 27 years; 2-14 hours a day, nearly every day, for these past 9 or 10 years; 6 years professionally. Putting the colorful little units together one-at-a-time is completely exciting.

Michelle: What prompted you to write Mastering Beadwork?

Carol: Beadwork is my work, my play, my livelihood and, well, my life. There is nothing ordinary or ho-hum about another day of beading. Each and every time I assemble the beads for a new piece I am nearly distracted by the beauty of each tiny bead. Time stops while I am immersed in putting them together into a composition. The nuances of color that vary with the bead combinations can be intoxicating. Add to that the myriad of shapes and form that can be achieved. I feel deeply rooted in beadwork and firmly grounded in the timeless tradition of beadworkers across the centuries and around the globe. I can HEAR the beads. I have acquired a facility with them that I can best describe as being fluent in beads.


Sharing this gives me meaning. I cannot express how sensational it is to teach what I know to others and behold what they do with that knowledge. It may be simply that they created a thing of beauty and have the satisfaction of doing so. It might be the start of a mindful meditation practice. It could be the creative outlet they sought or a link to the delightful community of beadworkers. Or, perhaps all of these. In addition to the local classes, I teach workshops wherever I am invited. Next year this includes Japan and Australia.

Writing Mastering Beadwork enabled me to teach thousands of people I may never have the opportunity to bead with in person. (The beaders who DO bead with me in person are relieved of ever taking a note because "its all in the book".)

Michelle: Do you have a favorite project in the book?

Carol: A favorite? Just one? Hmm, in the spirit of giving an answer I'll say Bead Happy. It is so much fun to make this piece. It is NOT fun to assemble the kit composed of 50+ different beads. Each row is a new color and size so you "shop" for a new bead with each row. The two-headed closure is one the beader is likely to employ in other projects of their own design.
Carol's favorite project,
Bead Happy

Michelle: Will you admit to a favorite off-loom stitch?

Carol: No, but I can say why I love each one. Peyote I think of as the mother-stitch which is a firm foundation in beadwork. Brick stitch is freeing and liberating while providing firmness. Herringbone is zippity-do-dah two-beads-at-a-time. Netting is lacy, feminine and versatile. Bead crochet is portable and supple. Scallop stitch is liberating and full of swags. Polygon is magical. Right angle weave, in particular of all the angle weaves, is a bead architect's life-force.

Michelle: I also have a few questions from Beading Daily readers. Joyce asked, "I make small brick-stitch medallions. How do I stiffen them without adding a backing?

Carol: Use denser thread such as fireline crystal or power pro. If this doesn't make it stiff enough, dip it in acrylic medium such as Future Floor Treatment found in the household cleaner aisle of grocery store. Dip, let the excess drip back into the bottle, and dry.

Michelle: Here's another reader question. Joan wrote, "I would love to master bead crochet. Can you share tips or resources?"

Carol: The pesky part of learning is being able to see the stitch and that the beads slide all over the place while you're trying to accomplish the next maneuver. So, begin with large thread and beads that sit so firmly on the thread that they do not slide around. "Bead Crochet Out Loud" (in Mastering Beadwork) is such a project and is not only foolproof way to learn bead crochet but, makes a very cool piece of jewelry! It utilizes ribbon yarn such as Plymouth's, and size E beads. A crochet hook in G or H will be best.

Michelle: One more! Reader Mona Lisa asked how to read an off-loom graph or pattern like those used for amulet bags.

Carol: In general, for flat work you must read from say, left to right for one row and then right to left for the next row, back and forth. When working peyote look at the lower corners of the graph. One corner bead will be "high" and the other "low". Start reading from the high bead. It is number one. Pick up the next low and then high and then low and then high across the pattern. Recall that to begin, you are picking up two rows at once. By weaving the next row, they are offset into rows one and two and the new row is row 3, though it is the first one you are actually weaving. To weave back across the beads you started with, pick up a bead just like the one the chart tells you that is directly above the last bead picked up. Then look ahead in the chart working you way back across, at (every other bead) every high bead. When you reach the end, placing half the number of beads that you started with, turn the work and now bead your way back across the chart, starting with the one directly above the last one placed.

For those amulet pieces, roll the graph into a tube and clip it to visualize the (bottomless) bag. Then lay it flat. With a pencil, draw a diagonal line up across the chart. Number each bead, starting with one. Begin reading your chart with number one. Step up at the end of each round, and see that bead labeled 3 is the first bead in the next round, and then 4 and 5 and so on, moving over by one bead with each round. For peyote beadwork, remember that the beads are offset by a half step and you're reading every other bead in the round. The "Starry Night Card Case" in Mastering Beadwork is meant to address this topic.

Thank you, Carol! Learn more about Carol (including her upcoming teaching schedule) on her website: www.carolcypher.com.

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