Mastering Beadwork: Bead Artist and Author Carol Cypher

I'm so excited to be hosting master bead artist Carol Cypher next week in a live webinar, Adventures in Polygon Stitch: Add an Intriguing and Little Known Beading Stitch To Your Bead-weaving Repetoire. I've long admired Carol's incredible bead art, and her classic reference book, Mastering Beadwork, is one of my favorite resources for using my favorite beading stitches and techniques. Carol took a few minutes of her time and answered a few questions for us, so we could get to know her better! Read on to find out about the studio space and creative process of this highly creative bead artist.

Tell us a little about yourself. Now that I have a few years behind me, I see that I have always pursued creativity. Even during my decidedly un-artistic first career, I studied and played in fiber arts. My second career as a chef provided me an entire other repertoire of creative expression. This third chapter of my extremely fulfilling and creative life I get to design and create and share my work and techniques with others. All the while basking in a most delightful, generous and caring community of beaders (and bikers).

Where are you from originally, and where do you currently live? I have lived my entire life in the Hudson River Valley of New York state and currently in Port Ewen — ninety miles north and light years from New York City, if you get my meaning.

What do you do besides beading? (What's your day job) Beading and all the aspects of my beadiful career are my day job and more consuming than any 9-5 day job, but I am anything but complaining. I have written and continue to write books and articles, mostly how-to, on beadwork and feltmaking and the provocative pairing of the two mediums. I create workshop proposals for bead conferences, shows, guilds/societies, schools and stores and correspond with these venues about teaching. I created and maintain 2 websites: one for myself ( and one for Tulip Beading Needles.  I study and experiment with all things digital and technological to better my work as an artist and teacher including digital photography, illustration, spreadsheets, social media, devices, applications and most recently webinars!

I love to work and have always chosen work that is consuming, in a good and regenerating way. What I do is satisfying on so many levels. It pays the bills, provides incredible opportunities for travel with people I really am grateful to have shared time with, satisfies my need to always be creating and challenging myself, grants access to a community of amazing people who are creative and colorful and open-minded and caring and bright and engaged. My husband however, says work is work, and doesn't understand my perspective that it is my life and integrated into everything I do and am. So, when he passes through my studio while I am beading he'll  asks, "Is this one for fun or work?" Adorable. What a concept.

When I am not doing something related to work (even if it is for fun), you can either find me in my garden, in the kitchen or out on my motorcycle.

How and when did you start beading? My earliest recollection of actually beading is in a summer arts and crafts program when I was in elementary school. But, I must tell you, I have always been keen on personal adornment. In my Grandmother's trunk of collected treasures and photos of a life well spent, I recently found a ribbon-bound stack of construction paper and crayon drawings I made in kindergarten when I was 5 years old. The teacher captioned and dated many of them. Several were of girls and women dressed to the nines, replete with bracelets, necklaces and earrings. There were even a couple drawings of bracelets and jewelry designs!

Do you prefer to work from patterns, or design your own? I never work from patterns. Even when I was a chef, I read scores of cookbooks but never followed them. From them I learned proportion, technique, and what worked for others.

When I first took up serious beading, meaning, beading for 2-10 hours a day, most days, I read beading books. Books by historians, collectors, and beadworkers. Once I learned a basic, I wanted to experiment with the stitch on my own to see what could be done. Doing my own thing is a sharp contrast from following a pattern. When working on Mastering Beadwork I was asked to bead a second Starry Night project because the finish on the gold beads had worn away on the first one. That was a forty-hour project to begin with. When faced with making a second on, and not just because spirit moved me to do so, I had to follow my own directions for making a duplicate of the first one. A totally different experience for me!

How would you describe your personal style? Ya know, I have no idea. But, it has always tickled me when other beaders or students tell me they were flipping through a magazine or bead show catalog and they identified my work even without reading the names. Interesting.

What other creative pursuits do you enjoy? I still felt regularly and continue to experiment with achieving new outcomes. Other disciplines inspire what I attempt with felt, for example polymer clay. Using dyed wool, I make millefiore felt beads derivative of ones made with clay. Stitching on my hand crafted felt has captivated me nearly as much as beading it. Also the effect of adding "product" to the felt is also interesting and part of my experimenting.

Crochet is still fun and I dabble in hand-sewing. Other fiber stuff just had to go:  purged myself of knitting, sold my spinning wheels and gave away all my basketry inventory. Just not enough hours in the day.

For a few years I was drumming regularly. We had a group of frame drummers but it dissolved. While Emilia Biancardi, an ethnomusicologist from Bahia Brazil, was stateside, I studied with her and even performed in her afoxé band. I swapped my conga drum for a studio table but still play my frame drums as a sort of meditation.

Tell us about your beading studio… what kind of space inspires you? It is in the heart of our small brick house built in 1830. If you walk out the south door, turn and walk the hallway to the kitchen, then right, into the living room and through the north arched entrance you have made your rounds. My cats do it many times a day, sometimes really, really fast.

The studio is chock full of color…well, sufficient to say it is chock full. The walls are lined with different types of shelving and drawers. Two door sized grids are hinged and therefore freestanding. Hanks of Czech beads cover it and transform it into a screen to hide stuff I store behind it.  The two part video for Beadwork magazine on cubic right angle weave was taped in my studio with a flip video camera on a tripod. When surrounded by beads and wool, sitting at a cleared horizontal workspace in the company of my kitties with my public radio station or music playing, that's where I find myself in my creative bliss.

What's your secret to staying inspired? No secret. Just a state of being. I have no control over it. Sometimes a design appears in a dream or forms in my mind. Sometimes the beads speak to me. Sometimes it is just that defiant/question authority approach that makes me wonder what will happen if I try to make the beads do this? Too many beads, too little time.

How do you stay motivated on long projects? Immersion. Total immersion. And the flexibility to change it up as I go. When a student shows me a kit she bought at a show and it is based on 42 inches of tubular peyote stitch in one color of size 15, goodness…I don't know she does it!

What has been your favorite project recently? Peanut beads have rocked my world. I have en entire book's worth of designs and projects I have executed in these "complex seed beads". These peanut projects are my favorites.

What would your dream studio look like? More window looking out onto more private outdoor space. It would be bigger and have high hat lighting. There is never enough light.

How has blogging and owning a business influenced your process? I confess, since Facebook my blogging has slackened off to nothing. What I loved about the blogging was feeling as though I was sharing with many more people than in simply teaching. It was a way to offer to others the experience that was enriching my life and possibly theirs at that time. I have hundreds of Facebook friends and all but maybe 20, are beaders. It is a fabulous community and a way to maintain connections made in reality that are difficult to sustain because of distance. Facebook allows me to retain familiarity with folks I became fond of when teaching in Australia and to feel a part of the bead world even when we are not physically together.

Owning a business requires so much devotion outside of the joy of actually beading and creating. I try to make it exciting to teach myself new things to improve myself as a business person. Quickbooks hit a snag but I am loving spreadsheets. Paperwork has always tickled me so record keeping and paperwork don't bother me. It is just difficult to juggle the necessities and requirements of business when all you want to do is bead, design and teach.

What's your current beading soundtrack? Currently? Don't think less of me if I say its genius that Happy is a 24-hour video! When I want feel good new music give me Pharrell's "Happy" or with Daft Punk in "Get Lucky" and of course Macklemore's "Thrift Shop". But mostly I listen to recordings I've collected. Felting to Outback, an Australian "jazzy" group heavy on the didgeridoo and percussion is exhilarating. A close second is Ottmar Liebert. When beading, give me Brazilian, soul, jazz from John Boutté to Miles Davis to Oscar Peterson to my all time favorite, Thelonious Monk. I grew up in New Paltz, just a block from the State University of New York campus, and while still a *** attended a Thelonious Monk concert in a tiny intimate theater on campus. I sat front row. It was incredible. He had his back to the audience most of the time, just immersed in his music making. Life changing for the little girl that I was. An aside I love about him: his wife called him Melodious Thunk. Sweet.

Anything else you'd like us to know about yourself or your beads? That while beading is my living and my livelihood, I'm in it for the love. It brings me great joy to share the intense pleasure of beading and the adventures and explorations beads have taken me through. Please know that whenever we (the collective we) can bead together, in this webinar or in person, I invite you to use me up. At the end of the day, its all about the people that color our lives. Thank you for coloring mine.

You can learn the basics and some cool variations on polygon stitch when you attend our next live webinar, Adventures in Polygon Stitch with Carol Cypher. Find out how to use this age-old beading stitch to craft inventive beaded jewelry projects, and deepen your knowledge of off-loom bead-weaving. The live event will be held on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 1 p.m. EDT, but don't worry if you can't make it that day of the broadcast — anyone who registers before that date will be among the first to get access to the recorded presentation, including all of the questions and answers at the end of the program! Register now for Adventures in Polygon Stitch with Carol Cypher, and be a part of beading history.

Bead Happy,


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