Secrets to Successful Structural Peyote Stitch Jewelry with Nancy Cain

It’s not often you stumble upon a solution to a beading problem a decade later…

About 10 years ago I made some fairly simple peyote-stitched rings for a beaded chain necklace. The circular links were basically a flat strip of peyote stitch with the ends zipped together. At the time I thought I knew peyote stitch well, but I couldn’t figure out why my rings weren’t working. Some were too floppy; they didn’t hold their shape at all. At least one ring bulged out in the middle, giving it a pregnant look. It wasn’t until I recently watched the video download of Structural Peyote Stitch: Creating Self-Supporting Beadwork with Nancy Cain that I understood on a deep level the root of the problems with my early beadwork.

What Is Structural Peyote Stitch?

Beaded beads are one common use for structural peyote stitch. I’ve always loved the look of beaded beads and have made them by beading around a wooden bead. I’d always wondered about jewelry that used large clusters of beaded beads. Weren’t those pieces heavy and uncomfortable to wear? And wasn’t it a pain to always be buying wooden beads that were the exact size you needed to fit inside?

Secrets to Successful Structural Peyote Stitch Jewelry with Nancy Cain

Nancy’s Jasmine Pearls necklace (left) shows an example of beaded beads made with her self-supporting peyote-stitch method. Her Sweet Bumblebees (right) show another idea on how to use this technique.

The Self-Supporting Peyote Stitch Method

My understanding of beaded beads changed when I started studying Nancy’s work. Nancy’s favorite stitch it peyote. She believes, “If you understand the physics (mechanics and technicality) of the stitch, then you can create whatever your heart desires.” In her case, this has included not only beaded beads but also little creatures such as bees and dragonflies, as well as the bell-shaped flowers that she shows you how to make step-by-step in Structural Peyote Stitch: Creating Self-Supporting Beadwork with Nancy Cain.

Secrets to Successful Structural Peyote Stitch Jewelry with Nancy Cain

You can create these bell-shaped flower earrings step-by-step with Nancy Cain.

How does she do it? The secret is in her approach to structure. Nancy creates what she calls self-supporting beadwork, meaning that it’s the beads themselves that form and hold the shape of the object. Forget the wooden beads and other support systems — her beaded beads and creatures are filled with nothing but air! This not only makes construction easier and faster (no need to hunt around for objects that are the right size to bead around), but it also opens up infinite design possibilities.

Keys to Success

Secrets to Successful Structural Peyote Stitch Jewelry with Nancy Cain

Samples of peyote-stitched components by Nancy Cain, including a ring band that looked like a perfect version of my earlier ring attempts at a similar project.

Nancy begins with the premise that the first five rows of your peyote-stitch project are critical. Without this solid foundation, you’re likely to have the same difficulties I faced early on. The first key to structural peyote stitch is steady, even, firm tension. I’m sure that back then I must have read about “good tension,” but I didn’t take it to heart. Instead, I treated it as the kind of rote advice you encounter throughout life: eat your vegetables, walk 10,000 steps, and exercise good thread tension.

How do you achieve good thread tension? Well, for one thing, it means that you can’t wander off in the middle of your first five rows to change the channel on the TV, grab a snack, or answer the phone. (Guilty as charged!) Nancy also offers a suggestion on how to hold your tail thread to maintain your tension. (The digital download comes with a simple diagram showing her suggested method.) To be honest, I’d never thought that much about the tail thread in beadwork, but I can see that I’ve been missing a rather critical piece that will make it much easier to achieve a professionally finished piece of beadwork.

Beyond Thread Tension

Nancy Cain doesn’t just talk about thread tension in this digital download, of course. She begins by walking you through her favorite materials and tools, including which needles and type of wax she prefers (and why). Then she walks you step-by-step (row by row) on how to make an adorable pair of bell-shaped components that you can use to create a pair of earrings, cluster into a necklace, or use in another way. You’ll learn how to make smooth increases or decreases to create curved shapes. Intermediate or advanced beaders will especially appreciate Nancy’s advice and numerous tips on issues such as the best number of beads to use as a starting point for your designs, how to find your place again in your beadwork while you’re working, or how to quickly rethread your needle.

Secrets to Successful Structural Peyote Stitch Jewelry with Nancy Cain

The contrasting colors and larger beads make it easy to bead along while you watch.

Beading With Nancy Cain

Secrets to Successful Structural Peyote Stitch Jewelry with Nancy CainWhile I’ve never taken an in-person class with Nancy Cain, I can see why she’s been teaching bead classes for more than 20 years. I appreciated how she used larger (sizes 6 and 8) beads for her sample, making it much easier for me to see the stitches on screen as they were added. She also used contrasting colors, again making it easier on the student to see exactly how to do the next step. Her presentation is calm, straightforward, and occasionally humorous. I liked her “bad” examples of thread tension because I’m definitely the kind of student who needed to see those examples in order to understand my own work. (It can be frustrating to only see the perfectly finished example by the teacher.)

As much as I would love to some day take a class with Nancy, I’m glad I took this class as a digital download. The benefit of this format is that you can pause, rewind, and rewatch as often as you need. As a slow beader, I’m often reluctant to take in-person classes because I fear I won’t be able to keep up. Now after spending about an hour with Nancy through the magic of the computer, I feel ready to take on the world of structural peyote-stitched jewelry. My difficulty now is deciding what to make first!

Happy beading!


Don’t be like me and wait ten years to improve your beading skills. Get Nancy’s digital download today.

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