Stitch Pro: 7 Tips for Large-scale Beading Projects, Liza-Lou Style

I think beading is cool. Not everyone does, though…I find this especially true when I'm first explaining to a non-crafter what beadwork is:

"So, you string beads and make a necklace or something?"

"Well that's one way to work with beads, but what I do is more of a needle and thread thing."

"Like knitting?"

"Well, no…more like sewing."

"You sew beads onto something?"

"Sometimes, but I mostly sew them to one another."

"Doesn't that take a long time?"

"Yes. But I like it. It's meditative and relaxing."

That's when their eyes just glaze over. I'm sure they are picturing the results of this "relaxing" technique: perhaps monstrously ugly doilies hanging on wingback chairs and 1970s-style plasticine toilet-paper-roll covers?

When I see those hazy glazey eyes, I jump up on my little beaded soapbox and whomp them with my monologue about how cool beading actually is…and to prove it, I tell them about the beadwork of Liza Lou. (She is such a hero of mine! Check out this interview by the Corning Museum of Glass, where she describes working on one of her large-scale projects, Continuous Mile.)

Photo from LA County Museum/Blouin ArtInfo blog

Liza Lou is known for her outrageously large large-scale beaded artworks that have a conceptual bent. She usually has other people help her out with these projects, but the sheer, well, largeness of them is pretty astounding, especially because most are created with seed beads.

I've never stitched a mile-long rope, but I have done a few larger-scale projects that have taken months to create. Perhaps you have, too? A beaded sculpture, curtain, purse, "painting", or even elaborate showpiece necklace can feel like a large-scale project, right? These types of projects take countless hours and lots of patience, but there are some things I've found that help make the task a little easier:

1) Buy all of your beads in kilo bags rather than in separate tubes. Not only will this method keep your beads all in the same manufacturing lot, you'll save a little money, too.

2) Break the project down into small chunks. When you do this, it allows you to enjoy completion experiences and not become daunted by the big picture (or big curtain or big necklace).

3) Tuck away the pieces. If your large-scale project is done in components, use clear plastic bags to store the components as you go; this way the tail threads will stay out of your way and your cats/dogs/children won't turn them into something fun to play with/destroy.

4) Stretch! This is one of the things that most beaders forget, and it's really easy to forget when you are mesmerized by a repetitive, large-scale project. Stretch your neck, your back, your arms, and your hands, and make sure to get up and move those legs every once in a while to get the energy flowing back to your head.

5) Stop and take a look. When you do a large project, it's easy to focus on the one little place which you're currently working rather than take in the overall piece. Every once in a while remember to stop, step back, and take a good, discerning look at what you're making so that you can correct your mistakes early if necessary.

6) Audio. A great radio station, a good audio book, or your favorite music playlist are all great ways to entertain yourself while beading the long hours spent on a large-scale project. It can be tempting to watch a video or television, but bobbing your head up and down to see what's happening onscreen is going to make you keep losing your place and waste time. Trust me on this one, since I've experienced it first hand.

7) Bead with a friend. Take a cue from our hero, Liza Lou and bead with a friend. Have that friend help you with your big project and return the favor sometime.

What kind of large-scale projects are you working on or have worked on? What tips do you have about persevering to the end? Are you a Liza Lou fan like me? Please share with your fellow beaders right here on the Inside Beadwork blog.

Happy beading!

Jean Campbell

Senior editor, Beadwork magazine

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