Try Freeform Peyote Stitch to Bead a Dramatic Dragon Bracelet
Michelle Leonardo’s Ouroboros Dragon Cuff graces the August/September 2018 Beadwork cover. This edgy cuff with a freeform peyote stitch dragon head clasp was a design challenge, requiring plenty of stops and starts. Learn from Michelle how she got into bead weaving and what inspired her to create this dramatic dragon bracelet.
My Artistic Background
Art and design have always been passions of mine. I attended college for graphic design and then worked in advertising with clients from many Fortune 500 companies. But my creative life changed in 2011 when I was home sick from work one day. I happened to catch an episode of Beads, Baubles & Jewels, where I got my first introduction to the art of bead weaving.
I had never seen jewelry created this way, with all those tiny beautiful beads! I felt a spark of creative inspiration light up inside me. At that moment, I realized the seemingly endless artistic possibilities of putting sparkling glass seed beads together. I instantly knew that I was going to love this art form!
Creative expression runs in my family; my late grandfather was an enamel artist and instructor from a great center of decorative arts — Limoges, France. My early interest in art and design helped me earn a full fine art scholarship to college for graphic design. Transitioning to designing with seed beads was a natural fit for me because I have always been a “details person.”
I create all my jewelry designs from my home, anywhere I find a comfortable spot. My workspace is incredibly mobile; I do all my beading on my lap, with a bead board that I designed and a clip-on lamp. All the tools and supplies that I use daily are in my compact portable Yazzii beading kit.
However, I’ll admit there are times when my beading takes over entire rooms in my house. For instance, some days my dining room table becomes a tabletop photography studio for my jewelry.
I’m hoping to someday turn a room in my house into a proper studio for my beads and supplies. For now, all my regular seed beads are stored in a crate according to color. Other beads are stored by shape and kind in separate crates. My crystals and findings are stored in large three-ring binders with baseball-card-style organizer pages. Small poly bags slip into each baseball card slot, and I use tabs to separate the materials into categories. I discovered this binder organizational system on Pinterest, and it changed my life!
In addition to my love of designing jewelry, my most challenging and rewarding passion is raising my two beautiful young children. I live with them and my loving husband on the north shore of Chicago near Lake Michigan. I love traveling to beautiful beaches with my family, and I play tennis in my spare time.
2018 has been an exciting year for me. I launched my new jewelry business on my website, Michelle Leonardo Design, and several of my jewelry designs were published including three magazine covers, the latest being the August/September 2018 Beadwork cover.
Breaking Out of My Comfort Zone
You may be surprised to learn that the Ouroboros Dragon Cuff clasp was my first freeform beading project. I hadn’t previously tried this technique. In fact, I was petrified to try freeform beading at first because of the lack of rules or set paths to follow.
My design style is usually graphic, symmetric, and often in repeating patterns. As a graphic designer, I’m fond of 90-degree angles, precise alignment, and even spacing. Like many other beaders, I simply didn’t know how to veer out of a defined stitch — to break all the rules.
Guided by curiosity, I read several books by some amazing freeform bead artists. (See the list below.) After learning some of the basic principles on how to break the beading rules, I was ready to venture out of my comfort zone to try the elusive freeform peyote stitch.
Freeform Beading Books
- Explorations in Freeform Peyote Beading by Karen Williams
- Beading with Peyote Stitch by Jeannette Cook and Vicki Star
- 500 Beaded Objects by Carol Wilcox Wells and Terry Krautwurst
Ouroboros Dragon Cuff Inspiration
The inspiration for my Ouroboros Dragon Cuff came together in several ways. First, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan you’ll understand why I had dragons on my mind while watching Season 7. (“Mother of Dragons,” anyone?)
Second, I’ve always been intrigued by the ancient symbol of the Ouroboros, a dragon or serpent depicted in a circle eating its own tail. This circle represents no beginning and no end — the symbolism for eternity.
Finally, master beader Diane Fitzgerald introduced me to a brand-new bead finish, an acid-etched metallic hot pink glass 2-hole dagger, used in one of her designs. I had never seen a similar bead coating or texture, and I was completely enamored with these exotic looking new beads.
All these things got me thinking about creating a cuff-style Ouroboros dragon bracelet encircling the wrist. I envisioned a flat band of offset dragon scales with a freeform beaded dragon-head clasp. It was an ambitious design for my first freeform peyote stitch project, but I was up for a challenge.
Designing the Ouroboros Dragon Cuff
For most of my designs, I usually start with sketches in my sketchbook before moving to the beads. In my initial sketch, I imagined using a flat magnetic clasp so that when the dragon closed its mouth it would also be biting its tail to complete the Ouroboros circle. After experimenting, I found this clasp style too complicated. Therefore, I reengineered the bracelet with a toggle-style clasp.
I also used sketches to work out the band of dragon scales with 2-hole dagger bead netting. As I stitched my first beaded test swatch of flat dagger netting, I discovered that the beadwork was very fragile. The scales could twist freely in any direction and the threads would snap. Because of this, I added the size 15° seed bead netting to the back of the daggers. This not only stabilized the beadwork but also offered a beautiful detail to the inside of the piece, an unexpected design surprise!
I finished the dagger base with peyote stitch, right-angle weave (RAW), and cubic right-angle weave (CRAW) details at both ends. The transition from daggers to size 11° seed beads was initially quite tricky, and it took several times before I got the look right.
Below is a photo of my mini test bracelet that was cut apart and reworked many times. (Tip: I store the leftover lengths of thread from other projects on winding cards, and I use those extra threads on my design tests.)
Designing the Dragon’s Head
Once I had the cuff part of the bracelet done, it was time to test my skills at the dreaded freeform beading and tackle the dragon’s head. One night when I wasn’t tired and had a clear head, I sat down with my beads and jumped in. I first created a support structure for the dragon head out of herringbone stitch. I then strategized filling in the sides of the herringbone structure using different sizes of beads, plus peyote stitch increases and decreases.
At first, I was surprised that the work was a little easier than I thought it would be. I just let the beads guide me to fill the right side of the herringbone form. Then I hit a major roadblock: when I started the project, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to do a mirror image of the face without directions! It seemed like it would be easy, because the right side was directly in front of me to copy. However, I couldn’t replicate the same path exactly, and the dragon face was disfigured from left to right. Creating the mirrored face became a huge challenge.
A second test also failed to get the head symmetrical from left to right, so I knew I would need to use my computer. I created a pattern so that I could stitch the two sides of the face equally. The diagram allowed me to successfully stitch the head with a true mirrored image on my third try. This diagram also came in handy for writing step-by-step directions for Beadwork magazine!
Dragon Scale Cuff
After I finished the Ouroboros Dragon Cuff, I immediately knew that I wanted to reimagine it into a bracelet with a standard clasp, which resulted in the Dragon Scale Cuff. I like the creative flexibility that the bracelet design can work two ways, either 9 daggers wide or 8 daggers wide and with completely different clasp styles. More than likely, I’ll be wearing one of these bracelets for the upcoming final season of Game of Thrones, as I channel my inner dragon queen.
What I learned about freeform beading is that it’s surprisingly easier than I ever would have thought. Using different bead sizes and increases and decreases really allows you to have control over the shape and form. Sticking to increases or decreases for several rows lets you sculpt the beadwork any way you want.
Looking back, I wouldn’t recommend trying to design your first freeform beadwork project with a shape that also has to be symmetrical, such as a head. I learned that lesson the hard way!
I plan on trying freeform peyote stitch again in the future with something less representational and more abstract. It’s such a great technique to have in your beading toolbox. I had a lot of fun tackling this stitch, and I enjoyed the challenge of integrating it into my jewelry for the Ouroboros Dragon Cuff clasp. Freeform beading helped me break the mold of a traditional repeating stitch — which is, well, freeing!
Michelle Leonardo is a passionate designer who creates beautiful jewelry out of the finest glass seed beads. Her high fashion jewelry collection is inspired by her travels, particularly her love of the ocean. With an award-winning career in advertising and graphic design behind her — plus several recent features in publications — she launched Michelle Leonardo Design to sell her jewelry and patterns. Contact Michelle through her website or connect with her on Facebook.
Share Your Dragon Bracelets with Us!
Both the Ouroboros Dragon Cuff and the Dragon Scale Cuff are available as kits for a limited amount of time. If you make either bracelet, please send us a photo and tell us how much you enjoyed the challenge — especially if you make the freeform peyote dragon head clasp! Please also leave a comment below for Michelle.
Looking for more kits from the latest issue of Beadwork? Melinda Barta’s Eleanor bracelet is available in two different colors, a beautiful blue-green and a very pretty cranberry. This bracelet design also highlights peyote stitch.
Find more resources for learning freeform peyote in the Interweave Store, as well as more dragon-inspired designs!