write a book
but with the exception of one piece, I've never been too thrilled with my fiction pieces. Most of them were somewhat based on my life in some way or another. And art? Forget it! I always assumed I didn't have the talent. Many projects I attempted became work which was done, at least partially, by someone sighted. Recently, though, I got the opportunity to re-think my opinion of my creativity. As part of a treatment program I participated in, I received occupational therapy, which taught me a lot of cool skills relating to healing, illness and coping. One of these skills was using pleasure to help offset suffering. I learned new activities which I enjoyed and which gave me a sense of accomplishment. One of those was beading.
I have to admit that at first, I was sskeptical. I had memories of being in Girl Scouts, trying to create bracelets with someone trying to describe what needed to be done and me still not understanding the concepts. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to learn that beading can be made accessible and enjoyable whether you can see or can't see. My goal here is to give you some ideas which will hopefully inspire you to consider beading or some other form of creative expression and share what works for me as a beader who happens to be blind and have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
What's so great about beading?
For me, beading has had tons of benefits. These are just a few of them:
Beading is great for me because it's something I enjoy. Many of us don't have enough pleasureable activities in our lives. I found that adding the pleasure of beading to my life gave me a lot of joy. It can be an incredibly absorbing diversion.
One of the benefits of having a truly enjoyable hobby is that it can help distract me from my pain. If I'm trying to get a bead on the wire, my brain and nervous system are engaged in something other than noticing the pain. The movement becomes a challenge to my skills in the tactile arena and suddenly I'm paying more attention to my hands than my painful foot and leg. It doesn't cure the pain, but it works a whole lot better to focus on the beads than try not to focus on the pain. The more I tried not to focus on the pain, the more it became the center of my life. By adding the beading and other activities and therapies into my life, I created distractions which decreased the focus on pain in my life.
I'll note here that I still have flares, bad days and days when all I can do is wish for the pain to stop, but this distraction is generally helpful even with higher levels of pain.
Beading my Way to Blissful Meditation and Prayer
It might seem hard to believe, but I find beading to be a spiritual experience which strengthens my faith, helps me pray and meditate and teaches me important lessons. I didn't expect a simple craft to enrich my life in this way, but it does.
One of the reasons beading puts me in a meditative mood is its patterns and rhythms. As I work on a necklace, I start to get a rhythm of finding the right bead, picking it up and stringing it or putting it on the bead board. Much of my jewelry is pattern based, I don't just randomly string beads, so I often find that those patterns and rhythms become absorbing and relaxing.
Beading becomes even more powerful when I add music. I like to use music with a positive or faith-filled message when I bead, or sometimes I even bead to songs which make me laugh. Somehow that multi-sensory input helps with the distraction and strengthens my faith.
Spiritual Messages Without Words
As I work with the beads and wire, I sometimes find metaphors which apply to my spiritual life. These are just a few of those which have been meaningful to me:
- Life's like a necklace: One time, I was trying to come up with a pattern for a necklace. Some of the beads didn't seem like they'd look very good, but when added into a pattern, they created a thing of beauty. I realized that some events, when viewed as a single event, didn't look pretty, but when I stepped back and looked at the whole picture, I saw how events could fit together to create a life with much beauty in it.
- God has our whole life planned: When I make a piece of jewelry, I don't just slap some beads together and hope it looks good. Instead, I plot out each bead, each pattern and each theme very carefully. I may not know exactly what the whole necklace is going to look like, and sometimes it diverts from the plan a bit, but I have a general idea. This reminds me that God has a plan for my life, if only I will follow it.
- God can use less-than-perfect things: Sometimes, things don't work out. Many times I've had to adapt something or fix an error, but sometimes those less-than-perfect pieces of jewelry turn out beautiful in ways I never would've expected. For example, I have an affirmation bracelet with the words peace, hope and joy on it. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough beads for the bracelet so at the ends of the bracelet I added beads which weren't part of the pattern. Now, though, I think the bracelet is beautiful with those beads.
Writing Without Words
One of the things which has been disrupted by my chronic conditions is my writing ability. Whether it's difficulty concentrating or tremors, I struggle to put fingers to keyboard. For the longest time, I couldn't write and my blog entries or lack thereof during 2009 are a shining example of this. Amazingly, as I began stringing beads, I started to get my words back. I wondered why this was and came up with several answers.
The first is that beading is writing without words. As I bead, I'm thinking of how to string beads together to create beautiful jewelry. When I write, my goal is to string words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into essays which add beauty or inspiration or just my opinion. Both require understanding of structures and patterns, both have a syntax and both require some creativity. When I can't write, I bead.
What's most interesting to me is that by beading, I regained the ability to write. Slowly, the words came back and I gained greater confidence in my ability to create. I regained my love of the written word and my ability to participate in its creation. And if I do feel less-than confident about my ability to write, beading often gives me the boost I need to continue writing. Finally when words do fail me, I have another way to express myself.
I don't know about you, but sometimes, I just want to be there for a friend or family member. Sometimes, I'm not able to be there in person or words just don't do the trick. In addition, at times like birthdays and Christmas, I find that I want to show my love in a unique way.
This was the first Christmas where I actually made many of my gifts. I loved the process of looking for beads which matched the personality and fashion preferences of those I care about. I prayed for them as I made their necklaces and even though some were more challenging than others, I knew I was truly giving a gift from the heart.
It was much more satisfying to me to have the recipients of my gifts enjoy their jewelry than it was in previous yearss when I purchased books, CDs, gift cards or other types of gifts. It also gives a huge boost to my confidence when the recipients of the gifts like what I made them!
One caveat is that I did sweat whether my gifts would be well received. I was afraid I'd put in the work and people would hate their gifts. So far, to my knowledge, that hasn't happened. This is also a good lesson about not projecting my fears onto others and assuming they will act or feel a certain way. In other words, instead of fearing the worst about someone's response to my jewelry (or other parts of my life), I will allow people to respond as they will. This is hard and it's a concept I'm still working on with the help of my friends, but it's important.
It's amazing how many people love to make jewelry or do other types of crafts. Like having a Guide Dog (although this is not his real purpose), making jewelry opens doors to conversations I would never have otherwise. For example, I've had some wonderful conversations with other women at church about crafting. I've also met people through bead shops and enjoyed the common bond of beading. This is great for anyone, having something which creates social connections. However, it's even more important as a person with a disability and chronic pain. It's nice to have something in my life which, while influenced by my blindness and my health, isn't focussed on my health.
Don't get me wrong, it's great to have the connections I've made in the blindness community and those I'm cultivating with people with other life challenges. On Louis Braille's birthday, I spent some time discussing the use of Braille with others on Twitter. The discussion was lively and I, at least, enjoyed it. I'm not saying those connections are bad, in fact, they're vital. But beading adds some balance to my life and gives me one more way to connect with others on a different level.
This is an idea I gained from the
Chronic Babe website
The idea is that it's good to create "beautiful reminders" that keep you on track for healing, recovering or just living a full life. I took this idea and made it my own. Once I was no longer receiving that type of occupational therapy, I began beading on an individual basis. The first piece of jewelry I made was what I affectionately refer to as my "power necklace". It's got turquoise, red and pearle beads and it reminds me that I have love and support from many friends and from God. It also reminds me that the tools and skills I learned don't disappear when I'm discharged from a program. If I get nervous, all I need to do is reach up and feel my necklace to be reminded that I am safe and in control. It's also a great fidgeting tool for when I'm anxious and need to move.
I also made a bracelet which I refer to as an affirmation bracelet. It uses gold word beads, which are shaped like an oval and have the word printed on both sides of the bead. They're not in print, but I'd hope I can remember three words. The bracelet also features gold balls and blue-green antique oblong beads. The words I chose were peace, hope and joy and they are my goals for the year. All I need to do is feel that bracelet and be reminded of my goals. I find it extremely comforting.
Both pieces of jewelry have become highly valued in my life, even though they cost relatively little. They remind me of where I am and where I'm going and are vital touchstones when I feel myself struggling.
So What Do I need to Know to Get Started?
I'll share what I know, as long as you, the reader, promise that you won't let what works for me become the only way you can bead. What's most important is what works for each individual beader. As I've learned, I've gained a great deal of knowledge from others, but sometimes that knowledge didn't work or I needed to modify it to fit my needs. If the benefits of beading I described earlier interest you, it's important to keep this in mind: Pressuring yourself to bead perfectly will only frustrate you and decrease your chances of gaining these benefits. Find what works for you and do it! All that said, here's some of the knowledge I've gained.
It's Five PM: Do You Know Where Your Beads Are?
Before you even think about buying beads and making your first piece of jewelry, it's important to know how you'd keep track of them. Trust me on this, beads have an uncanny nack for escaping the work area. They need to be contained. I do this in two ways.
Get a Box!
The first is to use a plastic box which is divided into small sections. In this way, I can separate each type of bead, as well as the supplies like crimp beads, clasps, beadstoppers and anything else I might nead. I try to organize beads so that the same color families are near each other. Another tool I've considered using is a Braille representation of the box so I can read descriptions of each bead. I don't know how well this would work simply because things change quickly when beading. Beads get used up, new ones get added so it'd be difficult to create a Braille chart and keep it updated or label the sections in Braille.
Another option I considered is using an excel spreadsheet. It would simulate the gridlike appearance of the box and be easier to keep updated.
The next tool I learned about from my occupational therapist and I truly don't know what I'd do without it! It's called a beading board. Basically, it's a plastic board with a velvetlike material on the top surface which keeps the beads from moving around so much. It contains a lot of depressions in the surface, some are shaped like a necklace, others are long and straight and can be used for bracelets and still others are just places to put beads you plan to use in the design. This really allows the crafter to experiment with what looks good before she or he ever picks up a piece of wire. Once the design is finalized, then it's time to get out the wire or other material and start stringing the beads.
As a blind person, I find that using the beading board is a lot easier than trying to create a design and having to take beads off the wire when the design doesn't work. It's also helpful because I know where my beads are.
This may seem obvious, but it's important to remember that when you're beading, you're dealing with a piece of wire with two ends on it. That's right, two. There's the end you're putting beads on and the end which will, if you don't stop it, allow all your hard work to slide off onto the floor. I've tried a few different methods of stopping this attrocity.
One is to tape one end of the string or wire onto the table, your pants leg or some other anchor. This works, as long as the tape doesn't come off. Another is to have an assistant, the important thing here is to know who's holding what. I've had a project come apart in my hands because my assistant and I both thought the other person had the wire. Finally, there are these neat little things called beadstoppers. They're little springs which you open up to put on the end of the wire and then allow to shut. They stay on the end of the wire while you work. And if you need to stop a project, it's simple to just put the other end of the wire into the spring as well. No more worrying about losing beads.
Get the Right Tools
When you start beading, it's easy to assume that you don't need any specialized tools. After all, it's just putting stuff on a string, right? Not quite. I've already mentioned some of the tools I use, but there are yet others. I can't overstate the importance of good plyers. Plyers have been absolutely vital for me. I use them for putting on the clasps. I'll do my best to describe the process, but it's hard to describe without physically showing someone.
Once I have finished the beading I want to do, I first add a little tiny bead called a crimp bead onto the end of the beads. Next, I string the wire through the whole in the clasp (I use magnetic clasps because I find them easiest to use). So now I've got my actual beadwork, a crimp bead and a clasp on the string. I take the very tip of the wire and string it through the crimp bead. This forms a loop around the clasp strung onto the wire. Now I need to work the crimp bead as close to the other beads and pull the loop tight. Finally, I crush the crimp bead to hold the clasp on. Wash, rinse repeat on the other end.
There are a few types of pliers which can be used for this. There are special crimping pliers with a hole for the crimp bead which crush the bead nicely. It can be challenging to find the bead, however, since it's so small. If that's a problem, a more quick and dirty method is to use wider pliers and crush the bead that way. It doesn't feel as nice, but it can get the job done.
Don't Underestimate the Texture Factor
When I tell people I've taken up beading, they first want to know how I keep track of the colors. I have an advantage there because for much of my life I could see bright colors and light, but I truly believe that people forget how important texture is with jewelry. When I make a necklace, I don't use beads which all feel alike. I choose beads which look and feel good together. It's important for the jewelry to be comfortable and feel nice, otherwise no one will wear it. The texture factor also helps me identify my beads. Texture is definitely my friend!
One of the important things to do when learning any new task is to get feedback. I did this by visiting a specialty beading store. As I shopped, I learned about new skills and tools to add to my beading skills toolbox. This sort of fits in with the social aspects of beading, but it's also important from a learning perspective. You may pay more for the types of beads at a smaller independent shop, but the knowledge you gain is priceless.
Shop the Sales
If you're not sure if beading is something you want to take up, or you need a lot of beads, it's sometimes worth looking at stores and their sales and coupons. Some craft stores will have 40% off sales and it's a great way to get beads and supplies. I'd rather support the independent shops, but sometimes I just need cheap beads.
What Do You Think?
I hope this post has given you some inspiration and ideas. I'd love to know what you think of this post, or answer any questions you might have. Also, I'd love to hear any stories of how you've used art to heal!