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Beadwork + steampunk = beadpunk

Traditional bead-stitching techniques meet a recent jewelry fad
Lucite flowers beadpunk necklace
Lucite flowers are some of my favorite beadpunk embellishments.

Perhaps you’ve noticed this little trend in jewelry making called steampunk. Usually characterized by the inclusion of gears, watch parts, typewriter keys, and diverse “old things,” steampunk-style jewelry is industrial, quirky, and mysterious — yet intriguing and amusing. When done well, it draws in viewers for a closer look and surprises them when they are met with unexpected combinations of materials.

My curiosity with this genre led me to try a beading experiment. I wanted to capture the spirit of steampunk while exploring ways to include the beading techniques I enjoy so much. After many hours of trial and error, I came up with a look I call beadpunk. It incorporates and reflects steampunk but with a softer, more feminine style created by the use of stitches and basic jewelry-making techniques.

I know you love beading as much as I do, so I’ll let you in on the secrets of designing your own beadpunk jewelry. 

Parts and pieces

Beadpunk jewelry contains components found in both traditional jewelry making and steampunk designs. You already have the first half of your supplies — raid your stash for seed beads, accent beads, pearls, crystals, and vintage jewelry findings. I especially enjoy using my collection of vintage Swarovski sew-ons and Lucite flowers. 

For the steampunk side of things, vintage and antique components will lend an air of authenticity to your beadpunk creations. Select vintage watch components, collectible odds and ends, old photos, and miscellaneous curiosities that relay the essence of age and history or lend a nostalgic, thought-provoking feel to the design. 

Still need help choosing your parts and pieces? Read on!

Experimental arrangements

Now that you have the materials you want to work with, start arranging them as they might appear in your design. One way to do this is to think about how the surface finishes, shapes, and sizes of the items relate to each other. My personal rule is to create contrast without losing compatibility between the elements. For instance, I like to balance shiny against matte, large or medium against small, and cubes or triangles against round or oval shapes. 

Keep mixing up the components in your design, but control the overall color of the arrangement by limiting your palette to three or four colors or tones of those colors. Also consider your design as a way of telling a story or making a statement. Consider the placement of each item by asking yourself if it works with the items around it to communicate your story or statement. You will quickly see that certain items work together and others do not. 

Engineering your design

Most of you already know how to stitch together the beads, but you may not be certain about how to create components that will link together in the final design. You can use one of the following techniques for almost any item you want to incorporate. Keep in mind that you should embellish some components less than others so the overall design doesn’t look too busy.

Black beadpunk necklace

Watch plates, gears, and bead-embroidered ephemera form links in this piece.

Using or creating holes

Watch plates are normally filled with tiny holes that you can pass a needle through. This allows you to add items with a spot stitch, or, if a hole is close to an edge, you can attach a jump ring or split ring to create your connection point. 

You can also create your own holes. You can easily drill house keys and other thin objects with a 1⁄16-in. (2 mm) bit. The best thing about drilling your own holes is that you get to choose the exact placement of the holes depending on your design.

Netting or bezeling

You can use different netting techniques to surround just about any object. Right-angle weave netting is especially adaptable to parts that have unusual contours. You can also capture a round item like a watch plate with the same peyote stitch bezeling techniques you would use for a stone cabochon.

Bead embroidery 

Bead embroidery is your fallback technique for including items not easily drilled or captured with netting or bezeling. Use this technique wisely, though, as embroidered components can end up being more prominently beaded than other items and draw the eye first. That said, bead embroidery is a good technique for beading the focal or centerpiece of your work. 

In my bead embroidery, I prefer Lacy’s Stiff Stuff, but you can also use Ultrasuede. Finished bead-embroidered components should be backed with Ultrasuede, leather, or a similar fabric to hide all of your thread work. Sew small split rings or soldered jump rings at the edges of your beadwork prior to applying the backing to allow for connection points. 

Final assembly

Once you’re ready to attach your components, link them together with jump rings, split rings, or chains, or with strands of accent beads, crystals, pearls, or seed beads. You can also use beaded strips to connect items. Work strips in tubular peyote stitch, herringbone, spiral rope, or bead crochet, and sew them to the edges of the components.

For additional connectors, use pre-made findings or other objects with existing openings. Filigree pieces or metal stampings can serve as connectors, as can nuts from the hardware store, watch gears, or a vintage finger ring or brooch. Break up your beaded components with non-beaded connectors to support your design visually without distracting the viewer.

To connect your components to the clasp, use chain, cord, ribbon, beaded ropes, and strands of beads. Add an element of surprise by incorporating an unexpected component along the length of these materials. Also, a strand of graduated beads adds visual interest, as does mixing several connecting techniques within the same design.

Beadpunk is a new style, so its future is yours to shape. Where will you go with your beadpunk designs? And most importantly, where will they take you?

More pieces and parts

A few more ideas for components to include in your beadpunk designs:

  • Vintage: typewriter keys, buttons, rhinestone jewelry parts
  • Natural: shells, rocks, twigs
  • Paper: postage stamps, stickers, postcards, torn pages from books and magazines
  • Hardware: nuts, bolts, washers, wire and coiling
  • Miscellaneous: old keys, pottery shards or small tiles, playing cards, dice, ribbon trims, gumball charms, dollhouse miniatures, board game parts, bottle caps, tiny mirrors, toy parts, cut tin cans and license plates

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