One of the first things that strikes you about Sarah Cryer’s work is the skill and patience involved in her pieces. Her jewellery can take hours to make – or in some cases even months. But Sarah’s talents don’t stop there; she also has an incredible eye for colour and it’s no surprise to learn that Kaffe Fassett is one of her design heroes. We talk to Sarah about her craft, her influences and her huge bead collection…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a part-time beader living in south-west London. I’m married with two small children, and I’m currently on maternity leave from a job in IT with a major UK retailer. Beading is my retreat from a busy life, and something creative to do in the evenings now the boys have curtailed our social life.
Have you always been creative?
I have always found it impossible to just sit, and have always had some kind of creative project on the go. My grandmother was a knitter and embroiderer and my mother has always sewn. She got hooked on quilting when I was about 11, and produces wonderful pieces filled with colour. They taught me to knit and sew, which I still do now when I have time, but beading has really taken over.
Are there any artists or designers you particularly admire?
For colour and design in general you can’t beat Kaffe Fassett – I think his use of colour has inspired me in just about every craft I have tried. I was lucky enough to see his original V&A show when I was a teenager and it made a huge impression, and taught me to be bold. There are also some amazing bead workers out there: Jean Power has been a huge inspiration (her tutorials were the first I bought, and got me sucked into serious tiny bead addiction) and more recently I’ve been trying out pieces using slightly different techniques from Sabine Lippert and Marcia DeCoster. Miriam Haskell‘s vintage jewellery is stunning too.
What or who else inspires you?
At this time of the year I take a lot of inspiration from the garden – flowers have incredible geometric forms and fabulous colours. I seem to end up producing bolder, more contemporary pieces when it’s brighter outside. In the winter I find myself looking more to the traditional forms of jewellery, using metallic beads and crystals, and producing the more baroque or glamorous pieces. In the end, though, it’s usually the beads that speak loudest.
How did you discover beading?
About eight years ago I was playing with some stringing and wirework with semi-precious stones – my degree is in geology so I’ve always enjoyed playing with rocks. I bought a book on jewellery making to help me sort out my techniques and there was a section at the back on the various bead weaving stitches, so I had a go at a couple and have barely stopped since. I think as a sewer I am probably more comfortable with needle and thread than I was with wire and pliers, so the bigger beads, wires and tools are now rarely used. It’s the most addictive craft I’ve tried, and has the added bonus of convenience as you can work with a small tray on your lap just about anywhere (including in front of the TV when the boys are asleep). I’ve even taught my little sister Susie to bead, and now she is even more addicted than me.
Do you work to a pattern or do you design your own?
Both. Almost all of the items in the shop are my own design, but I try out patterns from a range of designers to learn new techniques, to improve my own skills and pattern writing, and just for fun. On the whole I can’t sell those pieces as the designers won’t permit it. An exception to that is the wonderful Jean Power, who does allow people like me to use her designs to produce pieces for sale to fund our beading habits (in fact, she almost encourages it). I’ve chosen to follow the same policy with my own tutorials.
Can you talk us through one of your pieces, from original idea to finished pieces?
The Heliotrope Cocktail Ring is probably a good example. It began with the fab vintage rivoli (the large crystal stone) rather than with an idea for a finished piece. I tried out a number of different colour schemes, before settling on using the colours of the stone rather than a contrast or metallic neutral, and I got started by creating a bead woven band (bezel) to capture the rivoli, as unlike beads they don’t have holes you can run a thread through to secure them.
Once the bezel was complete I felt a ring would allow the wearer as well as others to admire the amazing colours of the stone, and as I wanted to repeat the patterns and shape of the bezel I settled on a circular tube for the ring band. A few attempts and combinations of bead sizes later I had a suitable band, but when the bezelled stone was mounted on top it sat far to high and was unstable, so the scissors came out and two bigger bands now sit either side of the stone to ensure stability (plus they look pretty good too).
Your works seem like labours of love. How time-consuming are they?
Very. Each bead is individually stitched, and they can be as tiny as 0.5mm. Even worse, I tend to go round in circles a bit when I’m designing, so I can easily spend 10 times as long working out how to do something as just doing it. As an example, the first fringed earring took about three hours as I needed to perfect the design, the second one-and-a-half hours. The next pair took about two hours in total, because by then I had the design settled and was starting to improve my technique. They’re a pretty simple design using one size of beads.
My Tape Measure Case took around 12 hours to bead the first time round, another six hours to repeat and sketch the bead layout and thread paths as I went along, and then probably around 20 hours to diagram and write the tutorial. Then I had to get it proof read and tested (it’s good thing my little sister now beads and was happy to help).
Have you ever abandoned a piece because it was too complicated or took too long?
No, but I might put something to one side to come back to when I have more energy or time. I will however scrap a piece which just isn’t working or is annoying me, as bead weaving takes too long to stick with something that I’m not enjoying. Fortunately, I can just cut the threads and re-use the beads – all I’ve lost is the thread and my time. That’s one of the best things about beadweaving.
Can you describe your workspace?
My workspace consists of a tray with a beading mat (which stops the beads rolling off and helps them sit hole upwards to make threading them easier), some boxes with the beads for the projects I’m working on, a good light and a comfortable seat on the sofa, in the garden or at a table. Plus a notebook and camera phone to try and keep a record of what I’ve done so it can be repeated, and a laptop if I’m writing tutorials. I store most of my beads in a variety of boxes in the sitting room so they are accessible when I’m working – the luckiest beads live in lovely cases from the Craft Kit Company, the rest in a random assortment of plastic boxes, bags and shoe boxes. If I’m trying to get a new project going they can end up covering the sofa and floor as I search for the perfect combination. My finished stock lives in a cardboard box alongside spare boxes (from the Tiny Box Company), stickers and labels (from Moo.com), and every so often I take over the dining room to photograph and pack a batch of new pieces.
What three tools could you not live without?
The only tools you need are a board/mat, a beadweaving needle (thin with a very small eye) and scissors. Simple stuff. I also have a small clip-on light, bead scoop and tweezers but they could probably be regarded as luxuries!
What do you look for when you source your beads?
For the tiny beads (seed and cylinder) I only buy one brand – Miyuki of Japan – so that I am working with the best possible quality, and can be sure that the sizes and colours will be consistent. I look for interesting colours or finishes, and to plug gaps in my ever-increasing collection. For sparkle I only use Swarovski or Preciosa crystals as other brands often have sharp edges and break threads, which is heartbreaking and such a waste of time for the sake of a few pounds. For other beads I look for interesting shapes, and again colours and finishes – there are some wonderful new shapes and finishes coming out of the Czech manufacturers at the moment. I keep a record of everything I buy so I can work out easily whether a retailer offers good value for the standard products, and I’m pretty loyal to my main suppliers as a result (Stitch ‘N’ Craft and Robins Beads). I have to buy almost everything by mail order and the service from both is fantastic (fast and free delivery), but I try and make it to at least one bead fair a year to look at new colours and beads for real.
What are your favourite colour combinations?
I seem to be hooked on opaque, brightly coloured beads at the moment. I’m working with some new Czech matte fluorescents (coming soon) which are pretty much as bright as it gets – some even glow under UV light. When I’m feeling less extreme (usually in the winter) I work with matte metallics (still with bright colours as a highlight), and I’m building up a collection of soft pinks, creams, greys and opal-effect beads so I can put together a more subtle and delicate bridal collection later on this year.
How do you spend your working days?
I would love to have a whole working day! Unfortunately my beading and the work around it is usually confined to the youngest’s nap times and evenings after both boys are asleep (assuming the chores are done and I’m not too tired). Occasionally I’ll get half a day at the weekend to photograph pieces and I work flat out to get as many piccies as possible while the light is good (and while the boys are occupied by my very understanding husband).
Which is your favourite piece and why?
It’s hard to choose… the Bright Star Necklace is amazing and I’m thrilled with my new Giant Bangle (I’ve already got another one on the go), but they were both a long time in the making and did require rather a lot of will power to complete. At the other end of the scale I’m really enjoying making the fringed earrings – they give me a chance to really play with colour without having to invest quite so much time. I’m planing to offer them as a custom make so customers can choose their own colours.
What makes you happy?
My family, singing (I’m a classically trained soprano), good food and wine and that magical moment when a piece starts to work. The wine can help with the latter. And I love, love, love buying and reorganising my beads. If we ever win the lottery I’m starting a mail order bead shop so I can play with beads all day.