Cathedral Garden Bracelet

Next up in my continuing obsession with peyote shapes à la Diane Fitzgerald: this bracelet inspired by the idea of a lavender garden outside a grey stone Gothic cathedral!

The amethyst emerald-cut Swarovski crystals are a vintage set I bought on clearance and have had waiting around forever: here's a similar set currently available on Etsy.

On the whole I believe this bracelet is a success: it has a delicacy and an antique flavor that are very appealing. I've worn it with a couple of outfits and enjoyed the slide of the metallic hex Delicas against my wrist. However, there are a few points I would try and fix in a second version:

Revision suggestions for Cathedral Garden Bracelet: different connections, different clasp, more precise bezeling.

Definitely a design to revisit and revise in future!

Roads Not Taken:

  • This piece has a lot of room for variation: round rivolis matched with peyote rings, for instance, or pear-shaped stones mixed with peyote teardrops (reversed in orientation, to keep the rhythm regular). 
  • Could also do one larger central stone with empty shapes to either side. Hexagons and honeycomb colors might be splendid here.
  • Also: could build a puzzle bracelet out of only the empty shapes, with varying colors in the center and silver to bridge the shapes together. Could be quietly dazzling.

The Queen of the Night

The movie Amadeus has a lot to say about what it means to be an artist. We are shown two men who work in the same medium -- music -- but whose approaches to their art are dramatically and tragically opposed. Our narrator Salieri is religious, rigid, a trained expert with an almost mathematical approach to composition. Unfortunately for Salieri, he lives in a time and a city contemporary with the legendary Amadeus Mozart, a man of such natural genius that he waves a hand and perfect constellations of notes appear on the page. As depicted in the film, Mozart is childish, lecherous, rebellious, heedless, and completely, ridiculously talented. Salieri descends into an increasingly vicious spiral of bitterness and envy; Mozart's naïveté and blind enthusiasm lead him headlong into danger and misery and one of the saddest screen deaths you'll ever see. The trick, of course, is that a great artist must be both Salieri and Mozart.

Screenshot from Amadeus showing Mozart and Salieri. A box next to Mozart reads: brilliance, boldness, openness, passion. A simliar box beside Salieri reads: discipline, training, determination, form.

You've got to have talent—but you've also got to have the discipline to use that talent as best you can. Imagine what Salieri could have done with Mozart's gift for easy composing. Imagine what Mozart could have done with Salieri's drive and ability to focus (and climb the social ladder in the imperial court). Mozart squanders his potential literally farting around Vienna, and dies with one of his greatest works unfinished. Salieri labors too much over the form of his pieces: they sound difficult and forced and even semi-idiot emperor Franz Joseph can tell something's missing.

Mozart is able to find artistic inspiration in everything. A cruel tirade from his mother-in-law becomes one of history's most well-known coluratura pieces, commonly known as the Queen of the Night aria (though technically she has another aria in the opera as well):

It's a beautiful, impossible set of notes and it gives me chills every time I hear it. Especially because set designers usually pull out all the stops for this one, as in this design for an 1815 production of The Magic Flute:

Blue dome with stars, and tumultuous orange clouds below. A black-robed queen with crown and scepter is enthroned on a crescent moon.

Look at those colors! The celestial dome of stars above and sunset clouds of chaos beneath! The weight of that tiny black figure in the center! I could stare at this painting for hours.

Naturally, I've been dreaming of a Queen of the Night-inspired piece of jewelry for some time now. It'll probably have to be several pieces, because there are too many possibilities of color, shape, and style that I want to explore. (Same goes for Botticelli's Birth of Venus, which I've turned into a bangle, a pendant, and three necklaces so far.)

But I have to start somewhere, and I still have that stash of crystal I mentioned before, so we're going to start with something simple.

Pendant made from a series of Swarovski rivolis in dark and pale blue. Silver and blue beaded bezels mimic the progression of the phases of the moon, and bronze peyote strips connect the rivolis to one another in series.

It is -- not bad! A little imprecise in its execution. I need to pay better attention to my bezel maths and try to either center things more concretely or lean into the zig-zag. But the moon-bezel idea worked out rather well, so that part of the experiment is a success!

Until next time I shall, like Salieri, endeavor to practice.

Roads Not Taken:

  • I could not think of a proper rope to match this pendant. That needs fixing in future iterations.
  • The astronomical color palette is satisfying, but I can't help wondering what the gradients would do in flashy pinks and greens and golds.
  • Turn this pendant sideways and make the center sizes larger, and you'd have a pretty stunning bracelet. That might be the thing I try next, to be honest -- a full silver/white/AB moon in the center, and smaller, darker moons fading away to either side.

Rivoli Play Time

Bezeled crystal rivolis: I love them. Love making them, love wearing them. They have the individuality and creativity of handcrafted jewelry, with the sparkle and glamor of big-budget pieces. Over the years I've bought a ton of Swarovski on clearance, found vintage treasures on Etsy, and even scored some discontinued or sample crystal stones from a friend who works for  a local retailer. I love to pull all these shinies out and run my hands through them, like a greedy pirate with a treasure chest. But I'm not as good about actually using them. I never want to turn the glittering potential into something that doesn't live up to my hopes. I'm trying to be better about this: all the bead dreams in the world won't do you any good if you never actually make anything.

So: I started with an inspiration -- there to the left.

Ancient-looking geometric multi-stone pendant on a round gold necklace base.

Nice, right? Modern but raw, asymmetric, just the right balance between minimalist and decadent. And totally recreateable with beads: an important consideration.

I realized I had amassed an accidental collection of rivolis of various shapes in shades of blue and green; I pulled out Delicas in a spectrum of gold and amber and went to work. The result? This lovely thing below, which I'm calling the Rivoli Puzzle Bracelet, because putting all the pieces together was something of a puzzle. What started as a pendant or a brooch had to become a bracelet when I realized there was no way this collection of stones could be made symmetrical.

Rivoli Puzzle Bracelet.

I have taken a couple classes from the great Laura McCabe, whose peyote bezeling technique is unparalleled. (Both books also highly recommended.) There's a bit of improvisation at play here -- navettes are still a bit of a bastard to put bezels around -- but on the whole I think it's one of the most successful pieces I've ever made. I plan on wearing it to every holiday party I'm invited to this year.

The big question as I finished the final bezel was this: how to embellish the peyote base? Ultimately, as with the Citrus Mess bracelet, I decided against embellishment, counting on the shape and color variations to give the piece movement and interest. Any embellishment I thought of sounded fussy and overdone, and would ruin the quiet strength of the developing piece.

Roads Not Taken:

  • One thing I learned is that putting a bright solid-color bezel around a lighter unfoiled rivoli means you get reflections, like pebbles on the bottom of a pond. Definitely something I want to try again in a more deliberate way.
  • I would love to get stones and Delicas in two contrasting colors and play around with intensity, such as the coral and green colors in this pin.
  • Alternatively, I would like to get a set of identical stones and then add embellishment details, such as in this lovely Lalique bracelet.


From Cactus to Cathedral

Getting something half right is the worst. All wrong can be scrapped without remorse. All wrong can be hilarious and thought-provoking, as the Ugly Necklace Contest proves. And all right almost never happens, at least not in my experience.

Half right is like beading purgatory.

Half right is what happened to me when I first tried to combine: 1.the Scheherezade Pendant from Sabine Lippert's Beaded Fantasies, and 2. Cynthia Poh's Netted Necklace from the August 2011 Bead & Button. I wanted something that combined extravagance with repetition, and both patterns featured pearls in a way I thought could play nicely with each other. I had a lot of pale lavender pearls that matched the finish on some green fire-polished rounds, and green seed beads to match. The theory was solid, but in practice ...

In practice, what I got was the unholy offspring of a cactus and an octopus, in jewelry form. So I call it the Cactopus Necklace, and I take it down from the wall every now and again to goggle at it and wonder what went wrong.Cactopus Necklace

In retrospect, the most astonishing thing is that I finished the whole piece, when it should have been clear from the start that the colors, so pretty on their own, went completely muddy when placed side-by-side. It is one of the great mysteries of beadwork that two perfectly lovely and well-behaved types of beads can turn on each other in the aesthetic equivalent of a bare-knuckle brawl. Or a bad blind date, where the green fire-polished beads keep checking their phone out of boredom and the lavender pearls offer to split the bill because they already know there's precisely zero chance the two of them will end up in bed together at the end of the night.

Some beads just have no chemistry. Don't let that photo on the left fool you: in the real world this necklace is so dull it dries your eyeballs out just to look at it.

But the construction was satisfyingly tactile and such a joy to make that I've always been tempted to try again. Clearly the essential problem here was color -- I needed something vibrant, a palette with more contrast.

I found an answer in the thought of a rose window.

Confession: I was raised Catholic, so the fall of light through stained glass has a lot of emotional and aesthetic resonance for me. One of my very favorite memories is standing in the pool of sunlight from the rose window in Nôtre Dame de Paris, watching the colors slide and shift across my own skin. This image seemed like an appealingly celestial solution to my desert-ocean hybrid problem: ditch the octopus, shun the cactus, and aim for something higher.

I've got a pretty deep stash of discounted and discontinued Swarovski crystal -- thanks, Fusion Beads sale bins! -- so I grabbed the necessary sizes, some light silvery seed beads, and went to town.

photo (11)-tiltshiftThe initial right-angle ring, pictured at right, positively glowed! And the silvery beads, when placed in the netting, masked just enough of the crystal to add mystery and restraint to that riot of color. I couldn't believe I'd made such a pretty, eye-catching thing. It felt like I'd lucked into it.

Success was not without consequences, however: the mystery would be lost if I tried to add the same netted neckstrap as before, because that particular pattern would leave the Swarovski open to the eyes rather than demurely veiled. What's more, I was concerned that netting wouldn't be a proper support for what was now a rather weighty beaded bead.

So instead of a netted rope, I went with a simple strip of right-angle weave in descending size order of crystals, with the same netting frame from the pendant.

How did it look, you ask?

Rose Window Necklace

Ta-da! Experiment: success. Cactopus Necklace demons: exorcized.

Roads Not Taken:

  • If I were to try this again, I'd be tempted to switch the silvery beads to stone grey and add a lot of cobalt Swarovski. My stash was rather light on the blues, and I feel this design could go deeper.
  • I wonder if this right-angle + netting technique can be used to bezel a rivoli or a cabochon? My rivoli stash is ever-growing and crying out to be played with.
  • Speaking of -- I wonder if the Scheherezade Pendant itself could be made to wrap around a rivoli or fancy stone? THINK OF THE SPARKLIES.
  • The neckstrap definitely has more pattern potential as well. I wonder if I can make something in the shape of a Gothic arch? Bead size would be absolutely crucial here.
  • There's got to be a way to use round flat peyote and netting to build a little rose-window cocktail ring with leftover crystals. So far, no luck, but I'm going to keep trying.
  • The finished necklace has a steely kind of strength to it -- very modern, despite the Gothic inspiration. What would happen if I added a few feminizing pearl embellishments for a more antique look?