book review

Just as there are musical riffs where short phrases are repeated, so there are bead riffs where motifs reoccur in a design.  Such a creative view of beading can only come from a master beader who also happens to be an established jazz singer.

Rachel Nelson-Smith's new book Rachel Nelson-Smith's Bead Riffs: Jewelry Projects in Peyote and Right Angle Weave ),which I received for review, takes jewelry book writing to new heights. Not only does she demonstrate innovative beaded jewelry but she manages to marry the designs with notations from her other passion. That she does both well is a testament to her innate artistic ability. Read more about how she got into beading and jazz in this interview.

Jazz's improvisational style is evident in many of her designs with bursts of colors and intricate patterns. The 23 project book includes detailed step by step instructions based on right angle weave and tubular peyote stitch variations. It's simply divided into 3 main chapters - necklaces and pendants, rings and earrings and last but not least, bracelets. Despite the master class label, beginners can certainly tackle several of the simpler designs. More advanced beaders will be inspired by some of the more challenging and intricate pieces.

What makes many of Rachel's designs literally sparkle is the use of crystal montées. These are mounted crystals with four holes. They are perfect for right angle weaving and it is a wonder that not many bead artisans use them.  One of my favorites from the book is the beaded square earrings which features just one montée in the middle of each square.

Nightingale Earrings

She called it the Nightingale earrings after a 1939 British pop song called "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" which is now a jazz standard. This is just one of many examples of how Rachel makes her designs lyrical and shows us how one medium can inspire another.

Perhaps one of the best associations between beading and jazz is the design called just that, "Jazz" . The base is 2 drop right angle weave which is then embellished with rows of 5-drop netting. The result is as rich in tones as is the musical cousin.

Rachel encourages improvisational work by including "riff" highlights or suggestions on how to make each design your own.  She explains, "This has a direct parallel in jazz - you first play the chords and the melody and then progress into impromptu cheating."

One of the 2 free PDFs is the Billie's Bounce necklace tutorial (UPDATE : no longer available) which was named after a Charlie Parker tune.  It's one which lots of potential for beaders to improvise on her basic motif design.

Billie's Bounce Necklace

The Rondo necklace is the other tutorial (UPDATE : tutorial no longer exits). "A rondo is an upbeat song with a beginning thematic passage that's repeated after every other section." Just like this design which features many crystal montées and different bumps (2-drop, 3-drop and 4-drop) in a repeated pattern.

The Rondo neckpiece is a tribute to Dave Brubeck's complex "Rondo a la Turk". Hearing it in this video will bring home the connection between the music and the bead work.

Despite the lackluster photography which dulled Rachel's vibrant designs, this book still manages to delight and inspire.


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