Rachel Nelson-Smith's Bead Riffs: Jewelry Projects in Peyote & Right Angle Weave is not your run-of-the-mill beading book. It contains 23 original projects, all inspired by and presented in a way that likens them to jazz music. This makes perfect sense when you learn that the author is an experienced jazz singer and composer as well as a beader. I give the book five stars for originality of projects, clarity of instructions, and easy-to-follow diagrams of otherwise complex designs.
This book is part of the Beadweaving Master Series, which is a collection of project books by leading master beading instructors. Like most Lark books, it has a sturdy, hard cover, thick and durable pages, and bright photos and bead diagrams.
In the introduction, we learn about Nelson-Smith's relationship with jazz music, and she explains the interesting similarities between composing jazz and designing beadwork. As she describes them, "[i]mprovisation gives way to infinite exploration" in both endeavors.
We also learn that most of the projects start with a base of right-angle weave and transition into various takes on tubular peyote stitch. According to Nelson-Smith, "this has a direct parallel in jazz -- you first play the chords and the melody and then progress into impromptu creating."
The first chapter, titled "The Setup," is an essential read before you dive into the projects. Although it covers some basics that you may be familiar with, (such as thread, findings, and tools), it also defines some new terminology.
A key term is "bump." Bumps are at the heart of Nelson-Smith's technique for embellishing right-angle weave with tubular peyote. She describes several variations, from 1-drop bumps to 3/3/3/4-drop bumps to 5-drop bumps. Bumps can be "finished" with montees or with stacked "finials" of beads.
The first chapter is also where we learn how to make the author's gorgeous embellished toggle clasps, beaded bead caps, and other beaded components.
Projects and Gallery
Each project begins with a brief overview, which succinctly explains how the design comes together. As with most beadweaving tutorials, diagrams go a long way in helping you visualize the directions. They're done very well in this book, and even the three dimensional beading diagrams are pretty easy to read. You just need to keep in mind the "Terminology and Convention" information from Chapter 1, which explains the diagrams' color coding scheme.
The jewelry itself is absolutely gorgeous. It has lots of dimension and special touches that make the projects anything but boring. The more complex projects may look intimidating at first, but you can use the simpler projects to work your way up to them. One you master some building blocks that are used over and over again, you should be able to break down each project into doable pieces.
I should add that the color combinations are also very nice. Nelson-Smith took a unique approach with them by choosing colors from Swarovski's color trend predictions. From those colors she assembled five palettes to use throughout the projects.
The book concludes with a picture gallery of right-angle weave/peyote stitch designs by other artists. They'll give you more examples of what can be done with this stitch combination.
Bead Riffs is a must-have if you'd like to experiment with peyote and right-angle weave combinations. Beaders who are absolute beginners may find it a little intimidating, but the projects should be doable for most intermediate beaders. I even recommend this book to more advanced beaders who are looking for fresh inspiration and new, interesting techniques.
To see more of Rachel Nelson-Smith's work, visit her website.