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Tip #9: Analyze the Results and Try Again

Part one of the Designer’s Playbook is to ask a lot of questions. What if I do this? How can I change that? What else is possible? And then to find out the answers by trying something new.

The Designer’s Playbook Part Two: Analyze the Results and Try Again

Take a look at the necklace I made to test my idea of using coiled loops to braid with larger beads.
Now that I have my finished braid it’s time to step back and note my overall impressions and observations.
  • Overall I really like the way the beads sit above and around the braid.
  • I put seed beads on a few of the warps as filler. They’re not adding anything and were a pain to string.
  • I don’t like seeing so much of the satin cord among the beads.
  • The coils are interesting, but drawing more attention than I’d like.
  • I used a variety of headpins. The ball pins are my favorite. The flat headpins are scratchy.
Now that I have my observations it’s time to ask more questions. How can I get more of what I like and less of what I don’t?
  • Since the seed beads weren’t worth the trouble, I’ll skip them next time.
  • I’d like to see less of the satin cord in the focal section so I’ll use beads on more warps.
  • The coils are overpowering, so next time I’ll make them smaller.
  • Since the flat headpins are scratchy, I’ll only use ball headpins next time.
And now to try again. Working with the same technique of using coiled loops to braid with larger beads I made another necklace that incorporated the lessons learned from my first attempt. Check it out…
Woo hoo! I love it! 
The combination of using smaller coils and having more warps carry beads created a lush, full focal section. The satin cord blends perfectly with the beads.
The ball pins are smooth to the touch and very comfortable on the skin. They also bring a lovely silver sparkle.
Asking questions and trying out your ideas is extremely important for developing your skill as a designer, but it’s equally important that you analyze your results and try again based on what you learned.
So that’s my Designer’s Playbook in three parts.
Part one: ask lots of questions and try out your ideas
Part two: analyze the results and try again
And part three?
It’s repeat parts one and two, of course.
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Tip #8: Ask a lot of questions

People say to me all the time, “You must dream of making jewelry. How do you come up with all these designs? How do you know how everything will fit together?”
Can I let you in on a little secret? You might think that I just have an eye for design and that somehow I know by instinct how to fit beads together in winning combinations, but that’s just because you only see my finished necklaces. What you don’t see is the pile of samples, test braids, and almost-but-not-quite-right-yet prototypes. 
The truth is that I’m actually an ever-curious inventor. When it comes to creating jewelry designs that combine beads in new ways, I think of it as a game with three parts.

The Designer’s Playbook Part One: Ask a Lot of Questions

Let me show you some beads I was working with as part of a design challenge. I had 4mm tiger eye, 6mm smoky quartz, 8mm freshwater pearls, and 12mm opals. As part of the challenge I could make any style of jewelry using any technique, but of course I wanted to make a kumihimo necklace.
The first thing I notice is how small the holes are, especially in the pearls. I’ll probably need Superlon micro if I want to string those up. 
I know from past experience that I’ll run into some braid stability issues using such large beads on thin thread. I’ll definitely need a core if I go that route.
I wish these beads had bigger holes. How can I give these beads bigger holes? I could ream them. Uhg… I really don’t like reaming beads. 
Too bad these beads aren’t top drilled. I think I’d really like to see the pearls and opals dangling from the braid like a teardrop. What else is possible?
What if I wire wrapped the beads? Would a basic loop be ok? I don’t want it to pull open. How about wrapped loops then? Sure that would be ok, but that’s really time consuming. Also, will the wrapped stem be too long? I don’t want the beads to sit too far from the braid. What if I make coiled loops instead? Oooo! That might work. Let’s find out!
So after that back and forth internal dialog I got to work on my braid idea. Here’s how it turned out.
Not a blue ribbon winner, but an excellent proof of concept. My idea of using coiled loops to braid with larger beads works.
Asking questions led me to a new technique for incorporating beads in kumihimo, but it’s just the first step to making a great new design. Tune in next time for part two of the Designer’s Playbook. 
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Tip #7: Calculating How Many Strands of Shaped Beads to Buy for Your Kumihimo Necklace

In my last design tip you learned how to calculated how many beads you need for your kumihimo necklace when working with seed beads. (If you missed it, you can read that lesson here.)

I love braiding with seed beads! They come in an amazing array of colors and fit so neatly together in a braid; however, if we only braided with seed beads we’d be missing out on all the other exciting shapes and sizes. There are fire polished and pearls and rizos and daggers and leaves and bicones and the list just goes on and on. In fact, new bead sizes and shapes are coming to market all the time. It’s hard for me to keep up!

With seed beads the ratio of strung beads to finished beaded braid was 1 to 2. So what’s our magic formula for all the other types of beads?

Sorry. That was bit of trick question. There isn’t one simple ratio for ALL other types of beads. They’re just too varied for one ratio to be true for EVERY bead, but it is possible for you to figure out your usage ratio for ANY bead.

Let’s take the pip bead for example. Pips are a type of pressed glass bead that arrived on the scene a few years ago. They’re flat-ish teardrops that look a bit like flower petals. They’re really cute and come in lots of fun colors!

The first time you’re braiding with a new type of bead, you’ll need to do a test braid to figure out how many beads per warp you need for every inch of finished beaded braid. You can make a really short sample braid using as few as 10 beads per warp or a longer test braid with more beads. Just be sure to make a note of how many beads per warp you string.

For my pip test braid, I strung 35 pips per warp. How did I pick 35 beads per warp? That’s how many pips come on a string. 🙂

When finished, I measured my beaded braid and learned that it’s 7 1/2″ long. Don’t count the endcaps or the nubbin. Just measure the beaded braid.

To figure out how many pip beads you need to string per warp for every inch of finished braid divide the beads strung on one warp by the finished beaded braid length.

Beads Strung on 1 Warp ÷ Finished Beaded Braid Length = Beads Needed on Each Warp for Every Inch of Finished Beaded Braid

35 Pips ÷ 7 1/2″ = 4.6666 Pips per Inch of Finished Beaded Braid

Great! Now to put that number to work for us. Let’s say we want to make a 20″ beaded braid that will be a 21″ necklace once we put the endcap and clasp on.

Desired Finished Beaded Braid Length X Beads Needed Per Inch of Beaded Braid = Number of Beads to String on Each Warp

For our pip example take our 20″ desired finished braid length, multiply by 4.6666 and we get 93.33 pips per warp. Let’s round that down and call it 93 pips per warp.

Now that we know how many beads to string on each warp, we can figure out how many total beads are needed for the project.

Beads per Warp X Number of Warps = Total Beads Needed for Project

In our example that’s 93 pips per warp times 8 warps so 744 pips are needed to make the 20″ beaded braid.

We’re almost done. It’s time to make our shopping list.

Beads Needed for Project ÷ Beads Per Strand = Number of Strands Needed

Pips come 35 to a strand at Design & Adorn. 744 pips divided by 35 is 21.25 strands of pips. We’ll come up short if we round down here, so round that up to 22 strands of pips to make the necklace.

Stay tuned for my next design tip and I’ll explain how a simple mind set shift can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying the design process.  In the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about kumihimo design check out my all new kumihimo retreat Designing in 3D! It’s November 14th – 17th in Sonoita, Ariozona. Click here to read all about it!

Happy Beading!


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Tip #6: Calculating How Many Tubes to Seed Beads to Buy for Your Project

It’s late at night. You’re happily braiding along watching your favorite television program. You’re almost out of beads on several warps, but you’re not worried. Your braid is almost as long as you need. You keep braiding. You drop in the last bead and reach for your tape measure. So close! You just need to string a few more beads so you can finish up. You reach for the tube of seed beads and… NOOOOOOOO! It’s empty!

We’ve all been there. It’s so frustrating. The key to avoiding this agony is to take the time to accurately estimate how many beads you’ll need for your project before heading to the bead shop. Unless, of course, you’re coming into Design & Adorn. In that case, we’d be happy to do the math for you.

Let’s assume that you’re making a beaded kongoh gumi using seed beads and you’ll be using the same size beads on every warp.

For this type of beaded rope the math is based on the following ratio:

Length of Strung Seed Beads per Warp : Finished Length of Braid = 1:2

In other words, you need half your beaded braid length in strung beads per warp.

For example, if you want to make a 20” necklace you would string 10” of beads on each of your eight warps. This assumes you’ll use magnetic endcaps that fit over your beads and add a negligible length. If using a toggle clasp or other ending that will add length, be sure to subtract that from the total finished length before calculating how many beads you’ll need.

Now that you know how many beads to string on each warp, calculate how many total beads are needed for the project.

Length of Strung Beads per Warp X Number of Warps = Total Length of Strung Beads per Project

For our example necklace, we’ll multiple 10” of strung beads per warp by 8 warps and get 80” of strung beads needed for the project.

Up until this point it didn’t matter what size beads we were using, but now we need to make a choice. Let’s use size 8˚ seed beads. If you string up all the size 8˚ seed beads in one tube* you’ll get 24” to 26”. Let’s be conservative and call that 24” linear inches per tube. Now we can calculate how many tubes we’ll need to buy.

Total Length of Strung Beads per Project ÷ Inches per tube = number of tubes needed

For our example necklace we’ll take 80” of strung beads for our project and divide by 24” per tube to get 3.33 tubes. In this case we’ll round up and buy 4 tubes of size 8˚ seed beads.

Happy Beading!
Rebecca Ann Combs

PS: Remember that if you’re using a bead spinner you may prefer to have an extra 4-8 grams (about ½ tube) so you don’t have to spin down to the bottom of the bowl.

*PPS: All “per tube” counts are based on the tubes sold at Design & Adorn which are 2½” long and about ½” wide.

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Tip #5: Color Context

Alex made a stunning Rock Climber kumihimo necklace for her aunt using an usual dyed pink stone. Her aunt loved the necklace, but then requested matching earrings. Oh no! All of the pink stones were used in the necklace!

With no stones beads left for the earrings and slim odds of finding more, what did Alex do? Cut apart the necklace and start over? Dedicate the rest of her life to the search for matching beads? Check out this two minute video to find out.

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Tip #4: Pick the Right Color Proportions

The first step in creating your best kumihimo design plan is picking the right color combinations. Color is usually the very first thing we notice in any design. Because it’s such an obvious part of your jewelry it’s important to get it right.

The right colors will help you achieve your design goals… whatever they are… matching your new outfit, supporting and accenting a focal bead, or creating pattern & interest.

Planning Part Two: Pick the Right Proportions

Once you have selected the right colors the second step is to choose the right proportions. That means to balance the colors of your necklace so they have correct relationship to each other and to the piece overall.

Imagine you’re making a salad. You have spinach, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, vinegar, and oil. Do you just mix together one cup of each?

Of course not! Yuck!

The trick to a great salad is to correctly proportion all the different flavors. You’ll start with a whole lot of spinach and then toss in a few tomatoes… maybe just a sprinkle of the cheese and bacon… finish it off with a light drizzle of the vinegar and oil. Yum! That’s a great salad!

That may seem obvious with food, but the concept is the same with beads. It’s all about balance.

Take a look at the colors I picked out for my Happy Camper necklace. The colors work great together, BUT the mix is too busy because the colors haven’t been properly proportioned yet.

Here are the same colors mixed up with better proportions.

This mix is perfectly balanced to support the pendant and highlight it without overwhelming it.

Color selection is extremely important, but it’s equally important that you balance the colors in the correct proportions. When you plan your next piece, after choosing the right colors, be sure to take the time to proportion them correctly.

Choosing & proportioning your colors correctly will take your jewelry to the next level, especially when you build upon a strong foundation of design skills.

If you’re interested in learning more about color selection and the art and science of great design, check out my upcoming kumihimo design retreat in southern Arizona: Wine, Dine & Design!
Happy Beading!

Rebecca Ann Combs

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Tip #3: Choose the Right Colors

Can I let you in on a little secret? You might think that I just have an eye for design and that somehow I know by instinct how to put beads together in winning combinations, but that’s just because you only see my finished necklaces (and you didn’t know me when I was first getting started).

The truth is that designing is a skill I’ve learned over many years and all by best jewelry creations all start with a plan. Some are just rough sketches or strands of beads lined up next to each other. Other plans have charts, diagrams, and involve a bit of math.

No matter how simple or how detailed the plan, the important part is taking the time to make some critical design choices before you start.

Planning Part One: Pick the Right Colors

Color is usually the very first thing we notice in any design, not just jewelry. Imagine getting compliments on a new pair of shoes. What are you more likely to hear? “Ooooo! I just love those RED shoes!” or “Wow! What an amazing rounded toebox on those kitten-heeled shoes!

Red, right?

Of course, those other details matter, but color is almost always noticed first.

Because we make emotional connections and judgements about colors, we often just reach for our favorites. It’s great to develop a personal color palette, but we should still evaluate and question our color choices every time we start a new jewelry design.

Take a look at this bracelet I made a couple of years ago.

The bracelet looks fine. It’s not a knock-it-out-of-the-park, set- my-heart-on-fire bracelet, but it’s pretty.

On the left side of the bracelet the beads are Purple Iris Gold and on the right side they’re Brass Gold. You might not be able to see the difference in the photo… and that’s my point. These two colors are too similar to tell them easily apart… even when you’re holding the bracelet in your hand.

What if I told you this is actually a carefully counted ombré design? I had to sit and string these beads one by one, carefully checking my counts, and after all that work no one can see the pattern.

I was going for subtle and what I got was invisible.


Now take a look at this bracelet.

This is the same exact counted pattern, but this time with a much better color choice. Now with two distinct, bold colors this design really POPS!

Of course, you don’t have to pick bold, contrasting colors to create a beautiful piece of jewelry. It’s possible to get that subtle, ombré look I was going for in the first bracelet – but the colors have to be right.

Color selection is SO important that it’s my first step in creating your design plan. When you begin next piece, start your plan by picking the right color combinations.

But color is just the first part of your design plan. Click here to read Part Two of “How to Create Your Best Design Plan”…

Happy Beading!

Rebecca Ann Combs

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Tip #2: Find Your Comfort Zone

This may sound silly, but stick with me. Lace your fingers together. Which thumb is on top? Left or right? Now switch it around so the other one is on top. Does that feel weird?

It does for me. I’m a right thumb on top person and although not uncomfortable it just doesn’t feel natural to me if my left thumb is on top.

Of course, there’s no correct way to lace your fingers together. You just do it however feels natural.

This is true of many of our postures and hand positions when beading. There’s no one right way to do it, but some positions will feel better for you than others.

Check out this 2 minute video to learn about different ways to hold your beads when doing peyote stitch. You’ll have more fun and work more efficiently when you hold the beads in the way that is most comfortable for you.

Happy beading!

Rebecca Combs

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Tip #1: Practice Makes Perfect

One of the biggest frustrations with learning a new skill is not catching on as fast as you expect. You’re so good at so many things! Why is this new beading skill so challenging?

Think about something you’re really good at. Maybe you can make the perfect sugar dusted bunt cake. Perhaps you can knit self-striping socks in your sleep. Or I don’t know… it might be that you truly shine when programming robots.

Whatever it is, think about the very first time you tried it. Remember all the different steps that you can now do on autopilot that you had to really concentrate on. Remember the times that things didn’t go as planned… you burned the cake, the self-striping socks had polka dots, and the robot ran away.

So what came in between those early mishaps and today’s triumphs?


It’s the same way with the new beading skills you want to learn. Give yourself some breathing room and permission to make mistakes along the way, but keep at it.

We’ll help you along the way with classes and online tips & videos, but it’s practice that will make your new skills second nature.

Happy beading!

Rebecca Combs

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2-Day Intensive Marudai Workshop

Are you ready to take your kumihimo to the next level? Maybe you’re a disk braider and you’ve been curious about the marudai. You love kumihimo, but you’re just not sure why everyone is so excited about a big wooden stand…

Let me tell you what the fuss is all about. Everything you can do on the disk, you can do on the marudai 2 – 3 times faster! And, there are lots of cool techniques you can do on the marudai that you really can’t do on a disk!

If you’re excited to give it a try and want to experience a wide variety of techniques over two amazing days, this workshop is for you!

If you have some previous marudai experience and want to become a more efficient and confident braider, this workshop is for you, too! Focus on improving your form and gain a better understanding of the point-of-braiding. You don’t really know a braid, until you can unbraid it!

On the first day you’ll make a sampler braid using four different braid structures – including two that can’t be done on a disk. Then you’ll make a beaded rope bracelet and be amazed at how one simple motion easily and quickly locks the beads in place!

On the second day you’ll finish up your beaded bracelet and begin planning your own necklace design. Will it be fiber focused or bead focused? Are you including a tassel or pendant? What braid structure will you use? All of these design choices are up to you! I’ll help with the kumihimo math and walk you through the design process. You’ll braid in the afternoon and soon you’ll be wearing your necklace or bracelet.

The tuition for this fantastic two-day event is just $250. This workshop is limited to only ten students, so please call 520-209-1900 right away to sign up.

I hope you can join me for my Two-Day Intensive Marudai Workshop at Design & Adorn in Tucson.

Who should attend this workshop? There are no prerequisites to take this workshop, but we will be covering a lot of material in only 2 days. This course is recommended for highly motivated beginners and experienced braiders looking to take their skills to the next level.

On the first day of class, we’ll make a sampler braid using four colors of rattail. New braiders will focus on tama management and learning the braiding sequences. More experienced braiders will focus on improved braiding posture, form, and tension. In the afternoon we’ll learn how to drop beads into the kongoh gumi braid structure (this is the basic round braid most people first learn on the disk) and make a beaded bracelet. You’ll have the option of adding a focal bead to the braid.

On the second day of class, each student will design and braid a work of wearable art using the skills learned on the first day. The complexity of this piece will depend upon your comfort level as a braider. The design can be fiber or bead focused.

Design & Adorn
4630 E. Grant Road
Tucson, AZ 85712

Instructor: Rebecca Combs

Minimum number of students: 4

Maximum number of students: 7

Tuition Fee: $250

The following tools are provided for your use during the workshop:

  • Western-height Marudai with 10″ mirror
  • 70gram tama
  • chopstick
  • Counter-Weights
  • Bead Spinners and Bead Spinner Needles

Students will learn the following essential skills of marudai braiding:

  • Care & feeding of a marudai
  • Tama management including using lead cords and slip knots
  • Five different 8-warp braid structures: Kongoh Gumi, Edo Yatsu, Kaku Yatsu, Kusuri-Tsunagi, Hira Yatsu
  • Dropping beads to make bead ropes in the Kongoh Gumi braid structure
  • Kumihimo math as it pertains to estimating materials required and planning a design

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